College Ministry: Conversations and Context

I’ve only been blogging a bit about college ministry in Bloomington, and my hope to do something “official,” whether in a volunteer capacity or in a paid position. Both Presbyterian churches already do some outreach, and it’s a wonderful start. Either way, I am feeling more and more convicted about the need to reach out to college students in this town. Back in the day during another season of my life I would describe the feeling/conviction as being broken-hearted for this demographic. What it means is that I remember…I imagine…I know…what it is like to need…community, space, and the very real and tangible presence of God in my life. Especially in such a crazy season.

Meanwhile, I know I’m a noob. Here’s some initial thoughts (that I’ve shared with numerous folks at the churches already):

The hope in this ministry is to view the college as a ‘mission field.’

• It’s not about getting PEOPLE to fill the PEWS.
• It’s not about getting PEOPLE to give us PLEDGES.

IU is a place in which there are PEOPLE that can be changed by encountering God’s PRESENCE in us.

It is relatively obvious that there is a decrease in young people participating in the life of the local church as well as the larger church. Many people bemoan the lack of young people populating our churches, and the answer to me can be said in various ways, but in general, is simple: We aren’t pursuing them. We aren’t making them a priority. We aren’t passionate about them. If we are serious about our dedication to God, and to the church, it makes sense to invest in the faith experience and journeys of young people now.

Nothing I’m saying, or have said so far is novel, but it feels kind of liberating to say “out loud.” And I’m certainly not saying at all that I have solutions or even much direct experience. Although I’ve spent time with college students for a number of years, I’ve not done anything in a formal role. But, I’ve discovered with any kind of ministry that there is much “on-the-job” training, and often the best education comes from conversations with those who are veterans, and those in it up to their ears, too.

Now there are some incredible resources out there – I’ve finally been pointed in the right direction. From the National Campus Ministry Association, this post is a great perspective on encouraging students in ministry to their peers as an expression of their own faith.

I have heard stories that surprised me, from students I know well. I have seen reserved students step up when asked to do this. Most of the stories are not sensational. Some have predictable elements. But they are unique and utterly captivating. Listening to these brave students stand up in front of strangers to talk about loneliness and break-ups and being far from home and how God intervenes in the business of majors – and how they are putting all of this together as part of their faith journeys – has been a great gift.

It seems like there are a number of churches and communities – and really possibilities – for doing college ministry, and right now in PCUSA where there hopefully will be a more deliberate and coordinated effort to support these different manifestations.

But for my part, I’d like to start an ongoing series that initiates and furthers this conversation, specifically for those churches/places starting out, or starting over, and to talk about ways to be collaborative and creative in that outreach, mission, worship, and gathering. (Theresa Cho has some great thoughts about churches in San Francisco being missional outposts which I wonder – could it be applicable to the various college ministries in town…despite our theological and methodological differences?) Of course, the PCUSA task force is way ahead of me:

Collegiate ministry is a mission field and should not be seen simply as a way to grow the church in membership, the task force said. Those in collegiate ministry also are concerned with students who aren’t in church and who haven’t been reached.

I have a few folks lined up who are stellar and thoughtful people, and already I’m excited to jump into this much more intentionally. More soon!

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Reflections from:

Jim Scmotzer
 on April 19: More Questions Than Answers
Erica Liu on April 22: Mission in Our Backyard
Jamie Lee Haskins on May 3: Are You Sure?
Ian Longtin on May 15: Be There
Jason Micheli on May 29: Be Bold
Bonhoffer on July 11: Pastoral Care
Andy Cooke on October 19: Salt Marsh Ministry

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