This is a guest post from Jackie Knapp. We were privileged to have Jackie work at our church as the Associate Campus Ministry Director for three years. Before that she was a Resident Director at The Master’s College. Be sure to check out her new blog.
For the last few years I have had the privilege of working for a church that prioritizes campus ministry. No, they didn’t bribe me to write this and no, I am not ranting against para-church organizations. Instead, these are a few thoughts to consider why the local church is so helpful in the life of college students.
1. Students greatly benefit by having perspective outside of the college scene.
Many students never really interact with anyone outside of the 18-22 age bracket. In case you hadn’t noticed, this is not exactly the most balanced world-view. One of my favorite things is to come into church and see students interacting with young and old, building relationships and remembering that there is more to the world than classes, Friday nights, and YouTube. When college ministry is an integrated part of the church, real relationships have a chance to form in a much different way than if a student simply shows up to a church on Sunday but doesn’t know anyone.
2. It’s much better when the campus ministry doesn’t have to fight for time separate from the church.
When I was an undergrad and later working for a Christian college, there was a constant tension for students between church involvement and leadership involvement in campus ministries. Students usually had to pick one or the other, either to be with their friends serving on campus or to be involved in the local church. If they tried to do both, they were often exhausted and became ineffective and burnt out quickly because of the intense time commitments. When college ministry is part of the church, this tension is largely eliminated. It has been great to see how retreats, monthly family groups, and even some spring break service projects incorporate members of the church instead of fighting for the students’ time to be committed to one or the other. Another benefit is the consistency of teaching and unity of the leadership when everyone is working together. Students hear a coherent message during large group on campus and on Sunday mornings.
3. The church leadership is an important resource for the campus staff.
Most campus ministry workers are between the ages of 22-35, probably because there is a point where sleeping on the floor and planning scavenger hunts until 2 am becomes less physically advisable. Like students, we can spend the majority of our time with 18-22 year olds. And like them, we can have a narrower and limited perspective on life and ministry. Being under the leadership of the church is a necessary balance and support to our ministry. I have loved having the input of the elders who have decades of experience working with people, that I can run something by a pastor when I am struggling, and that I can easily set up counseling with an older woman and a student struggling with an abusive past. These mature believers help us have a longer-term view of caring for people beyond four years, see what is actually important, and give us much personal support. This interaction is a vital part of our health and balance as young, passionate, and sometimes impulsive staff.
4. College students bring energy and passion to the church.
From the other side, the church can also benefit from having a campus ministry. The students have idealistic energy and passion to learn, grow, and challenge, which is good for the church to wrestle with, especially in combination with the wisdom of the older generations. Somehow most of our churches have become separated into ages and stages of life, so that we have lost the essence of family, the wisdom of the older being poured into the energy of the youth. Students will usually be more flexible and willing to try new things while older people can be more resistant to change. Most major movements and revivals have begun with students, and the local church is helped when this fire, energy, and life are a part of the body.
So if your church is considering college ministry, know that loving students isn’t always the easiest. They will probably eat you out of house and home without saying thank you, want to blare music at a much higher decibel than you would choose, and may even wreck your church van without reporting it. But they will also play with your kids, be willing to take risks, and genuinely want to learn from you. Please don’t let those inconveniences keep you from welcoming and incorporating young people into your church life. This generation desperately needs leadership, examples of godly families, and love to help them navigate an ever-changing and increasingly confusing world.