I use to get frustrated by the amount of transitioning students in our college ministry. Students would come and students would go. In our context I’ve had to deal with almost constant changes to our population of college students. One contributing factor is that we’re near a junior college, which carries with it a two year time frame. Another factor however, is that there have been many students who’ve without explanation wandered into our community for a season, before wandering right back out again.
Believe it or not; I’ve learned to live with it. My frustrations began to change when a campus minister friend of mine helped me see the situation differently. He challenged me to send them out as opposed to mourning their leaving. Instead of whining about them being gone, which is my default and is admittedly selfish, I’ve learned to bless them and celebrate them as they leave. For me, that has been a game changing idea.
What I’ve come to accept is that many of them, maybe even most in some seasons, will end up living somewhere else. Deep down we want them to graduate from college and come home; get involved with the church; teach Sunday School and tithe. Realistically, they may find a job, or a relationship, or a mission, in a different geographic location. The temptation, and quite honestly the usual response from the larger church, is to divest our resources because they might not be returned to our community. This, in my opinion, is sin.
Everyone knows that young people can be flaky. They bounce around; they move here and there; they constantly change their email address; they find new social media outlets before we’ve finished setting up our user accounts for the last one; whatever. This is their life stage and abandoning them because of it would be like discontinuing your junior high ministry because 6th graders can’t fully control all of their body parts. We have both explicit need and biblical reason to maintain our investments in every generation. Though young adulthood isn’t getting any less complicated, this doesn’t excuse our absence from their lives.
What I want to say, and what I believe, is that our investment in their lives is for the Church and not just for my church. What we do with them now will have an impact on what God will do in them and through them in the future; and that should not be dependent on their geographic location. We need to, sometimes at the expense of our own churches, see the bigger vision of what’s at stake here. This is for the Kingdom; not just for our church or even smaller: for our program. We need to keep the universal, “Big-C” Church of Jesus Christ in mind in all of this. And who knows, down the road there may be some intangible effect in your church because of the young adult someone else invested in.
If we don’t get this right, they will experience the church as being only interested in the success of our programs rather than the fruitfulness of their lives. Still, if we initially sacrifice our own desires, we can ultimately benefit the student and the Kingdom of God, which is beginning to sound strangely like the Gospel.