Jul 13, 2015


College Ministry is Hard

Tim Casteel reminds us that our jobs are hard, but gives us some encouragement to press on in college ministry because it’s so crucial.

Why would we think that THE most strategic people at THE most moldable time in their lives would be easy to reach?

Do you think that Satan is unaware of the strategic nature of college students? I think that’s why many Christians see college campuses only as dens of iniquity. When many think of a college campus they think of partying and sexual assault and drugs and shootings and anti-Christian secularism.

Aside from the harsh environment that is the college campus, here are just a few of the things that make college ministry hard:

1. We minister on the cutting edge of culture.

  • Pastor Tim Keller said that college campuses are the cutting edge of culture.
  • Like Athens in the Apostle Paul’s day, the college campus is a marketplace for new ideas. In reaching college students we are constantly faced with the latest ideas and culture.
  • College campuses are a decade or two ahead of culture in terms of ideas. What worked 3 years ago is no longer relevant because our audience has changed.
  • We are constantly having to innovate to reach a rapidly changing audience.
  • We are on the front lines of a shifting culture that is rapidly becoming more agnostic and atheist.
  • We are building the plane while flying it. No one has solved these problems yet because the college campus is where these issues are first bubbling up. Incidentally, this is why Tim Keller thinks that college ministry is the best way to develop the future leaders of the church – both pastors and lay leaders. Because it is an intensive boot camp on the cutting edge of culture.

2. College students are the least religious group in America.

  • Even more specifically, male college students are the least religious people in America.
  • 70% of high school students in the church will walk away from church during college.
  • Only 20% attend religious services on a weekly basis.
  • 46% of young people describe themselves as non-religious.

3. We are reloading constantly.

  • Every year our best leaders graduate.
  • Think about it – in a church, you can invest in leaders who will be around for 30-40 years! There is a core group of leaders you can count on- year in, year out.
  • On a college campus, every year you have to raise up a new batch of leaders.

4. We are serving a population who cannot fully support the ministry financially.

  • We have the unique problem that success in our ministry means we need to go raise more money. In a church, if you have more people coming, it means (usually!) that more money is coming in.

5. We minister to some of the most self-centered people on the planet.

  • Elisabeth Elliot sums it up: “College is for most students a time of unmitigated selfishness.”

6. Many of us minister on campuses where the administration doesn’t welcome the exclusive claims of Christianity.

7. It’s hard to build and keep a staff team.

  • At least within my organization, you have no control over who is on your team or how long they stay. Every year you have a new team.
  • The difficult nature of the ministry and the fact that it’s not financially lucrative make for a dwindling longevity among college ministers.
  • Or – some of you are thinking as you read this – “#teamprobs – must be nice to have a team”. You don’t have a team. You are the only full-time minister on your campus. And you’re tasked with getting the gospel to 20,000 students.

It’s good for me to be reminded that I’m exhausted because what we’re trying to do is hard . The reason there’s not many people up on campus  – sharing the gospel in Greek houses, in the dorms, with athletes – is because it’s hard!

Paul Tripp’s words are insightful:

“The Devil wants you to think that your ministry is particularly difficult. He wants you to think that you have been singled out for unique suffering. He wants you to begin to believe that your ministry situation, location, and relationships are definitely more difficult than what others face. He wants you to buy into the lie that while you’re suffering, they’re thriving; while you’re being questioned, they’re being respected; and while your work is hard, their work is easy.”

It’s not true. You are not alone in enduring the hardships of reaching college students. College ministry is hard. For everyone. But on a more profound level, why does Satan want you to think that you are alone in the hardships of ministry? Tripp continues:

“Because he wants you to do the one thing that will weaken you and ultimately destroy your ministry. He wants you to begin to question the presence, goodness, faithfulness, and grace of God. Harboring fundamental personal questions about the goodness of God will suck the spiritual vitality out of you and your ministry. And if you have come to question the goodness of God, it makes it very hard to call others to entrust themselves to his goodness.” Paul Tripp – Dangerous Calling

You are not alone in enduring the hardships of reaching college students. The all-powerful God of Creation has said, “I am always with you.” And “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God is good. God is powerful. God is with us. And God cares more about college students than we do.

In Spanish, if something is “worth it” you say it is “vale la pena” – literally “worth the pain.”

It is worth the pain of doing the hard work of reaching college campuses so that hundreds and thousands of future world changers can encounter Jesus.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” – Galatians 6:9

about the author

Tim Casteel

Tim works in college ministry at a university in Arkansas.

about the author

Amy Dutton

Designer. Dreamer. Programmer. Designer.