Training Opportunities

 —  September 25, 2012 — Leave a comment

To those interested in learning and talking about, or contributing to a conversation about ministry to college age people, I will be in two regions of the country in October to do just that!

First, next week on October 5, I will be in Omaha Nebraska for a one-day training at Nebraska Christian College.  For a brief description of the topics covered and details for registration for this date, click here.

Then, on October 23rd, I will be in the Bay Area (Pleasant Hill, Ca.) doing the same training.  For a brief description of the topics covered and details for registration for this date, click here.

Space is limited for these to allow for intentional conversation and focused question and answer times…so if you’re interested, make sure you sign up soon!

Hope you can join us for one of these days in October…

Becoming a 'Relief Valve'

 —  September 18, 2012 — 1 Comment

I came across an article about undergraduate students stress.  There were some interesting facts that stood out to me.  Here are a few of those found in a Study by the American College Counseling Association:

  • There has been a 21.6% increase in students who have been diagnosed with “severe psychological problems” from 2000 to 2012.
  •  42% of counselors noted there has been an increase in self-injury issues
  • 24% said there has been an increase in eating disorders

In the article, John MacPhee, executive director of the Jed Foundation, which oversees the website ULifeline.org, a resource center for students dealing with emotional issues says, “Only back pain, sinuses, and allergies are more prevalent [than depression and anxiety] among college students.”

I don’t think it’s any surprise that undergraduates are under stress.  They feel pressure from all sorts of angles.  Tuition is rising and so is debt issues.  In fact, the debt stuff is detrimental to more and more in school.  Finding a job is tough and students know that.  Everything from schooling to job market has become more and more competitive.  Then add in relational tensions, trying to find a sense of identity as they become more self aware, figuring out what they actually want to do vocationally and then facing the challenges or pressures of their family (whatever that may look like) all adds up.

Then they face mid-terms and finals….on and on.  THEN, add onto all this internal pressure, ministry leaders who pressure them to be involved in their ministry.  Ministry leaders who push them to serve in a ministry and be involved in some “program.”

Well…being connected in a church is certainly important, but perhaps they could just use a little conversation.  Maybe, just maybe, they could use someone simply coming up to them after church and inviting them out for lunch, only to see how they are doing.  Maybe they could use someone in their life that is simply interested in them…as a human being and places zero pressure on them, but instead is a “relief valve.”



I’ve been thinking a lot lately about different books, theories, studies, etc. on how “Millenials” are leaving church.  I’ve written a bunch about it and friends of mine, like David Kinnaman (UnChristian and You Lost Me) and Dan Kimball (They Like Jesus But Not The Church), have written well articulated books describing this issue as well.

But I’m becoming less and less convinced they are leaving the Church.  Instead, I think many are simply leaving the sub-culture of a particular type of church.  And this is something that I haven’t seen articulated yet.

For instance, in You Lost Me David Kinnaman describes “exiles” as people that feel more comfortable outside of a church context.  If you have not read this book yet I would recommend doing so.  But regardless, I believe much of the reason is because they just don’t fit into the sub-culture of the church or churches they have been exposed to.  So, depending on context, this may be correctly articulated as them “leaving Church.”  However, I think we can be more pointed and say they are leaving a specific sub-culture of Church.

I travel frequently and see so many different contexts of church.  I’m not just at conferences.  I’m also at a lot of college’s and churches across the country.  And if there is one thing I can say for sure, it’s that every church has it’s own sub-culture.  Music is a variance, teaching styles can be drastically different but so is the way people dress, how pastors are approached, specific language that seems to dominate in certain contexts, programmatic structures are vastly contradictory, what people of certain ages can or cannot do, etc.

And it’s important for us to realize that none of this is necessarily “Christian” or an accurate expression of “The Church.”  It’s simply a sub-culture’s way of doing things or thinking about certain aspects of life.

I am hearing more and more young people simply not feeling like they fit into what they call “Church.”  But I’m beginning to realize (or maybe just beginning to articulate clearly) it’s simply the sub-culture of their “church” experience they are not fitting into.  And I’ve found that helping them make this distinction in their own minds is extremely helpful.  This may not be a huge distinction that changes the conversation about this topic in publishing, but I do think it’s something we should keep in mind.

And I must say that I don’t personally think it’s bad to leave a particular sub-culture – regardless of context.  In fact, I think it’s far more dangerous to think of some of the things we do in church (culturally) as actually being “Christian” or the way of living as “The Church.”

Connecting college age people to older adults certainly has challenges.  And as I’ve written much about this subject in previous books, we need to find connecting points.  Well, vocation is one of the best (if not the best) avenues for this connection to be made.  Here are some reasons why connecting people with this common interest is easiest:

1. It puts the older person at ease.  This puts an older adult in a position where they can speak from their own experience, which tends to be most comfortable for people.

2. The ‘spiritual meter’ is lessened.  Sometimes starting conversations with other Christians is just plain awkward, because we feel like we need to be spiritual.  This allows people, who potentially don’t have any history together, to come into a conversation and simply talk about practicalities of life…first.

3. College age people’s interest is at its peak.  College age people are extremely interested in the practicalities of the workforce.  And to be able to sit down with someone with this as the focus is intriguing to say the least.

4. Expectations are low.  Going into a conversation that simply begins with two people who have similar interests in life is easy.  There is much more likelihood of a true relational connection taking place with minimal expectations on either side.

5. Practical theology.  If the older person is a maturing believer, the aspects of how faith is lived out in the workplace comes naturally.  It’s not forced and the conversation didn’t necessarily start there, which is how why sometimes it actually gets to the point of talking about spiritual matters.



A question many church-based leaders of college ministries face this time of year and throughout the fall is: should I connect my students to a campus ministry on campus or a local church ministry?  There are a few tensions here that need to be recognized:

1. Everyone says we need to be involved in a local church, but many lose contact after engaging with a campus ministry.  Also many, although it’s tough to put numbers on it, who attend Christian colleges that provide everything a local church does (chapels, accountability partners, small groups, bible classes, etc) also lose touch.  This is just a fact.

2. I have noticed most campus ministers say they value the local church, but tend to develop structures on campus that hinder people from engaging in a church (although not intentionally) versus structures that are pushing people to be involved and to be connected to one.  I recently wrote about this in my column in Youth Worker Journal.

3. Those that disconnect from the local church during their college years, even though they are engaged on campus with Christian community, tend to have a hard time reconnecting back into the local church after they graduate.

So, here are some thoughts for those who are church-based:

  1. Continue to encourage people to be involved on campus.  There is amazing peer-to-peer connections to be made and huge evangelistic opportunities on secular (and even some Christian campuses) to be had.
  2. Continue walking alongside students, even if they are thousands of miles away.  Keep in touch, call, text, email, Facebook, tweet, instagram….use this resource, keep in touch and allow them to see there is someone in a local church context that believes in the local church and still cares for them.
  3. My advice is, and you may disagree here, if a student has to choose between being involved on a campus ministry or a local church ministry for whatever reason, tell them to be involved with the church.

About a month ago I was sitting outside my favorite coffee shop talking with Landen, a freshman at Cal State Northridge, while sipping on a vanilla latte. He was telling me about how lonely the fall semester was for him. It came as a shock to him because he never expected college life to be this way. Initially he was excited about meeting new people and the next stage of life—you know, “the college life.” But like most college students face (at one point or another), loneliness rudely interrupted his life.

In high school, he had a lot of friends, a serious girlfriend, was president of the Christian club, and was a very good athlete. This didn’t just keep him busy, but kept him feeling good about himself and his life. But then his friends went in all different directions, things didn’t work out with his girlfriend, his superiority in sports was very different, and to top it off, he wasn’t totally sure what he was going to do with his life. He was starting at square one again.

It happens naturally and pretty much to everyone, but college freshmen typically have their entire identity tied up in their high school life. Then overnight, it is gone. When you lose your identity, you begin to question, search, and turn within to find answers. Then loneliness begins. This is the identity issue of the university world.

Up until junior high, your identity was pretty much tied to your family life. In high school, you more than likely found your identity in the group of friends you had. You felt comfortable around them, clicked with them, they understood you, and you understood them. Maybe you played sports, an instrument, or acted in the school plays. You may have even found much of your identity and self-esteem in getting good grades or possibly even your youth group. Whatever it was, you never thought about it, but you searched for and probably found your identity in something.

Now think about it for a minute. Take all these things away, and who are you? How would you define yourself? You spent four years of your life with this identity, and now, most likely, it is all going to be taken away. The struggle you will have in college is finding a new identity.

Life’s circumstances always change. Each stage of life brings different issues, struggles, joys, and pains. You cannot allow these things to define who you are. This is a lesson you will need to learn quickly.

The Scriptures talk about who we are: children of God. This is our true identity. This is where our self-esteem really comes from. We search for our identity in all kinds of things other than who we are as a Christian. The thing we need to realize is that all of our circumstances stage in school, relationships we have with people, sports we play, or even careers we have—will at some point change. The only thing that won’t change is who we are in Christ.

In college you will inevitably face lonely times and turn within to figure out who you are. The question is where will your identity and self-esteem be found? You can temporarily find it in your current circumstances or the people who are around you, but these will eventually leave you searching for something else to fill the void. At some point, hopefully sooner than later, you will find it as a Christian. Away from a church, campus ministry, sport, grade, or career…just you and God, in your personal relationship with Him.

Who are you? This is the question you will have to answer. I hope you find it in the One that will never change, never leave, and never disperse. Let the search begin…



The next couple posts for me will be letters/articles I would write to a college freshman/graduating senior.  Here is the first one:

You may be involved on your high school campus now, but when you become a college freshman, you are entering a world that is bigger, tougher, and much more difficult to feel connected in. The comforts you now know in school will be gone, at least temporarily. Here’s some advice—be prepared.

This may not be as drastic if you are attending a junior college because your community of friends will not be as rudely disrupted and your family likely lives close. However, when you go away to school, you will have to find a completely different community of friends, and for some, adjusting to college life is tougher than others.

Your biggest sense of involvement will come in your time with the individual friends you make. These relationships will take some time to develop, but they will come…with roommate(s), classmates, and those beyond. The key is finding an encouraging community and choosing it wisely.

The Unimaginable

You might not be able to imagine life without friends you have in high school, but this will change. There might be a few of your high school friends that you keep in touch with, but most you will only see at reunions. Most move on, grow up, and have a life that doesn’t include high school friends. You will probably do the same. It’s not a bad thing. It just happens.

Classmates

The friends you are closest to in college will be your friends in life and will be around much more than your high school friends ever were or will be. Some will have the same life direction, major, and goals. They want what you want. You sit in classes with them—multiple ones. You study for tests, write papers, and present projects together. You will study at the local coffee shop with them at 3:30 a.m. cramming for the test at 8:00 a.m. You will know them…they will know you; you will be in their lives and them yours.

Beyond the Classroom

People are always your point of contact in life—whether it’s in college or in finding a job after you graduate. Making new friends is harder for some than others, but eventually your contact with people will lead you to involvement. On the other hand, a lack of relationships could lead to a lack of involvement. If you want to be involved on campus, you must be involved with people.

One of the things you will find on more major universities, and even smaller ones, is different faith-based organizations that meet on campus. The Christian world is often small, but key in getting involved.

Be prepared to adjust in college—you are about to enter some new struggles in your life. This next stage for many is by far the toughest of their lives. There are many reasons—too many for this article—but just know you will likely face some depressing and lonely times. Getting involved in a ministry on campus is a key element in not only making it through these times, but also possibly helping you dodge some of the tough times.

There are many great Christian campus ministries on college campuses. Here are some thoughts on them that are worth thinking through.

  • They will provide a community of friends that can be very healthy. These people can serve as a great source of accountability and connection. Some could be your best friends that help you through tough times.
  • You will be exposed to people with completely different backgrounds—church and family—and view things entirely different than you. You will start to see different ways of viewing things in which you were not previously aware. You will be forced to think through why you believe what you believe—possibly for the first time in your life.
  • Most of these ministries have a mission on campus. This is great for you because your tendency may be to lose your sense of mission. You will be focused on yourself, your homework, and your social life and can easily lose sight of the fact that people need to know what you know—the gospel. These ministries can really encourage you to stay strong in this area.

It is vital that you get involved on your campus. This is the place that God has placed you…embrace it with everything you have. Despite coming struggles, you are about to enter a great time in your life! Meet people. Get involved. Cause waves. Make a dent. Charge it.

We all know the gay/lesbian debate is nothing small these days.  But one article I read that speaks to the Presbyterian and Episcopal decisions of late, breaks down the perceptions of different generations toward this issue:

The generational divides in the Presbyterian vote also suggest that for churches who are interested in keeping younger members in the pews, strong opposition to equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans may an be increasingly difficult stance. Strong generational divides on same-sex marriage persist in the general population, with two-thirds (67 percent) of Millennials (age 18 to 29) supporting same-sex marriage, compared to about 1-in-3 (32 percent) seniors (age 65 and up).

It seems as though church-growth is, at least partially, driving some of these decisions to be made.  I find that fascinating.  Here’s another brief section:

There is some awareness of the potential for more conservative stances on gay and lesbian issues to estrange young adults from churches: half (50 percent) of white mainline Protestants overall agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues. The perception that Christianity itself is opposed to gay rights is also strongly felt among young adults: according to the 2012 Millennial Values Survey, 55 percent of white mainline Protestant younger Millennials (age 18 to 24) say that “anti-gay” describes present-day Christianity somewhat or very well.

Thoughts on this?