Apr 13, 2015


The College Student’s Competing Identities – Downloadable tool

Collegiate Collective shares a downloadable tool from Chase Abner that will help you guide students to understand how their identities shape their choices.

In my role as a college ministry strategist, I’m often approached by youth ministry leaders who want to know how to best prepare their students to survive college as Christians. They mean well. They really do. They have invested ministry in these young people for years and they fear that investment will have been in vain if they don’t emerge from college still holding onto a semblance of Christianity.

The problem with that thinking is it sets the standard too low. Surviving is fine, but the Gospel actually calls and equips us to thrive. A student who survives college as a Christian may come out the other side with a profession of faith, but a student who thrives as a Christian in college will come out the other side with a line of individuals behind them who are following Jesus because of their faithfulness. A student who survives may avoid major moral failures, but a student who thrives will grow in sanctification AND push back darkness by sharing Christ with others.

One of the things that stands in the way of a Christian student thriving is the various identities that can pull them in different directions. First off, they are students trying to graduate. But they are also in an incredible season of discovering themselves and the world and experiencing college life is also a priority. There’s also part of them that wants to play the role of the church kid. They want to get through the spiritual danger of college as quickly and painlessly as possible so that they can “start their life.” And finally, there is part of them that does want to live as a missionary to their campus.

I’ve created this table to help leaders process how these identities influence a student’s decision-making. In every circumstance, how they answer “Who am I?” will affect the choices they make.

identities collegiate

Click here to download this is pdf. Click here for the blank version.

Honestly, all of these identities are valuable in the life of a student. However, if they get out of whack, a student will be tempted to make decisions that ultimately honor self as king, rather than Christ. Let me give you a few examples:

– If a student operates primarily out of their “student” identity, then they will seek the approval of professors over everything else. It will be very difficult for this student to stand for Christ or oppose an unbiblical opinion if they think it could cost them their grade.

– If a student operates primarily out of their “experiencer” identity, then they will be tempted to compromise their personal holiness and endanger their ability to live effectively as a missionary to their campus.

– If a student operates primarily out of their “church kid” identity, they they will miss out on a lot of valuable life experiences and forfeit their ability to speak truth through relationships with non-Christians.

– If a student operates primarily out of their “missionary” identity, they could get so focused on “ministry” that their academic performance suffers or they fail to see experiences with others as mission opportunities.

How you can use this tool

  1. Use it for staff and student leader training. Download and print blank copies of the grid. Fill in the top row by asking your people to think about what the various identities are for students. Then, work your way down each column at a time by having the group articulate answers for each question. Ask them for personal stories for how they’ve felt those pressures in their life. As a group, come up with answers for how the gospel calls us to balance in these areas.
  2. Use it for freshmen and other incoming students. You could walk through the document with a group or in one-on-one discipleship. Ask the student to identify which area they are tempted to focus their energy. Ask good questions and help them see the value in honoring Christ through each of the identities.
  3. Share with parents. I have found that conversations on this topic can be eye-opening for parents. It gives them a framework from which they can counsel and pray for their students.
  4. ADAPT IT! Maybe you don’t like the words/titles I’ve selected. Great! Make it your own. I only ask that you share your improvements with us and others. Make it better for all of us.

What do you do to equip students to deal with competing pressures in their life?

How would you tweak this tool for use in your ministry?

about the author

Chase Abner

Chase is the Lead Church Planting Catalyst in Iowa with the North American Mission Board and music geek.