Today’s entry touches on a big question: How much should students be used / ministered to within their own collegiate context, and how much should we point them toward and bring them into the greater world apart from their campus?
Any ministry has to choose how – and how much – they’ll point students to activity, relationships, and learning that go beyond their collegiate environment. But they also have to decide how specifically they should disciple students within their actual, very distinct collegiate lives – as lived out in dorms and classrooms and organizations and friend-circles.
[This just in: DON’T miss J.D. Greear’s analysis of this issue from students’ point of view, that he blogged just today! He’s the pastor of Summit Church, a large church in a very collegiate environment – the North Carolina Triangle. And he arrives at a unique model that certainly falls between these poles. (Hat tip: Phillip Bethancourt)]
On the one hand, many college ministries want to encourage students to plug into local churches, to participate in off-campus service, and to live Christianly among their families, workplaces, and others who don’t attend school with them. Each of these areas is outside the “collegiate community.” Further, one of our major jobs as college ministers has to be preparing students for successful transition to their young adult years.
So, to accomplish any of these aims, ministries have to “drag students out of their collegiate setting” – either bodily or at least in the discussions they pursue.
The most polarized ministries in this direction don’t segregate collegiate impact at all, instead assimilating students into a larger ministry – with youth or young adults, or even an entirely intergenerational group. Yes, it’s usually churches that do this. But other kinds of ministries can come close to this pole, when their ministry pulls students out of their collegiate lives into a “Christian enclave” – even if that “enclave” is on campus!
On the other hand, college campuses often look very different than even the neighborhoods in which they’re found, and students’ lives are often lived very differently than even the non-students who live next door. Whether we personally like that setup or not, this situation could indicate a need to serve students primarily on their own terms and on their own turf.
Those who fall on the Incubation side of this spectrum might argue something like this: The main goal is helping students grow in Christ, and an incubation approach maximizes that opportunity. By teaching students to live for Jesus within their own world, we’re setting them up to do the same thing in every “world” in which they find themselves. This is a hinge moment, when the stakes are high and spiritual growth (or decline) can be rapid. So it makes sense to limit ourselves to the training ground of their collegiate environments – especially since students, as citizens of these communities, are therefore “outsiders” anywhere else.
The most polar in this camp include the many ministries that do very little to point students off-campus, including to local churches. Likewise, even some church-based ministries may function in ways that keep students entirely in collegiate environments, even if they do happen to drive (or walk) to the church once a week.
notes & questions
- If you want more on this, I encourage you to read “The Surprisingly Unmissional Approach to College Ministry,” where I point back to this discussion in Reaching the Campus Tribes. The comments on that post really illustrated these issues – and struggling with the tension – well.
- Which pole do you lean toward? Or do you fall somewhere in between? Why?
- What if we just tried to do both sides really well? Is that even possible?
- Do any issues here “trump” others? For instance, is a successful post-college transition more important to aim for than helping students be academically faithful now? Is it more vital to let students learn ministry by leading each other, or to learn intergenerationality through being led by adults? Tricky stuff!