Leading a student ministry on a college campus is often invigorating. Students are discovering who they are and how they fit in the world, and most campus ministers consider it a privilege to be a part of that process. College ministries also come with their own unique challenges. There are three things you need to keep in mind to navigate them well.
1. College Students Are in a State of Transition
The college experience is an extended transition between childhood and adulthood, particularly for freshmen. Many are leaving home for the first time in their lives, and that can be both exhilarating and confusing. Additionally, they are trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with the rest of their lives.
Two likely results of this process are that they are dealing with a lot of uncertainty, and they probably have a lot more questions than answers. A short devotional or scripture study each week where they are handed simplistic conclusions is not what they need. Instead, create an environment in which they have the space to ask about the things they are wrestling with.
Furthermore, don't assume you will always be the one giving feedback or answers. They may want your input, but they probably care just as much about what their peers think. Your ministry will be more effective if you learn to gauge whether they are seeking your wisdom or they just need to hash things out in the group discussion.
2. Not All Students Have the Same Needs
To be a successful campus minister, you need a clear understanding of your own limits. You may be great at giving spiritual counsel or practical advice about life, but you can't meet every need that the students you serve will have. For example, many college students experience food insecurity. While your gut reaction may be simply to feed them, you are probably not equipped to provide a long-term solution to this problem.
It's vital to have a working knowledge of the resources available to students on campus, particularly those that are covered by tuition and fees and thus are unlikely to cost them much, if anything, out of pocket. In addition to academic tutoring and career assistance, many campuses have a robust array of student services:
- Financial advising
- Mental health services
- Abuse survivor advocacy
- Crisis hotlines
- Substance abuse recovery
Knowing when a particular issue is beyond the scope of your expertise is the first step. Connecting the students you serve with people who can help is the necessary follow-up.
3. Students Look for Places Where They Are Accepted and Loved
A common struggle that many college students face is loneliness, particularly when they are at a new school. The number one goal of your campus ministry should be to ensure that they feel welcome and supported. What better way to show God's love than to give them a comfortable place to land in the world?
Everyone wants to be heard and understood, and college students are especially drawn to people who take the time to really see them for who they are. One of the first things you are likely to notice as a campus minister is that, even when they have the same basic religious beliefs, the student groups you lead are likely to be diverse in their backgrounds, political leanings, communication preferences, and countless other ways. Taking the time to get to know them as individuals and develop an authentic relationship with them is one of the best ways to keep them coming back.
Being a campus minister is an important calling. You can play a pivotal role in students' ongoing spiritual development while they are at a crossroads in their lives. All you need are the right tools and the understanding necessary to minister to them effectively.