Two years ago, I shifted from working with grades 6-12 to working with collegians. I love college students. They’re fun and engaging and energetic and creative. They have a lot of passion, albeit at times unfocused. They want life to be awesome.
Ultimately, I imagine I’ll return to local church ministry. I love my work in the university, but I don’t know if student affairs is my field. Which got me thinking–would I want to do college ministry?
I’m not sure. Obviously a college ministry can look like a lot of things. And many of them are healthy subgroups within the larger congregation. But sometimes the ones that are big enough to want to hire a college pastor are also the ones that give me pause. Here’s why:
1. Does it create a One-Eared Mickey?
An image made famous by Chap Clark*, the one-eared Mickey represents a youth ministry so independent from the rest of the congregation that really, they are two separate entities. The touch point? Money. Money for programs, buildings, and the paid staffer.
I think that college programming has just as much risk of being a Mickey Ear as junior or senior high does. But the church is, among other things, a multi-generation group doing life together. There is still an appropriate role for age-specific programming, but not when that programming effectively creates a uni-generational mini-congregation within the larger body.
2. Does it create a false separation between ‘real’ adults and ‘fake’ (college age) ones?
Similarly, adults in a congregation are well served to remember that young people are not “the future of the church.” They are the church, just as much as older people are. I wonder if certain forms of college ministry perpetuate, in the minds of the older congregants, that they are the ‘real adults’ and the young people are not full-fledged members of the church community.
3. Does it uphold a youth group 2.0 culture?
Youth groups have their own sub-cultures. From jokes to shared experiences, the group cohesion comes from the unique culture that group has created together. When that group is made up of adolescents, the sub-culture will be adolescent. And that is fine, and then a time will come when those adolescents need to shift into young adulthood.
In junior high or high school youth groups, we have developmentally appropriate goals for our students. We try to walk alongside them as they take certain steps in their faith, but we are also aware of things they cannot do yet. Sometimes I wonder if a fully programmed college ministry, with its own worship gathering, events, and camps, create a late-adolescent driven culture really serves the larger faith-development goals for this age.
Are we helping collegians move towards adulthood by providing them programming that is, in effect, youth group 2.0?
Do I think college-only social events or Bible studies are bad? Absolutely not. But if we end up with a college-only mini church, especially if that mini-church behaves more like oversized teens than emerging adults, no one wins.
What do you think makes a college aged ministry effective within a larger church? Is it about the culture of the group, the programming they offer, or something I’ve missed entirely?
*If you know of another person who originated the image, please inform me.