Jul 16, 2018


5 Ways to Help Students Keep Commitments

Daniel Johnson writes about a struggle common to many college ministry leaders — helping students keep commitments.

I don’t know how it is in your ministry, but we seem to have a hard time getting our leadership to keep their commitments. Granted, some of them are absolute rock stars who show up to everything with a great attitude, but there are those who habitually break their commitments last minute.

We try to make it simple; presenting dates of required meetings and events months in advance and ask students to inform us of any conflicts. There are some legitimate reasons people must miss things: weddings, surgeries, etc. and, of course, there are last minute things that come up that some can’t avoid.

On the other hand, there are students that come to us at the last minute saying that they are too tired, have homework, forgot to ask off work, or there is a concert that they want to attend. Now I don’t want to sound like a tyrant, but shouldn’t we hold our students to the commitments they have made? In the student’s mind, it may not be a big deal to miss something. “Others will pick up the slack. Why should I even care? I am here volunteering out of the goodness of my heart. Right!?”

A weak view on commitment is not only harmful to our ministries but will also be harmful to the student who has this attitude. If one student doesn’t show up to an event, it is probably not the end of the world. You can find a replacement. You or others may pick up the slack. But having a weak view of commitments is harmful to those we are attempting to disciple, nurture, and influence for Christ’s Kingdom. If the student is fine blowing off commitments now, what might this bode for his or her future? Do we really want to send out students with this attitude to influence the world? Will they take commitments seriously in the work force, the mission field, or in their families?

Many students come from homes where commitment was not displayed. Nearly half of students in the US today are from divorced families. Even when the family of origin is still together, was commitment something that was displayed regularly? I grew up in the nineties and remember half of the father figures in the movies I grew up watching not fulfilling their commitments to their children: Robin Williams missing his son’s baseball game in Hook, Jim Carey missing his son’s birthday in Liar Liar, Arnold Schwarzenegger missing his son’s karate lesson in Jingle all the Way. You see the trend? Is this the level of commitment we want for those we impact? What can be done?

This weak view of commitment bleeds over into faith understanding. If commitments are not important, can God’s commitments be trusted? We know that the answer to that question is a resounding YES!!! But do our students truly understand this?

What can we do to help students see the importance of commitments? Here are five ways that I’ve found.

1. Help Them to See the Bigger Picture.
If students do not see the harm is in not showing up, help them to examine the underlying issues. Is it the end of the world if they miss one worship event or leadership meeting that they said they would help with? No, it is not. What if instead of just letting it slide, we use these opportunities to help teach a lesson and mold more mature disciples. Help them to see how keeping commitments shows the likeness of Christ. After all, keeping commitments is not common in our world, but we are called to be set apart and thus have a higher standard.

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” Luke 16:10 

2. Model Commitments.
Do your students know you as a person that honors their commitments? If we are expecting a high level of commitment out of students, we must show that commitment in our own lives. You can model commitments for them by how you honor commitments with your family and friends. I regularly must turn down students for lunch or a time to meet if I have a previous engagement with a pastor in the area or a date with my wife. You are not blowing them off, but you are showing them that you honor your commitments. Our students need to know that we are not only looking for workers, but that we are looking out for them and their broader lives. As Christ modeled life for the disciples, so we should seek to model Christ for our students.

3. Leave Room for Grace.
We have meetings with our leadership every other week. We understand things can come up at the last minute but have had students miss meetings without informing us first. Because of this, we developed a policy that allows them to miss up to two meetings throughout the semester, no questions asked. All we ask is that they send us their events and any pertinent information for the upcoming weeks in advance. If they miss more than two meetings, we ask them to meet with staff, not to punish them, but to inquire what is going on in their life and how we can be praying for them.

Students do have a lot going on. Many work jobs or are a part of other clubs and organizations. They have other commitments, many of which allow them to take the ministry into broader life. Perhaps in some instances commitments is not the problem, but maybe it is time management. We can use these opportunities to help grow them. We want to be as accommodating as possible, while also helping them see the importance of our meetings and ministry.

4. Make it Worth the Commitment.
Anyone that covenants with God in the Bible, Abraham, Israel, David, etc. comes out being blessed in abundance. Do your students feel that your ministry is worth the commitment. Do they feel they play an intricate part in your ministry? Do they feel they are being nourished and poured into? Or do they feel that it is a one-way street, where they give but get very little in return? We need to do what we can to help our students see the benefits of a life well lived, generously, poured out and lived in communities on mission and on purpose. We don’t want our ministries to burn through students and only treat them as commodities. Instead we want them to love serving, so they will continue to serve after they leave our ministries.

5. Finally, Show Them the Commitments Laid Out in Scripture.
Constantly remind students about the promises of God. Tell of how he has fulfilled these promises in your life. Help point out where you see God fulfilling His promises in their life. Tie in the promises of the Old Testament with the promises fulfilled in the New Testament. Look forward to the promises to come. Show students how keeping commitments reflects the glory of God’s commitments fulfilled in scripture.

 “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.” Joshua 23:14

What are some ways that you can help your ministry develop students who value commitment?

How can you help them to see the larger picture of commitment in their lives and throughout scripture?

about the author

Daniel Johnson

Daniel serves as the Associate Director at the Baptist Student Union at Ole Miss. Daniel and his wife Sarah love college students and desire for them to come to know Jesus in a deep and life changing way.