If we are ministering to college students, part of our role is to help them build relationships with mature believers who can help them grow in the faith. It is something every church can do, no matter the size or college ministry budget, and it can be done in a variety of ways. However, it can be difficult to find leaders to serve. Most adult church members feel ill-equipped to mentor/disciple a student. So where do you start? And how do you find the right leaders?
What have you heard? Keep your eyes and ears open to what others are saying. There may be potential leaders that you need to get to know. Austin Wadlow, University Pastor at First Baptist Church, Denton, says “I will often times hear of a solid couple in our church, so I will call them up and try to get a meeting with them. At that meeting I’ll try to learn more about them, then share the vision for the college ministry, the commitments I ask for from our adult leadership, and then I ask them to pray about the opportunity to serve.”
One of the ways Bobby Smith, Associate Pastor at First Baptist Church, Nacogdoches, recruits leaders is by inviting adults to go on college mission trips. “Not adults who are involved in the university ministry,” says Smith, “but adults who are on the periphery of our church but who I think would fit in well with students and whom I think a mission trip would benefit. I cannot begin to tell you how that has totally transformed our ministry. Many of our adult volunteers have come from this process. Spending a week getting down and dirty with university students opens eyes for everyone. The college students fall in love with them and vice versa.”
It takes a special person. You probably don’t want to offer an open invitation to just anyone and randomly pair students with whomever shows up, if anyone showed up. As Chuck Bomar states in his book, College Ministry from Scratch, “part of our job needs to be helping older believers embrace their God-given responsibility. And obviously this requires us to build relationships with older adults in the church.”[i] Who do you know that might be a great candidate for college ministry? What would it take to get them involved?
Begin with the end in mind. Find people that can help you accomplish the goals of your ministry. Austin Wadlow uses adult leaders for several reasons but one of the primary reasons is discipleship. “I want to connect students to adults who can pour into them at a level that peer-to-peer discipleship cannot do,” Wadlow says, “Also, many of our students come from broken homes and messed up families. They have never seen what a healthy marriage looks like. They have never seen what it looks like to be married and serving in the church. By having adults serving in our ministry, our students get to see that.”
“Students are looking for real people,” says Bobby Smith, “I know that is dumb, but true. They want someone to be real with them, and love them and do life with them. If you can find those people, you need to grab them.” Who are those “real people” in your church that could invest in the life of a student? Spend time getting to know them. Then share with them your vision for ministry and invite them along. You will need to invest time into them to help them learn to lead, but the return will be well worth it.
Bobby Smith shares this story, “I recently helped with a funeral of a man who volunteered in our ministry 25 years ago. He loved on students for the 7 years he was here. Then God moved him to Dallas with his family. He passed away in his late 60’s from dementia. His name was Jeff Cariker. He was a pharmacist. Word got out that Jeff was passing on facebook. He passed away in late November and they held the service in late January to avoid holidays. Probably about 300 people attended. The most represented group there were college students from around the state whom he had influenced. They called him Mr. C. Several were pharmacists because they respected his profession and wanted to be like him. One young man (a pharmacist now in Temple Texas) spoke at the funeral. He said ‘I had not many role models in my life. I should not have turned out as well as I have. But Mr. C and Bobby cared for me like they were my father. Today I am active in my church and work with the youth group. Thanks to the heart of Mr. C.’ That was enough to remind me of the kind of leaders we need.”
[i] Bomar, C. (2010). College ministry from scratch: A practical guide to start and sustain a successful college ministry (p. 38). Grand Rapids, MI: Youth Specialties/Zondervan.