“Why do you want to do campus ministry?” I got asked this question a lot as I navigated my way through the complicated discernment process I had to go through for ordination. Truthfully, it was simply where I felt (and still feel) called to serve God and the Church. College students are incredible. They are learning about independence and adulthood, and their minds are being opened and stretched daily by new and interesting ideas. Their worlds are also being expanded by new experiences and opportunities – like studying abroad, drinking too much, not being under the watchful eye of a parent, choosing which activities they want to be a part of (like whether or not to go to church). In short, college is just a really interesting life phase, and it’s a place I feel the church presence is desperately needed.
But do college students need the church? There have been a proliferation of articles trying to explain why this generation of ‘millennials’ has fled organized religion. I have my own theories. But what I have witnessed in my three plus years of ministry on campus is that even some of the professed atheists sense something drawing them to seek God, or at least to ask questions about it. And when we look at who is on college campuses (and who is well funded there) by and large it’s not the mainline Christians. So those who are not persuaded by simplistic theology or culturally conservative viewpoints end up being turned off to religion altogether. You would probably not believe the number of students who have said to me, “I didn’t know you can be Christian and support LGBT people!”
And, it’s also surprising to me how much of the Christian story is really unknown to this generation. Thus, there’s much of the Gospel that young adults simply do not know. Whereas in previous generations I think even those who were not Christians knew at least something about the Christian story. That cultural knowledge is fading fast.
So the good news is this is a group of people who truly haven’t heard the Gospel. And some of them desperately want to hear it – not the sound bites that certain fundamentalists spew, but the real what-Jesus-said-and-did version. And if we are not there on campus to share it with them, then we really do risk losing our chance to reach this generation entirely. While part of our mission as campus ministers is to serve those who were raised in the church and are now in college, the reality is that a large amount of our time and resources goes to evangelism. That is, sharing the Gospel with those who haven’t heard it and shepherding them into the beginning of their faith journey. And having had the opportunity to do this with students has taught me that the notion that this generation is not interested in organized religion is false. Or at least, not true for all. And so here on campus the church has a perfect opportunity to connect with them during this intrinsically formative time in their lives. This is why campus ministry is so crucial and why I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to do it.