Recently, my family and I made the nearly 700-mile drive to visit with my parents in Florida. In all honesty, I was not thrilled about the prospect of being in the car for so long, listening to my kids argue or ask if we were there yet, staring at lines on the road for what seemed like forever, or sitting for that long with nowhere to go. But, we did it. And, in the course of that drive, I did a lot of thinking about life and ministry. One of the things I realized during the 12 hours there and 12 hours back was that ministry requires the same type of patience, stamina, and commitment as a long drive through the night.
For those of us who minister to what has been described by some as the hardest-to-reach generation, ministry can be taxing and even frustrating. And, though ministry to this demographic is a short season (in the big picture), we must take a long view.
Here are five things to remember as we take the long view of ministry to college students and young adults.
1. The journey is not the goal. One of the temptations I wrestled with during my long drive was only thinking about the drive. I became so narrow-minded that I didn’t consider that this drive was allowing me the joy of seeing my parents, my kids the joy of seeing their grandparents, and all of us the joy of being away and having a break from our normal, crazy lives. It was easy to forget those things and just worry about the drive.
Ministry to college students and young adults is a long road. And, though it is a long road, it is a short period of time in the grand scheme of life. Don’t miss the reality that the goal for those you lead is not to have a great season of their life, but to become a more faithful follower of Jesus for the rest of their lives. This season is not an end, but only a chapter in the grand narrative of their journeys.
2. Whatever it takes, stay awake. We made this drive beginning in the middle of the afternoon. So, simple math will tell you that we drove well into the night. It was crucial for me to find ways to stay alert, especially through those late-night hours, with coffee, Diet Mountain Dew, and murder mystery podcasts.
In those seasons of exhaustion in ministry or the seasons that feel monotonous and lonely, how do you keep from falling asleep at the wheel? How do you make sure that you continue to be alert to the needs of those you are serving and continually developing as leaders to ensure progress in your ministry? It may be books, conferences, podcasts, or conversations. Whatever you do, stay alert in your ministry.
3. Enjoy the quiet moments. Once my kids fell asleep, the last 5 hours of our trip were delightful. I felt like I had the car to myself. Sometimes, in the craziness of ministry, we don’t find or appreciate the quiet moments. Don’t be afraid of time to sit, think, pray, and rest. Don’t let those seasons discourage you, but instead let them be a part of recharging you to make ministry more effective in the crazy seasons.
4. Fight the temptation to tap out. During the last few hours of the trip, it was like every exit had a dozen hotels to choose from. On several occasions, I thought, I guess we could just stop for the night and finish tomorrow. But, it wasn’t necessary to tap out. We could finish what we had started. In ministry to college students and young adults, moments can feel overwhelming or disappointing and lead us to the temptation to walk away. When we take the long view of ministry, it helps us to fight the temptation to tap out along the way. It will be hard, but it will be worth sticking it out.
5. Finish the journey strong. With about 15 miles to go to our destination, I made a wrong turn. It was terrible. This mistake added nearly 20 minutes to our trip, which was the last thing we all wanted in the middle of the night. I didn’t finish the trip strong. In your journey with college students and young adults, be committed to finishing the race with each person you minister to. Be committed to staying the course, avoiding the traps, and serving faithfully until the Lord leads them or you on to a new season.
The journey of ministry to college students and young adults can be long and can be challenging. We must take the long view of this ministry to stay alert, enjoy every season, fight the temptations, and finish strong. In doing so, we’ll find joy in the journey and, ultimately, in the Lord. Take the long view—it’s worth it!
Steven Ackley, his wife Emily, and their four kids live out their love for anything sports and Cookout milkshakes in Murfreesboro, TN where Steven serves as the NextGen and College Pastor at LifePoint Church. Steven holds a D.Min. and an MDiv from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can connect with him on Twitter.