One man put it this way:
We can’t effectively minister to college-age people if we don’t meet them in the middle of their most profoundly life-changing experience.
The college-age years are quite possibly the most turbulent times a person goes through. Every aspect of their world changes, seemingly overnight. College-age people go from the safety and consistency of their homes, schools, and established friendships to an environment they’ve never experienced before. They live away from home, are now one student out of thousands at a new school with new routines, and are forced to make new friends.
In the midst of this upheaval, values and beliefs are also rocked. Part of this new environment is constant contact with new worldviews, new beliefs, new value systems, etc. This fresh exposure and challenge to reconsider their standing on just about everything prompts the college-age person to question everything. They want to know more than just what to believe or how to believe it, they want to know why. You can almost equate the college-age years with a search for meaning. In this search, college-age people will always go in one of two ways: they can choose to follow after and find meaning in their circumstances, or they can choose to follow, study, and internalize their faith.
As Christians working with college-age people, we must be available to lovingly guide them in this search for meaning by helping them apply their faith in five fundamental areas. I’ll get into each of these individually in later posts, but here’s a basic overview:
The college-age years present an identity crisis. Just about everything a young person once placed their identity in (family, friends, high school, sports achievements, awards, etc.) is brushed aside. The search for identity takes off at breakneck speed as they’re expected to suddenly have answers to questions with long-term significance. What will I study? What career field do I enter after graduation? What type of activities do I want to be involved in? What type of friends am I looking for? Who should I date?
Boil all of these questions down, and you get a pretty simple overall question: Who am I?
Our responsibility as Christian workers is to show college-age people their identity is first and foremost found in Christ, not other people, places, or things. Above all else, a Christian is a child of God in the continual growing process of becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.
Intimacy can be broken down into four areas: spiritual, intellectual, physical, and emotional. Because intimacy is about getting to know others and letting others know you, it requires the individual to have a pretty good understanding of their own identity. Many college-age people no longer have the intimate relationships they once had with family and long-time friends. As a result, they’re in search of new “families” in which to find belonging.
As a Christian worker with college-age people, we have to foster an environment where a new “family” is created around their identity in Christ. They have a family of brothers and sisters in Christ as well as a heavenly Father who wants to develop a life-long intimate relationship with them. We have to remind them of these relationships and do everything we can to allow these relationships to flourish.
College-age people get a sense of meaning in three basic areas: their job, their schooling, and their relationships. Each brings a unique sense of fulfillment, but also a danger. In and of themselves, each area has the potential to lead college-age people away from their true meaning and purpose in Christ and towards eventual heartbreak, loss, and lack of direction. During this stage of life, each of these areas are incredibly fluid and transient. When too much importance is placed in any of these areas, any change is potentially devastating.
Challenge your college-age people to find their meaning in Jesus Christ and His Word and then apply that meaning to each of these three areas, rather than finding their meaning in each area and trying to fit their Christian faith to them. They are a Christian who works there, a Christian who studies this, and a Christian who is friends with so-and-so or dating so-and-so. Their meaning in life doesn’t change when any of the three areas change (and they will).
If you want a good way to find out where a college-age person is spiritually, look at the way they live.
Outward actions are often indicators of inward condition. The college-age years are filled with pleasurable pursuits, many of which are completely unbridled for the first time. How a college-age person handles this says much, and if you’re paying attention, will help you minister more effectively to them. Watch what they do to get a basic idea of where they are and where you need to take them.
For many college-age people, the college-age years are the first time they realize that they don’t really have any true faith of their own. They’ve been taught what to believe and how to believe, but don’t really fully understand why. For most, they’ve always just accepted what was handed to them, no questions asked. Now they’re being told to question everything—especially their faith and what they consider as absolute truth.
We have the distinct privilege and great responsibility as leaders of college-age ministries to help college-age people create a biblically-based view of the world. We have the joy of exploring the Scriptures, absolute Truth, with them in ways they never have before as we help them solidify their understanding of God’s Word and how it applies to them.