2 things to remember about college students and evangelism

i interviewed a veteran campus minister years ago, when i was just a newbie in the field. i was writing an article from the slant of “new guys asks old guy how things in campus ministry have changed.” i asked him to share how he personally had gone about sharing the truth of Jesus with college students over his four decades of campus ministry. this is what he said:

“when i get in an elevator, a student will ask me if i am going down. i always respond, ‘not when i die.'”

that story makes me think of this hilarious SportsCenter commercial:

now, this man led thousands to Christ during his lifetime. and so he was not saying that his preferred method of evangelism is “cute sayings in the elevator evangelism” like one would say “real life evangelism” or “sequential evangelism” or “the celtic way of evangelism” (all titles found at Amazon).

i’ve thought about his answer a lot over the 7 years or so since i wrote that article. if we are called to make disciples, we in college ministry must constantly be thinking about how we ourselves approach evangelism and how we equip our students to fulfill their mission of making disciples.

here are two things we must keep in mind.

1 // it’s all about relationship.

i hate when followers of Jesus use fear tactics to scare people into the Kingdom. the whole “if you died tonight, would you go to heaven?” line of reasoning is very frustrating to me. it communicates that Jesus is nothing more than a “get out of hell free” card and that being a Christian is all about what he can give you and not so much about what you can give him.

this approach undermines the relationship we can have with Jesus. imagine you came to my birthday party bearing gifts for me. i reach out to you when you arrive, but only to snatch the gifts away from you. i don’t really care that you’re at my party or that you desire a relationship with me; i only care about what you brought me.

yeah, it’s kind of like that.

(please don’t hear what i’m not saying. talking about heaven and hell and judgment and eternity are all vitally important. but if Jesus is simply an eternal fire insurance policy, i’m afraid we’ve missed the point.)

we must lead people to Jesus. and we must train those people to lead other people to Jesus. and not just his gifts.

2 // it’s all about relationship.

yeah, you’re reading that right. two main points; the same, but different.

the old adage rings true for college students: they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. that’s why “elevator evangelism” doesn’t work today. authentic relationship is the incubator where an eventual faith takes root. 

people are not projects. and neither is evangelism a task we check off our list. gone are the days, i think, of “large event” evangelism. smaller groups and one-on-one relationships is where the good stuff happens. we must think small; one who comes to faith leads another, who leads another. by thinking small, we impact big.

that’s how Jesus did it.

question for you: what do you think? how did you come to faith? how can we create better environments for healthier relationships in which the gospel can be declared and demonstrated?

6 concerns of college students and my response, part 2

i’ve broken a major rule of blogging these last two weeks. last monday, i posted part 1 of my response to 6 fears and concerns of college students today as outlined by dr. tim elmore. the unspoken blogging code is that you post part 2 the next day.

yeah, that didn’t happen. and there’s a reason.

(cue shameless plug)

i was busy launching this bad boy. at the time of writing, we are at 58% of our goal. if you haven’t had the chance to jump on board, i’d love for you to partner with me!

(end shameless plug)

and so, finally…here is part 2, addressing the second 3 concerns as listed by elmore. this second verse is the same as the first: i will share a few of my thoughts and then i would love to hear your thoughts, especially if you are currently a college student.

4 // they don’t see the world in black or white, right or wrong.

i’m not really sure this is a fear or a concern. it’s more of a characterization. and generally speaking, it seems to be true. college students don’t seem to sure about what to stand for. elmore says this generation wants to possess values, but there has been very little need for them to sacrifice for what is right.

and when no sacrifice is required, the value of what is right diminishes and the line between right and wrong gets a little fuzzy. and because, as elmore points out, life has been relatively sacrifice-free for this generation, they don’t often think in terms of black or white, right or wrong.

5 // their career plan involves “one big break” instead of steadily plodding up the ladder.

i don’t think this generation has an aversion to hard work. i think this generation has an aversion to what they feel is menial work. and unfortunately, there are times when climbing the ladder is going to feel menial. couple this with an “microwave” culture — where everything is ready in an instant — and you’ve got trouble.

i think what college students desire is value. it’s the proverbial forest for the trees; it’s hard to see the value in menial work, but students often fail to think long term about any given situation. working hard and completing the seemingly menial tasks earns the right for greater responsibilities and opportunities. like i said, college students don’t mind hard work. i think they simply sometimes forget that you occasionally have to work hard at that which is menial.

6 // they want their life to count.

i couldn’t agree with this statement more. however, we need to decide what “counts.” i think many college students want to accomplish something incredible that gives their lives great value and meaning.

however, does it “count” when you faithfully provide for your family? does it “count” when you invest in your children? does it “count” when you serve your customers well? does it “count” when you invest in a dozen young boys on a little league team? does it “count” when you are faithful in little things?

i think it counts. and so i feel we must help students today realize they don’t need to cure cancer or write the next great american novel to lead a life that counts.

question for you: what do you think? are elmore’s observations accurate? what about my responses? i’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you are currently a college student.

6 concerns of college students and my response, part 1

a few weeks ago, leadership guru and all-around expert in all things Generation Y, tim elmore, wrote this great post about the 6 fears and concerns of college students today. as someone who works with college students, i thought i would take a couple of posts and share a quick response to each of these fears and concerns. today is part 1 and will address the first 3 statements.

1 // they list the need to grow up faster as among the biggest disadvantages of their generation.

there is no doubt, kids are growing up faster than they have ever had to before. and i also have no doubt that college students feel that pressure. but, i think many college students are resisting this felt need by refusing to actually grow up.

this is especially true for men. much has been written about the “boys who can shave” epidemic. the point at which a boy becomes a man gets later and later in life. first, you were a man when you quit school and worked in the family trade. then it was when you could drive. then, when you could vote and buy smokes and get a tattoo. then when you went to college. then when you could drink. then when you got a job. then when you got married. then when you had a kid.

the fact is, many college men may feel this pressure to grow up fast, but they aren’t doing it. in fact, a study in britain just revealed that the number of men between the ages of 20 and 34 who were still living at home has increased from 14% in 1997 to 33% in 2011.

failure to launch, anyone?

the bottom line is that college students are feeling this pressure to grow up fast. but they aren’t necessarily doing it. and those of us in campus ministry are left with the tension of helping to train a generation of students to actually grow up.

2 // they are not happy with the direction of the country.

elmore says that 62% of generation y believes the country is headed in the wrong direction. and, my facebook feed today (on the day the supreme court upholds obamacare) confirms this.

i’m not sure that students completely understand the potential they have within them to bring about real change. it’s so much easier to whine on facebook than it is to get our hands dirty. students don’t feel they can make a difference in a machine as big as american politics. or in the world for that matter.

can we convey to students the truth of ghandi’s statement that they must “be the change [they] want to see in the world.” we must equip them to think in terms of smaller is bigger. Jesus taught this concept. and so of course, we must center this change on the principles of the Kingdom of Christ.

3 // in some ways, they are at odds with their own beliefs and values.

this is an interesting statement. the students i work with tend to know what they believe; they just aren’t sure how to express those beliefs. they love Jesus, but they aren’t so sure about folks in the church. they struggle to find their place in the community of the saints.

the desires of college students in the faith arena are, in my estimation, shockingly simple: honesty, transparency, and authenticity. if we (the “grown ups”) could express our faith in these terms, it would go a long way in discipling our college students.

question for you: i would love to hear from my college students today: do you think elmore’s observations are right on? what about my thoughts? what would you add?

3 things college girls should remember on pinterest


i enjoy pinterest.

there, i said it. i was a little reluctant to jump on board with pinterest a few months ago because…well…i’m a dude.

but, after several months on pinterest…i confess: i am concerned for college-aged women on pinterest.

most of the people i’m connected with on pinterest are girls associated with the campus ministry i lead. and so, i see a lot of wedding boards and craft ideas and pretty hairstyles.

and all of those things are fine. but, have you ever noticed that everything posted on pinterest is absolutely picture perfect? unfortunately, that’s not how real life is.

and so, i thought i might offer college women and the ministers who work with them a list of three things worth remembering on pinterest.

1 // don’t place unreal expectations on anyone or anything.
let your future husband be himself. i know you’ve pinned several marriage proposals. and that’s nice. but do you really want your husband to re-package someone else’s marriage proposal? let him be creative and express his love and commitment to you his own way.

in the same way, let your future kids be themselves too. don’t force them to pose in the same way as those cuties in the picture you pinned. chances are your family pictures won’t look that perfect anyway.

and the ideal living room you pinned, with the pristine carpet and the perfectly placed pillows and the candles on the table? yeah, that probably won’t happen. your living room will most likely look like a Toys ‘R Us vomited all over it.

and that’s OK.

2 // plan your marriage.
while pinterest may be nice for wedding ideas, you have to remember something really important: most of your pins have to do with planning a wedding. the perfect dress, hair, cake, and so forth.

those things are fine, but don’t lose sight of the big picture: you need to be planning your marriage.

3 // don’t create a fantasy life.
don’t create a fantasy life on pinterest and set yourself up for disappointment. there are dream houses you can will never have. there are vacation spots you can never go. there are crafts and projects you can never do. and if you do them, they won’t look or taste right.

it’s OK. your value is not found in that which is not real.

discussion: OK, now it’s your turn. what advice would you give you a college-aged girl about pinterest?

6 ways college students can redeem social media

this infographic portrays the complexity of social media. and you know what this graphic is designed to incite in us? that overwhelming feeling of being smothered.

and it works.

our college students are not engaged with most of these services, but there is little doubt of the role social media plays in their lives. most of the students i work with spend a considerable amount of time on any combination of facebook, twitter, and pinterest.

it’s smothering.

most college students are not using social media in a redemptive manner, and i believe that’s what frustrates me the most. the opportunities for meaningful engagement and ministry are abundant in social media. they are mostly squandered, however, by selfish and meaningless banter.

and so, here are 6 ways you can encourage college students to redeem social media for meaningful ministry, engagement, and Kingdom impact:

1. create.
we are made in the image of a Creator God. we have, i believe, a divine bent towards creativity. we must encourage our students to do as God does…look out into that darkness and create light. this could be in any form for our students: a blog. photography. poetry. a small business. anything that can be shared via social media.

social media, on the surface, can be all about consuming. but creativity moves our students out of the realm of consumption and into contribution. from taking to giving. from selfish to selfless.

2. transparency.
transparency comes from a latin word meaning “to show light through.” college students value transparency in their community. they love raw honesty and openness. these values must be carried over into the realm of social media. students can and should honestly share their feelings, struggles, and questions.

but we, as campus ministers, must lead them one step further. if Jesus is the “light of the world” (john 8:12), and to be transparent means “to show light through,” then our students must allow Christ to shine through their facebook, twitter, and other social media dealings.

3. question.
to ask questions to show a desire to know someone or something better. this is true online as well. we must train our students to ask better questions. asking questions conveys humility. it conveys openness and honesty. it conveys a desire to engage. but most importantly, asking questions conveys you care.

and people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

(note: the best question i have asked on social media is simple, “how can i pray for you?”)

4. listen.
if we are going to train our students to ask better questions, we must also train our students to be better listeners. the old mantra your mama always said, “God-gave-you-two-ears-and-one-mouth-for-a-reason,” is in effect here. our students must listen on social media twice as much as they speak.

one of the beauties of social media is conversation and the definition of conversation is two-way. it’s not two-way if our students are talking a lot but not listening.

5. love.
according to Jesus, one of the ways we prove to be his disciple is to love each other (john 13:35). this must be true for our students as they navigate social media. there is no room for anger, malice, or character assassination. foolish arguments and debates are pointless. gossip and slander and self-deprecating humor must be banished.

love wins. even in social media.

6. proclaim.
if our students are living as missional followers of Christ, they understand their charge to carry the message of the gospel to where the people are. and the people are on facebook and twitter and other social media. and so our students must engage in that space so as to earn the opportunity to declare and demonstrate (don’t miss that second one) the gospel.

this must not be done obnoxiously or flippantly and our students needs to know that lobbing “holy hand grenades” won’t work any more effectively in cyberspace than it does in the real world.

the only chance our students have for getting this important message to stick will be if they follow numbers 1 through 5.

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question: do you, or your students, feel smothered by social media? why do we do this to ourselves? what would you add to the list of ways to redeem social media?

(HT for image: www.businessinsider.com)

7 ways to show your students you don’t care this summer

my office is a mess. campus is freakishly quiet. i’ve been moving slow in the mornings and in bed early in the evenings.

such is the summertime in campus ministry. and that’s a good thing. i believe most of us cram 12 months worth of work into 9 months.

so, breathe easy. rest. it’s OK. you have permission.

but don’t check out on your students completely. in fact, it would be wise to check in on them frequently this summer. say hello. find out what is going on in their world. ask how you can be praying for them. remind them that you are still around, still their campus minister, and still very much a part of their lives.

unless you don’t care.

and if you don’t, i am providing seven quick, simple things you should avoid this summer so that you are completely disengaged from all of your college students.

  1. don’t text them.
    today, i got an out of the blue text message from my campus minister. (mind you, i graduated from college twelve years ago.) i felt remembered, encouraged, and loved. it was the worst.
  2. don’t post on their facebook page.
    don’t go on their turf. don’t engage their world. leaving a post on someone’s facebook wall is the equivalent of finding a note in your lunchbox from your mom in grade school. don’t do that.
  3. don’t tweet them.
    keeping your encouragement or blessing for your students under 140 characters can be tough. don’t deal with the hassle.
  4. don’t chat with them on facebook or skype.
    if 140 characters is too much, then there is no way a facebook chat is feasible. too much typing. and you will definitely feel uncomfortable turning your cam on for some actual face time on skype. it would be a shame to there to be eye contact.
  5. don’t call them on the phone.
    who uses the phone for talking anymore? it’s all about angry birds.
  6. don’t drop by their home or share a meal.
    if students happened to have stayed in town, you should avoid stopping by their houses or taking them out for a meal or coffee. you wouldn’t step into the cage of a wild wildebeest, would you? never mind all that stuff Jesus said about being sent to the world on their playground.
  7. don’t mail them a real, live handwritten letter or card.
    nobody enjoys getting a thoughtful, hand-written letter addressed specifically to them containing encouragement that tells them they are being thought of and prayed for. nobody.