Summer is coming to a close, the high temperatures are starting to abate, and very soon your local college will come to life.
New students will stream in about a week before classes begin and returning students will trickle in throughout the week until the influx of young adults bursts into a flood over the weekend.
For many, life will go on as normal. Those living in the city might only notice a slight uptick in congestion on the morning metro commute. Others may find the peace and stillness of their small town disturbed for the next semester until winter break delivers respite.
By God’s grace, some of these students might walk into your congregation for the first time in late August or early September. These young adults may be strong Christians looking for a solid church home, or they might be religious seekers simply searching for community. Some of these students may live thirty minutes away from their parents, while others won’t see home again until Thanksgiving.
Many churches can offer sound teaching, but will your church offer them the care, attention, and discipleship they need to really grow in their faith?
THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH
It’s vital to pass along the gospel to the next generation. If we don’t prepare and equip them, who will preach to the generation after them? Here we can learn from the Old Testament.
After being slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years, God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage. They witnessed unbelievable miracles, plagues, pillars of cloud and fire, a dry path through the Red Sea, water bursting forth from a rock, and manna falling from the sky every morning. Along the way, the Israelites succumbed to grumbling, ungratefulness, and idolatry. Yet they were ultimately provided with a rich land to call their own!
One would think that all they witnessed—the miracles, their failures, God’s faithfulness—would result in epic bedtime stories with their children. After all, remember all the times your father told you how once during a baseball game he ran over the catcher to score, rendering the opponent unconscious? Perhaps that’s just my dad’s story, but passing along our history to our children seems natural.
We want our kids to know who we are, what we have done, and what we have experienced. The Israelites surely passed along their history and privilege of being God’s chosen people. Right?
Not exactly. Judges 2:5-10 (ESV) reads:
“When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.”
What Jesus has done for us is our history. It’s our identity. We as the Church are responsible for preparing the next generation to carry on the gospel. It’s easy to disregard this notion when it comes to college students since they will likely only be around for four or five years, but that thought is worldly-minded, not kingdom-minded.
As we pour into college students, we should be joyful knowing that the fruit of this investment will be reaped throughout the region, the country, and the world.
FUTURE, YES—BUT ALSO PRESENT
Did you know Jonathan Edwards was ordained at age 23, the same age at which Ben Roethlisberger won his first Super Bowl. Maybe the college students showing up on Sundays aren’t going to deliver one of the most famous sermons of all-time or begin a potential Hall-of-Fame football career, but they are probably capable of more than you think.
If you give them the opportunity, many of these college students will be ready to lead and serve now. I’m sure the leader of the children’s ministry would love a few new volunteers! Is your church running a community cleanup downtown? Invite the college students. Want to grow the body of Christ on campus? Help a student facilitate a bible study there.
Despite what fog machines and lasers may indicate, this generation is less interested in being entertained than they are about making a difference. Grant Skeldon, founder of Initiative Network and author of The Passion Generation, explains that young adults aren’t sticking around the church, “because it wouldn’t really matter if they did or didn’t. They don’t own anything. Nothing is on the line if they’re absent.”
A church that wants to be part of raising up the next generation must include young adults in meaningful kingdom-work. That means discipling them.
Discipleship. That word can be intimidating, but Mark Dever succinctly explains that discipleship is simply about “doing life together with other people as you all journey toward Christ.”
You don’t need to be relevant to disciple college students. You need to be real, and you need to care. College students don’t need a discipler who wears the right clothes or listens to the latest music. They need someone who has committed their life to Christ and faithfully seeks to follow him in their church, family, workplace, and community. Here are two easy ways to invite college students into your life.
Open your home. Simply by being an adult, you have something crucial to offer a college student during their time at school: a home. You have a home with meals, whether they consist of a family meatloaf recipe or takeout Chinese. You have a home with a couch, and it doesn’t matter if it’s lumpy and stained or fancy with reclining seats. You have a home with someone in it who will listen to them, and it doesn’t matter if you graduated college a few years ago or never attended. Creating a relationship with the college student showing up in your congregation begins simply by opening your home and showing you care.
Open your calendar. To continue discipling college students, share your life with them. Instead of making room on your calendar, invite them to be part of your calendar. Aside from meals, invite them to the corn maze you’re taking the kids to. If possible, let them visit you at work. Let them know you’d love to see them at your kid’s soccer game. Are sycamore trees making a mess of your yard? Have them come over to rake them with you. Sure, the college student is free labor, but the time spent raking the yard is real, everyday life that naturally lends itself to conversation.
NOT THAT COMPLICATED
In all of these activities, live out your Christian life. Hard moments and questions may arise, but these college students are craving meaningful adult interaction, and discipleship, as Mark Dever says, “is not that complicated.” But it is easy to overlook.
Don’t overlook college students. Open your home to them. Open your calendar to them. Disciple them. And watch what God does.
Tony Beard is a student affairs professional who has worked in the college setting for the past decade. He holds an MA in Counseling in Higher Education from the University of Delaware and is currently the staff advisor for his college’s Christian Student Fellowship. Tony is married to Angela, has two children, and is a member of Mount Calvary Church in Elizabethtown, PA. You can follow him on Twitter.