I’ve heard it said from several people, “What you celebrate, you cultivate.”Now, clearly, this is one of those catchy and easy-to-remember phrases that have the right amount of brevity to recall. But, more than that, this statement carries a truth that we must understand for the health and success of ministry to college students and young adults.
The idea in this statement is that when your church or ministry celebrates something, it becomes an understood value among your people. The people in your ministry begin to see whatever it is that you are celebrating as something that you want to see happen within the people you are serving. If you celebrate a young adult sharing the gospel with a co-worker by telling his or her story before getting baptized, you’re telling people that you want your people to share the gospel. If you pray over and publicly commission college students going to serve internationally for three months, you communicate that you want your people to have a heart for the nations. What you celebrate gets recognized as valuable by the people you lead.
With that in mind, here are five things that we ought to be celebrating in our collegiate and young adult ministries.
Spiritual growth can be hard to assess and measure, but the fruit of spiritual growth can be easily identified. As you disciple college students and young adults or hear from those who are, listen for ways that individuals are making progress in their journey with Christ. As you hear these stories, be intentional to encourage those who are growing and find ways to celebrate their growth with your ministry or church.
Lord willing, your church will share a heart for the nations that leads people to go on mission trips and onto the mission field. This may be internationally or locally. Either way, look for opportunities to tell their story of going to make Christ known. This could be through email newsletters, social media posts (where safe to do so), or prayer time in a service. Another easy way to celebrate this type of sending is to have a public time of commissioning for individuals or team members prior to their going.
This one can get a little dicey, but don’t underestimate the power of people knowing when young adults (likely the poorest generation in your church) are sacrificially giving for the sake of the Kingdom. It may be a general statement from the pulpit to the church that your college students and young adults are becoming faithful givers and participating financially in the ministry or publicly recognizing a specific project that this generation fully funded in your community or even internationally.
Those who serve in the local church or in a ministry typically get little to no recognition for their work. Although we may give them an occasional “thank you” or a catered meal from Cracker Barrel, their service is worth far more. Tell the stories of lives being changed in the ministries that your college students or young adults are serving in, make intentional plans to post stories on social media telling of their service and your thankfulness for them, or give them t-shirts that set them apart among the rest of the church to bring attention to their role.
Now, obviously, you don’t want to incentivize or demand that your people are sharing the gospel with “x” number of people each week. However, where possible, celebrate their faithfulness to be actively speaking with people about Jesus. We are told in the Bible that the way people are saved is through the proclaiming of the gospel, so be intentional to encourage and celebrate those who are doing so faithfully. Hopefully, this will inspire those around them to join in this faithful effort.
In light of these five things, be reminded of two principles. First, keep in mind that we ought to be celebrating people, not programs or figures. Sure, programs and figures may be proof of great things, but people are inspired by the stories of others like them, not by just a cool event or an impressive number. Along with this, recall that God is ultimately doing the work in people, but be intentional to tell their stories.
Second, keep in mind that we ought to be celebrating progress, not perfection. A mentor of mine recently mentioned this principle. It was a sobering reminder that I don’t need to wait until someone has it all together or figures everything out to celebrate the work God is doing within them. Rather, there are chances along the way to celebrate their progress.
What are you celebrating in your ministry? Whatever it is, you can fully expect that the people you are leading are seeing these things and believing that these are your markers of success and the qualities you want to see in them. Set the bar high for your people by celebrating well and often! Whatever you celebrate, you will cultivate among your people.
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.