Mar 28, 2016


4 Steps to Discern If You’re Called to the Campus

Stephen Lutz shares four steps to take when discerning a call to collegiate ministry.

Recently I interviewed a candidate for one of our college ministry apprenticeship positions. As I often do, I asked her questions about her sense of calling. “How do you know if you’re called to college ministry? What tells you that this is the path you should take?” This particular candidate was thoughtful and had good answers to those questions. But just as often I get a deer in headlights response.

College ministry is simply too hard if you don’t have a sense of calling to it. It’s not something people should enter into lightly. So how do you know if you’re called to this work? And how do you help others discern if they are? 

Some people find it hard to feel confident about pursuing this—or any–path. So they make the process overly mystical, waiting for God to directly reveal his will to them through an irrefutable fleece, or billboard, or text message. (He did that for Gideon; that doesn’t mean he’ll do it for you).

Others overthink it, filling up spreadsheets and pros-and-cons charts with reasons. That approach may work when it comes to determining where to manufacture widgets, but not so much with major life decisions. There are simply too many factors that you can’t quantify.

Others may not think it through enough. Their discernment process is simplistic: 1) Apply. 2) Interview. 3) Accept if the “door is open.” But it’s not that simple.

While there’s no foolproof method for discerning a call to college ministry, there are some steps we can take to put ourselves in the best position to determine if this is what we should do. We could say much more about this process, but let me outline some steps here in the hopes of stimulating some helpful thoughts and conversations.

One fairly obvious but necessary caveat: prayer is not a step in the discernment process: It is a thread woven throughout the entire process. Prayer must go before/during/after every stage. When we talk about calling, it implies a Caller. So let’s keep the conversation going between us and the Caller! And when you feel lacking in wisdom—as you should—remember to ask the one who gives generously (James 1:5).

With that in mind, here are a few steps anyone considering college ministry should go through:

1) Survey the Field

What do you know about ministry to college students? About the state of higher education? How about the school(s) you may be serving on? College ministry is a diverse and strategic field of ministry. Does it excite you that there are 5300 colleges and universities, and over 20 million students, in the US? That in many places the percentage of active Christians hovers somewhere in the single digits? “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few!” (Matthew 9:37).

Does it grab you that college ministry is perhaps the most strategic mission field in the world? And that you can have a crucial role there?  Lots of different types of people can flourish in college ministry, but there’s one thing they have in common: They love college students, and they love the missional context of higher education. Do you? 

2) Know Thyself

Why are you doing this? Is it the equivalent of your “safety school,” because nothing else worked out? That’s not a good reason. Consider yourself in terms of “Head, Heart, and Hands.”

Head: What do I know that will help me in this ministry? How am I wired? How have my experiences prepared me for this?
Heart: Be honest: Is my character worth emulating? Do I demonstrate love for Christ, and Christ-likeness? Should people follow me?
Hands: What skills and competencies do I possess? As I’ve suggested here, college ministry isn’t one job—it’s ten (or more)! 

3) Ask Others. Get Counsel 

You can’t discern this call alone. There are two aspects to how we “hear” our calling. If the internal call is like your phone set on “vibe,” then the external call is the ringtone.

So what are you hearing from others? Don’t depend solely on the official deciders where you hope to work. What about the people who know you and love you? What do your parents think? Longtime friends? Pastors and spiritual mentors? If you are getting any cautions or red flags, don’t dismiss them.

Other people’s counsel isn’t ultimate, but neither should it be discounted. Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14

4) Count the Cost

That’s Jesus’ advice about any work in his Kingdom (Luke 14:28) If you’re going to do his work, you should know what you’re getting in to.

For example, if money isn’t the most important thing to you, that’s good, because people don’t go into this work to get rich. Sometimes finances can be tight. If you’re support raising, are you prepared to ask many people for money?

Nor is this a prestigious position. That might not matter to you either—but it might matter to your parents, or peers. Are you ok with that? Also, your ministry may ask for a minimum time commitment; anywhere from 1-5 years is common. Are you prepared to sacrifice other opportunities to say yes to this one?

Other costs besides money, reputation, and commitment include uncertainty around your position; being forced to move and start over, maybe frequently; and the frequent annoyances and headaches that can come with loving and serving college students.

The upside is that the cost is worth it! You are spending yourself on work that is life-transforming and world-changing—not to mention fun! College ministry is a great privilege—and the ones who flourish in it don’t lose sight of that. 

Once you’ve prayerfully and thoughtfully worked through each of these steps, you should be closer to discerning your decision. You at least will have a better sense of what questions to keep asking, and who to talk to. And Lord willing you may be joining the most exciting and strategic mission field in the world!

about the author

Steve Lutz

Steve Lutz is the lead pastor of Wellspring Church in State College, PA Penn State University. He is also the author of two books, King of the Campus (2013) and College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture (2011). He frequently speaks and writes on college ministry-related issues, and consults with college ministries across the country.