I’ll admit my feelings of total inadequacy to be writing a blog about college ministry. It’s not that I don’t have experience. 7+ years is enough to at least see the ups and downs of ministering to this age group. And it’s not that I don’t have passion for these people. I do now more than ever. Rather it’s that our college ministry doesn’t have many of the traditional markers of success which on most days makes me feel like a total failure.
So why am I doing this?
It was in 2004 that Hope Center Covenant Church hired me part-time to run their college ministry. I was then a 26-year-old former youth director turned carpenter, recently married and a recent college graduate. I wanted to get back into ministry and they needed someone to pick up this college thing that would die out each September when all the upper-middle class suburban kids would flock back to school in Southern California.
To be honest, I never wanted to work specifically with College students. It just wasn’t something that I’d really planned on doing and I was actually really intimidated when I started. Yet it didn’t take me long to love it. It wasn’t that I was good at it; I’d be the first to suggest that I’m still not good at it. Rather it opened up all kinds of doors for ministry and growth. In ministering to college students/young adults I found an ocean of untapped human resource for the Body of Christ. I found faith and frustration, passion and pain. It was easily overwhelming most days, but other days it was glorious. Honestly, it was just fun and a lot less like baby sitting than youth ministries.
7+ years later and I’m full-time on the pastoral staff. My job description says I’m Pastor of Youth and Young Adults, overseeing junior high and high school ministry and responsible for the college/young adult ministry. I’ll save you the slow progression of my weed-like growth into my current position. Suffice it to say that it involves me, a bald italian guy who now cuts up Moose in an Alaskan garage and a patient, supportive church.
After unexpectedly working with college students for the last 7 years you might think my passion has waned and that I’ve gotten really good at it. Sorry, just the opposite. Most days I sit and marvel at my own failures (yes I see a counselor) wondering if I’m still, or if I was ever, the right person for the job. My wife listens to me rant about my frustrations with ministering to this age group and she seems to think I’m always on the verge of quitting (yes my counselor talks to me about communication with my wife). Yet the reality is just the opposite. I’m actually more passionate about this group now than ever before. Every time we send off a college kid on missions, ever time an unwed girl gets pregnant, every time I sit and listen to another kid tell me how one of their junior college teachers told them that “communism isn’t that bad”, I realize how important this ministry is.
The reality is that college ministry is hard work. Any youth pastor could walk into any church in the western world and put together some sort of youth ministry from scratch based on the available templates, cultural expectations and resources (by the way, this is possibly really bad). Yet there’s none of that for doing college ministry in the local church. It’s painful to watch and even more painful to do. Most of the churches that are even attempting to do college/young adult ministry are frustrated and confused.
This is exactly why I wanted to write this blog.
Building a college ministry is like chasing a mythical winged horse with a single horn on its forehead. The frustrating thing is that we all look at the mega church down the street and see their blowout, light show, 200 person college worship service where the speaker has a soul patch and the worship band is a bunch of kids with long hair and tattooed forearms. We think that is what we’re supposed to do all the while trying to figure out how to get the 10 kids we know to show up to our house for a Bible study. The reality is that the majority of college ministry in the local church looks like this rather than the mega church. This isn’t a blast on the mega church; God bless you guys. It’s simply an affirmation of what most local church college ministry does look like.
Again, this is why I wanted to write this blog. I’m like you, I struggle desperately to find the smallest successes in this ministry (if this doesn’t describe you, you should probably read another blog). I wanted to write something that affirms this struggle which is all too familiar for churches and church leaders. I want to commiserate, and maybe find someone to commiserate with, about the failures, fears and insecurities that we all have. I also want to celebrate; celebrate the fact that churches are now taking the gamble to invest in the most untapped human resource of western Christianity.
I’m going to write another blog later this week about the name “And College Ministry”. After that I’m hoping to post once a week or so until Jesus comes back or I no longer have patience for people in their 20’s.