4 Ways You’ve Misunderstood Your College Students

Les Newsom  |  January 22, 2015

Aging causes amnesia everywhere near as often as a solid bump on the head. Every generation feels that it is their duty to shake their heads and say “Tsk, Tsk. These college kids today.”

RUF ministers to tomorrow’s church - some guidance for what to expect from this rising generation is part of our service to them. Some things to think about:

1. Don’t strain yourself worrying over the uniqueness of ministry to this generation.
Guess what: the old paths are still solid and time-tested routes to the advancement of God’s Kingdom. The Bible still speaks to the souls of this generation. Guilt is still a universal human struggle. People remain encouraged by the regular gathering of God’s people in a church. Human problems get confronted in the daily interaction of her members.

Marriages healed, children raised, jobs accomplished, needs met, God glorified. In the midst of it all is Jesus’ church, fully equipped to carry out his mission.

2. You were committed to being “good;” they are committed to being “free."
Tim Keller once remarked that there was a generation of Christians in America whose highest value was being a “good” person. D. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion was remarkably effective to get that generation thinking about how sin keeps them from attaining that goal. 

Today, the highest value is being “free.” This generation comes with an unusually large dose of skepticism and needs to test the ideas that are being asserted as truth by your church. This means that these students will rarely commit to your church without space to work through the hundreds of little “mini-decisions” it takes to feel a sense of freedom in their choice to join.

3. Apathy is not the problem.
Apathy means “without passion.” It is one thing to regard someone as being devoid of emotional energy, quite another simply not to like what they are passionate about. Beware of dismissing into frustration your assessment of today’s college student because they spend their time and resources on things which you deem wasteful.

Rather, take the time to ask questions about what is motivating the pursuits they *do* undertake and talk to them about the means to those ends. Even the zombie-like face of the video game addict can reveal much about the soul that longs for meaning in the fantasy world of power, prestige, escape, fears, etc. Last we checked, these are Gospel issues to which the Bible clearly speaks.

4. They are no more secular than you were.
No doubt that rebellion finds new forms of expression with every new generation, but an honest look at our own personal histories often reveals just as much to be embarrassed of as anything this generation is embracing. The usual suspects get named: unbridled sexuality, choking addictions, political foolishness...the list is long. 

However, every one of these social ills could be named among your generation as much as it applies to the present. Replace the posture of condemnation with one of humility and wisdom and the next generation has a comrade instead of an antagonist.