You might have noticed that my preference is to call the amazing thing we get to do on a day-to-day basis “college ministry” instead of the various other options out there.
Here’s why I’ve gone this way, and why you might wanna at least consider using this nomenclature yourself when you talk about our profession. (Of course, I’d also love your comments and arguments for other options!)
This only refers to how we talk about our field as a whole. I don’t think it matters as much when individual ministries use various terms.
Here are what seem to be the main options for referring to our field as a whole:
This one’s easy: “University Ministry” simply doesn’t apply to all work with college students, ’cause many students aren’t at a school that considers itself a “university.”
While this may work for a local ministry, as an entire field it doesn’t make a lot of sense.
“Student ministry” is used as a synonym for “youth ministry” in a huge number of cases; other times it’s used to denote ministry to both youth and college students (as a division in a church, for example).
Using this to describe our profession will never cause anything but confusion… and we don’t get first dibs, anyway. Youth Ministry is well ahead of us in field-development, so they probably own this one, whether we like it or not. (But either way, both groups are students, so it seems like neither Youth Ministry nor we are best served by using this name.)
I honestly really like this one as a way to distinguish our entire profession, but I’m not sure it will ever catch on. It’s too close to “college ministry,” and people will probably shorten it, anyway. It can also sound a little snooty, a little self-important as we speak to those outside of our field.
You will certainly see me sprinkle this one into my writing, however. It’s great when I need a synonym, especially when I’m talking about the field as a whole.
Ah, this is extremely common. But here’s why I don’t personally lean toward this one:
- It often connotes, rightly or wrongly, campus-based ministry (parachurch or denominational ministries). I have heard many people use “campus ministry” as the opposite of church-based college ministry. But that use of “campus ministry” isn’t standard enough for it to be a true synonym for campus-based ministry.
- Some use “campus ministry” specifically to describe the spiritual life department of Christian colleges (particularly, I’ve noticed, in Catholic colleges). Do a Twitter search yourself, and you’ll see that use come up regularly. That is certainly one branch of college ministry, but it makes it confusing for describing the whole profession.
- “Campus ministry” is also occasionally used to describe – get this – youth ministry. Yes, high schools are “campuses,” too, and I know at least one fellow minister who bought a book on “campus ministry” just to find out that… well, you can guess.
Still, I use the term “campus ministry” plenty – especially because I know people will search the web or Twitter for that term. I have no problem being helpful or fitting in, but it isn’t my favorite terminology for the reasons mentioned above.
After all that, I think we’re only left with good ol’ “college ministry.” This does seem to be the term most recognizable to the largest number of people as just what it is: ministry to college students. And yet it doesn’t distinguish between the various forms of ministry (or the types of schools).
So that’s my argument. Take it as the analyzations of a college ministry nerd (or a campus ministry nerd, if that’s what you prefer!). What do you think?