delineating the arenas (advancing our field #3)

One of the most illuminating interactions I’ve been a part of occurred a few years ago at a forum for college ministers.

At the event, a major publisher sent a representative to gauge our interest in their products. They had marketed quite heavily to the collegiate ministry crowd, and they wanted to know how to connect with us even better. (Kudos to them for seeking our opinions!)

What followed was quite interesting.

The college ministers in attendance kept asking if this publisher planned to release any collegiate editions of their Young Adult small groups materials. Or, they suggested, perhaps the publisher could put out collegiate “study guides” to go along with the present materials, which – again – were targeted toward young adults.

It was fascinating to watch, because the representative was quite confused. In fact, I’m not sure he ever wrapped his head around what we were asking for. In his mind, their materials were for college students. But college ministers know better: What is needed by Young Adults isn’t always the same as what’s needed by collegians.


This is one example of the ways outsiders to the field of College Ministry often “lump us together” with other ministry fields. And so we’ve got another BIG opportunity to help advance our field – by helping delineate our arena of ministry from others.

College ministry isn’t the same as youth ministry. College ministry isn’t the same as young adult ministry, either. Sure, some events (like some large group meetings) might fit multiple groups. Sure, some positions (in churches, at least) might have to cover multiple arenas. But none of that means these fields are close enough to be lumped together in general. It’s like with veterinarians: They may be able to treat different species, but all those species are still different enough to matter.

We’ve got a long way to go here. Far too many churches, for example, treat “18-25” (or an even larger span) as a natural grouping for ministry, when that’s only applicable in a few very specific contexts. Some seminaries try to put both youth and college ministry training under the same umbrella. Publishers, as noted above, might not even imagine we would want something different for our students than their standard Young Adult or Youth fare.


When we kindly, patiently, and clearly delineate these areas for outsiders, we’re actually helping advance our field! How?

  • They realize that what goes on in our field is something unique.
  • They realize that college students need different things than either high schoolers or young adults.
  • They realize that college ministers need different things than ministers in other fields.
  • …So they have the chance to tailor services and products that help us best.

Often, doing this can be combined with the Catalytic Questions idea: By asking what groups have specifically for college students or for college ministers instead of these other groups, you’re automatically delineating the arenas!

Other times, you may just need to ask for clarification, or provide clarification when outsiders lump us with other fields. (I’ve done that at least two or three times this week!) A question like, “Wait – did you say this was for youth ministers or for college ministers?” helps them know you see these arenas (rightly, I’d argue) as different enough to matter.


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