Yesterday I wrote some about Young Life College, after getting to chat with its new director, longtime college minister Mike Gaffney. You’ll probably wanna read that if you haven’t. Today, some additional points I picked up from our meeting.
A major focus of Young Life College that does position it in a different niche from some other campus-based ministries is that it aims to be “community-owned.” This means involving Christians from throughout the community in impacting college students – just as Young Life has long used community members to impact youth.
This focus, then, helps answer one question Mike apparently gets a lot: How can he, a longtime champion for church-based college ministry, now direct a nationwide parachurch ministry? His answer is that his focus has always been helping the Body of Christ take ownership in impacting students – and he continues to do that now.
In Young Life College, a major emphasis is getting college students around Christian adults – and therefore connecting students, via relationships, to the churches of their communities. As Mike said yesterday (and I’ve heard him say before), his job has often been simply to remind churches that the campus is right there – in their community, down the street, or across town. Young Life College facilitates that bridging, creating connections directly between students and local “church people.”
Finishing the job
YLC explicitly aims to complement Young Life’s ministry to youth. “Young Life College is first and foremost about finishing the job we started,” Mike told me, explaining that some Young Life high schoolers have been reached but not always grown into long-lasting disciples of Jesus.
And if we think this is a point against Young Life’s ministry to youth, remember that this statement might equally apply to other youth ministries as well… But Young Life College allows Young Life to continue investing in students through the transition to college.
Of course, they also reach out to those who aren’t former Young Life students, too. This outreach includes both those who need an introduction to Christ and those who need to be RE-introduced to their Lord.
Context is king
Young Life College aims to be highly contextual. That means its form – and even its existence – will be determined by what’s already happening “on the ground” on a given campus. For example, Mike described getting old Young Life kids, now university students, together at their campus to ask the vital question: “Do we need a Young Life College group here?” If not, then YLC doesn’t have to start at all.
Likewise, the methods used at individual campuses will differ, based what’s needed – and what’s already happening.
A ready outlet
To me, a particularly interesting aspect of Young Life College is having automatic, concrete leadership roles available for students who are ready to lead. Instead of only ministering “within the system” to fellow college students, Young Life College has ready-made opportunities for students to minister to youth in the community, as well.
While this may seem a slight difference, it’s really not, because students have multiple options for their “next step” of disciplemaking. Obviously, some other college ministries – especially those based on campuses – don’t always have those kinds of outlets – for ministry outside of the peer group.
Finally, I can’t overemphasize the fact that Young Life College is headed by an extremely seasoned college minister in Mike Gaffney. He is well aware of the issues involved in ministering to students. And I heard instance after instance of the subtle wisdom that comes from spending more than a few years ministering to college students in our time yesterday.
I’m very interested to watch how this thing develops in the coming years. It’s certainly still in its infancy, and Mike seems to be very comfy taking things slowly. While there will always be those who ask, “Do we really need another national college ministry?,” Young Life College really does seem to have carved out a pretty intriguing little niche. Giddy up!
Written from The Purple Door, Seattle