This post is part of the College Ministry: Conversations and Context series. For more information, click here.
He seemed a little apprehensive at first to talk to me. I don’t blame him – this is a tough one to confess and deal with, especially with your pastor. However it became obvious very quickly that the physical intimacy he had recently with his girlfriend was eating him up inside. They had crossed a line that both felt was a mistake.
He was a solid young man who had come to faith later in his high school days and risen quickly as a young leader in our community. We’d been working together for sometime; I as the pastor, and he as a core leader in various aspects of our church’s college/young adult ministry. Needless to say, we’re pretty close, which gave me the perfect chance to work through this situation with him.
The Bible has several words which it translates as “time.” The most recognizable is chronos, which we understand to be the ongoing, linear progression of time. Think of the word: “chronology.” Another word is kairos. This word, while being less recognizable, has profound theological importance (Mark 1:15, Romans 5:6). While chronos is about sequential time, kairos is about moments in time. In some instances it refers to a divinely appointed time, though it may also refer to a season or an opportunity.
Kairos moments are those times when everything changes (or can change, if we’re willing). They are significant. Graduations, wedding days, the birth of a child are all times that cause us to sit back and consider the changing nature of our lives. Kairos moments may also be times when God breaks in and speaks to us, calls us, challenges us and changes us.
The world of college students and young adults is literally flooded with potential kairos moments. Graduate from high school: kairos. Move out of your parents house: kairos. Get engaged: kairos. Some are not quite as positive, though they are just as important. Regret crossing that line of intimacy into sex: kairos. Rack up significant student or consumer debt: kairos. Loss of a loved one: kairos. I think you get the picture.
The friend I mentioned above was quite simply in the middle of a huge kairos moment. The only difference between him and the majority of college students/young adults is that he had someone who cared about his life and faith to help him process his struggle with guilt and shame. He had someone who simply knew to be there. Be there with him.
While every single college student and/or young adult you’ve ever met is dealing with these things very few of them actually take the opportunity to process what God might be doing through this season of life. The majority of these young people are left to deal with these moments either by themselves or with the advice of peers or other influences. Quite simply the presence of older, wiser Christ followers is a significant need for their lives and discipleship which is not being filled by most churches.
Whether it’s starting a new ministry or leading an existing one, a reevaluation of goals may be helpful if we’re going to minister to this age group. I don’t know what you think about when you dream of college ministry, but I know what I use to think about and likewise the thoughts of a lot of my peers. I’m increasingly more convinced that this ministry is about discipleship (which may be what the whole church is supposed to be about, depending how dearly you hold Matthew 28:18-20).
As a result I’ve determined that I need to do two things. One is to enter into the lives of college student and young adults so that I am present – I learn to be there – for their kairos moments. The second is struggle in whatever feeble attempts I can to get other adult Christians to be there, too. This isn’t about putting together the slickest, most relevant worship band or crafting the coolest messages. All of the church’s flash and program can still play a part, but it can no longer be the end result. Rather we must begin focusing on what fruit we might bear, or better yet what fruit God might bear in all our lives.
Mike Breen and his team at 3DM have done a lot of work for developing discipleship models which are brilliantly effective with young adults. My use of “kairos moments” draws heavily from their work. You can check them out at We are 3DM.
Ian Longtin is the pastor of youth and young adults at Hope Center Covenant Church in Pleasant Hill CA. He has been working with college students and young adults in this context since 2004. Through both his failures and successes he has grown increasingly passionate about this age group and their role in God’s kingdom. Similarly, he has developed a passion to support those who also find themselves in the blessed struggle of ministering to these young people. Ian has an undergraduate degree from Patten University and is currently tinkering with online seminary classes at North Park Theological Seminary. He lives in Martinez, CA with his wife and daughter. You can contact him at ilongtin at hopecenter dot cc or check out his blog entitled, “And College Ministry.”