- ABOUT US
This summer marks the close of my fifth year serving as your missionary at the Baptist Student Ministry – it also marks the close of my time at UNT and in Denton. This July my wife and I will be making a move to Louisville, KY, where I plan to finish my Masters of Divinity at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. It’s a big transition, especially when I consider that I have not only served at UNT since 2012 but I actually started attending North Texas as an undergraduate in 2006.
For eleven years my life has revolved around UNT and college students, and as my time here comes to an end, we at the DBA thought it would be helpful to share some of the insights I’ve gleaned in over a decade on campus:
College Students Think Differently, Really Differently
That may sound obvious, but hear me out: Just a few weeks ago I was engaged in a spiritual conversation with a freshman at our Midweek Free Lunch and he responded with real interest when I asked him about his spiritual beliefs. After sharing some of his background (he was raised in a typical Bible-Belt Christian home) and how he had already given a lot of consideration to the topic of religion, he ultimately concluded with: “I’m just not sure what view of God is right for me.”
This was not the well-rehearsed, “post-modern” smokescreen we’ve grown to expect in the halls of academia, the kind that seems more intended to serve as a deterrent to would-be evangelists. This was a genuinely held worldview – a foundational understanding of reality—built entirely on Subjectivity rather than Objectivity. What was true for this young man, born right at the turn of the millennium, was what HE felt to be true. What was true about God, the world, even truth itself, was what HE wanted to be true.
I oftentimes feel like Paul at the Areopagus when I’m evangelizing college students. Before I can even begin to talk about sin or the cross or eternal life, I have to do the work of getting some foundational ideas established. We may have to re-evaluate what our methods and “success” in evangelism look like. This young man and I spent our entire lunch talking about a God that exists objectively, a God that has not left us to discern or decide what WE THINK He is like, but a God that can and does TELL US what He is like. In that conversation I didn’t tell him about sin or the cross. I told him about Truth. A truth that exists and is unchanging, a Truth that can be known and must be known, and a Truth whose name is Jesus.
That brings me to my second point:
College Students Need to Read the Bible
I firmly believe that one of the most important and overlooked doctrines you can teach young people today is Bibliology – the doctrines of and about the sacred Christian scriptures. The most common area of attack for Christians in today’s society is not the deity of Jesus, or the possibility of miracles, even the existence of God itself, but the very source of our understanding of those things: the Bible.
A recent Pew Research Survey found that only 15% of 18-29 year-olds believe that all of the Bible should be interpreted as the inerrant Word of God (and the national average is only 31%). I’m not even sure that most college students—even the Christian ones—know what “Word of God” means. Is it words about God? Is it good religious principles? If it helps, I use the metaphor of a “text message” from a loved one to help students understand that the Bible – all of it – is literally God communicating to them, and that the significance of the words you read come from the person sending the message. It may seem like an elementary principle, but I assure you it’ll be new for most of them.
Young people need to be taught that the Word is inerrant, and they need to be equipped with answers to the arguments they’ll hear against the scripture’s inspiration. On top of that, they need to know about the Word’s authority; it’s sufficiency for ALL THINGS necessary for life and godliness; and most practically, they need to be taught basic, reproducible methods for how to read the text, interpret it rightly and then apply it to their lives.
The question is, who will teach it to them? That brings me to my last point:
Re-think the “Front Door” of Your Church
I’m not talking about architecture or signage. You need to re-evaluate how it is that a young person will even be brought into the presence of your church. Used to be, all it took was a snazzy worship service and a dynamic speaker and you could get hundreds of students to come to your church. Throw in free pizza and it’s over. And while that may still work to get a few “low-hanging fruit” raised in Christian homes, I’ve talked to several of our Association pastors who have recognized a clear trend away from that method’s effectiveness in recent years. Why? Because there’s no amount of attractional methods you can use to overcome the hostility younger Americans feel towards the church.
Don’t get me wrong, we love the low -hanging fruit and they need to be cared for too. But in the mind of more and more young Millennials – especially the ones most unreached by the Gospel – the church is not a place to “check out” when they’ve got nothing else to do on a Sunday morning. To them, the church represents something oppressive, regressive and threatening to their very life, and they’d rather watch The Office for the umpteenth time than come anywhere near your worship service. The tragedy is this generation is desperately longing for Spirituality and looking for some semblance of religious meaning that only the local church can truly give.
What’s the answer? The “Front Door” of your Church is not your building and not your worship service, but your people. The first meaningful interaction a lost college student will have with your ministry – and the best chance you have of correcting the misconceptions they have about “the Church” – is when they have a blessed, loving, meaningful interaction with one of the saints. Equip your flock to engage with and share the love of Christ with college students. Join in with the work your church does at the BSMs on our campuses. Get to know the twenty-year-old waiter at your favorite restaurant and invite them to come into the fellowship of your church with you. Not because it’s cool – or there’s pizza – but because you’re there, and they know you care about them. Maybe they’ll find that the God you worship cares about them too.