May 07, 2018


Raising Children in a College Ministry Family

Gretchen Magruder writes about the benefits of raising children in a college ministry family and provides some helpful suggestions on doing it well.

My husband and I planted a campus ministry in our early twenties….we were young, kid-free, and peers to most of the students we were leading.  We stayed out late, spent money on concert tickets and Chinese food, and could be as spontaneous as we wanted.

Then we had kids…

Regardless of how you work it out in your context, having a family requires you to consider how you’re going to balance your time, resources, and relationships in this strange world where it’s not uncommon to be on campus until midnight with college students, and up with a crying baby at 5am.

We now have 3 teenage daughters, ages 19, 17, and 15.  We’ve survived potty training and driving lessons (almost), and while we haven’t done it perfectly, there are a few things we’ve learned about raising kids in campus ministry:

It’s good for our college students.

Our students benefit from watching our family do life together.  We’re a messy family, but they get to see a mom and dad who love each other, our kids, and Jesus.  Seeing us interact allows them to see the good, the bad, and the real-life of what it looks like to be a family who follows Jesus.

Students also get to learn life skills from being around our family.  We try to have students in our home – doing their laundry, helping cook dinner, and changing the occasional diaper.  They get to see us working through Dave Ramsey and hear us talk about the joys of shopping at Aldi….all valuable things to learn.

Sometimes our discipleship time with students can lead them to believe it’s all about them.  When they come to our home, although they are guests, we also put them to work – – helping in the kitchen or entertaining children while dinner is prepared.  Being around families helps college students learn to not be so selfish.

It’s good for our children.

Being involved in campus ministry gives our whole family a mission – not just mom and dad.  After years of hosting international students and faculty around our dinner table and inviting students to church with us, we see our children learning to have a gospel perspective.

It also broadens their worldview.  Our kids have sat at the dining room table and listened to the stories of people from all over the world.  They’ve gotten to know students from the farm and students from the inner-city. Our kids have attended conferences, mission trips, and retreats, hearing from some of the greatest preachers around.  They’ve served on projects with Somali Refugees, on Indian Reservations, and in foreign countries.

Campus ministry is good for our kids because it gives them opportunities to develop their gifts and practice ways of using them for the kingdom.  Our oldest daughter, Sarah, is an introvert who would often bring a book with her to campus. But put her with a group of International Students, and she would work the room!   Our middle daughter, Sophia, is the relationally-aware kid. She can point out the students who might be overlooked or just recognize when I need some extra help getting ready for a campus event.  As a guitar player, she’s been leading worship since she was 13, and is able to fill in with our ministry’s worship team in a pinch.

It’s good to be flexible.

When we had our first baby, I was sure nothing needed to change.  I could still do the same things I had always done, and just bring the baby along…..until I found myself stuck in a hotel room at a conference, trying not to let my baby see me so she would fall asleep, and feeling grumpy that I was missing all the action.  After that weekend, we determined there were SOME things we probably didn’t want to take babies to. One of us would stay home, or we’d recruit a grandparent to stay with the kids.

When our kids were in elementary school we’d just bring them along to most things.  They learned to sit and play quietly during worship services, and we learned not to let them take what they thought was “free candy” in those brightly colored wrappers that Campus Health Services was giving away.

High School has been hit and miss… are busier with their own stuff, so we try to let them be kids and develop their own interests and ways to serve God, outside of the campus ministry.  Alumni who saw them grow up now get to take them out for coffee and serve as mentors. They teach our girls how to do hair, let them lead worship with them, and hire them as babysitters. Those relationships are some of the sweetest.

There’s no right or wrong in parenting kids in campus ministry, but here are some suggestions from the families we do ministry with:

  • Schedule regular reviews with your spouse.  Parenting is always changing – what worked last month doesn’t work this month, and every season requires some thought about what is best.  Parenting in campus ministry is no different. We use the beginning of each new semester or new kid activity as an opportunity to evaluate how things are going.   Think through the priorities of your family and where you need to bend towards your kids and where you might need to bend more towards the ministry.
  • Watch for cues from your young children.   Are they overwhelmed?  Do they feel insecure? It may be a season where one of you stays home with the kids more often.  Although I love being with college students, my first priority is raising the humans God put in my house.
  • Give your kids some say as they get older.  We don’t force our teenagers to come to every event on campus, but we do want to ensure they build relationships with the students in the ministry – whether that’s around our dinner table, on a retreat, or by attending our weekly worship services.
  • Show your family that you value them.  Institute a family night – a time that is non-negotiably family time, and your kids can look forward to that time set aside just for them.   We give a lot of our lives to the campus ministry. Make sure your family knows they are the most people in your life.

We haven’t figured it all out, but we’ve learned to roll with it.   As our children are becoming real adult humans, I’m grateful they view campus ministry as what our family does, and not just what their parents do.

about the author

Gretchen Magruder

Gretchen has been a Campus Minister at the University of Illinois Springfield since it was founded in 1993. She blogs irregularly about ministry and life with her husband, Todd, their 3 teenage daughters, 2 Golden Retrievers, and 6 backyard chickens at