Jan 16, 2017
Take Them Seriously!
Chase Abner writes about one of his guiding principles for leading college students: Take them seriously.
That phrase has come to evoke a nearly visceral response from me. When I hear it, I bite my tongue and muster all my strength to keep my eyes from rolling back in my head. (And then I have to repent of my pride and judgementalism.)
You see, thinking of college students as “kids” is one of the greatest barriers to effective collegiate ministry. College students are physically and legally adults in most cases. Calling students “kids” only gives them permission to indulge in juvenile behaviors and gives you permission not to take them seriously. And that’s just the thing…
If you want college students to become serious, Christian adults, you have to take them seriously now.
In my experience, most students are just waiting for someone to believe not just that they might make a difference someday, but that they are ready to make a difference now. I’ll never forgot watching Josh blossom into a capable Christian leader about a decade ago. He had grown up in church, but never really embraced his potential. All it took was me asking him to lead a devotional time once on a mission trip. It was like he immediately became a new person and began exercising his gifts to impact others for Christ.
Essentially, I think Josh just needed an older believer to look him in the eye and say, “You’re ready to do this.” He needed someone to take him seriously as a Christian man NOW, not just somewhere down the line.
Here are a few things that happen when you take college students seriously.
1. They take themselves seriously.
When you treat a student like they are ready to be the person God has called them to be, they start believing it and acting accordingly. They stop waiting for the moment they’ve “made it” as a Christian and start pursuing the Christian life empowered by the Spirit of God. They’ll stop using their age as an excuse and will own their spiritual growth in a whole new way.
2. They take you seriously.
When a student knows you believe in them, they will lean into your influence. They’ll pursue you because they’re trying to discover and embrace what you see in them. They will involve you in the major decisions of their life. Simply put, they will entrust themselves to your leadership.
3. They get serious about the right things.
When a student begins to understand how much they matter and their potential, they start looking for the right places to invest themselves. With the Salt Network, we ask students to spend entire summers in places where it’s hardest to be a Christian. After college, we’re expecting them to invest their first two years helping to plant churches. These asks would be futile if students didn’t take themselves, our leadership, and the Great Commission seriously.
I wish I could create a list of practical ways to “take students seriously,” but it’s more about your posture than your behaviors. Naysayers might be quick to point out the vast numbers of dumb things college students do, but that’s really just another validation for why college ministry matters. We need more churches and leaders who are willing to step into that mess and remind students that they matter and are meant for much grander purposes.
Remember that so many golden moments in church history came upon the backs of college-aged Christians who took themselves seriously. In the words of Alvin Reid, “The Great Awakening was a youth movement.” It’s hard to note a revival or an awakening in the last two centuries of American history that didn’t begin on a college campus. Of course, the first awakening happened with a thirty-something leader and band of twelve college-aged followers.
Again, the key to leading students well begins with settling in your heart that they are worth taking seriously. It’s not about methodology or tools. I won’t give you a list of dos and don’ts, but I do have just one…
Don’t call them “college kids.”