Tunnel vision is one of the biggest challenges for people whose primary task is to lead or support one particular area of ministry in the local church. The danger of tunnel vision is that it can prevent someone from seeing the bigger picture of their ministry. It’s important to remember that no ministry is isolated to the degree that it has no impact on other ministries. This principle goes for church ministries and parachurch organizations alike. But, particularly in the local church, this reality is often overlooked.
One way to combat the temptation to be near-sighted or “miss the forest of the entire church for the trees” is to think big picture. And, not just big picture like long-term vision for your ministry, or how to dovetail your ministry mission and vision with the mission and vision of the church so the senior pastor thinks you’re on board. To see the big picture about your ministry is to see how everything you do is part of something larger and grander than your particular church and this particular season of life.
Here are three things to keep in mind that will help maintain a big picture view of your college ministry:
1. A college ministry is not a church but a part of a church.
Because of the often-transient nature of college-aged people and the short-term plans of many in this demographic, it is so easy to create something isolated for them to be a part of. I’m a big fan of tailoring ministry to the people for which the ministry is designed to reach. However, we can’t do this at the expense of integration into the larger church context.
Three goals that often help eliminate this temptation are integration, discipleship, and mission. When we integrate college-aged people into the larger church context, it helps prevent us from creating a context and a ministry that hoards this demographic and doesn’t give the rest of the church the blessing of their presence, leadership, and voice. Discipleship is a key way to accomplish this integration. Be sure that your ministry to college-aged people doesn’t only engage college-aged people. Let older adults lead in this ministry and create mechanisms to engage young adults with older adults for discipleship. Mission is a third way to incorporate your college-aged people into the larger church context. Mission ought to move unlikely people toward one another, not away from one another. Engaging in mission locally and globally should be a context for the generations to serve together. Mission also communicates the same priority to everyone in the church, and a shared goal encourages linking arms and running in the same the direction.
2. College ministry is a season of life, not the entirety of life.
When our ministry focus is primarily on people in one season of life, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that this moment in people’s lives is just a blip on the timeline of their entire journey of life. Consider the reality that everyone in your ministry came from somewhere else. These people weren’t born yesterday. They existed before. Which means that they bring joy and pain from their previous experiences with church and people. These experiences influence how they ended up in your care, the way they think, and also where they will go and what they will do when they “age-out” of your ministry.
Additionally, consider the reality that this is likely not their last stop in life. Mortality rates and average lifespans suggest that a season in your college ministry is far from the end for most of the people that you are serving. Therefore, we must remember that we are setting them up for whatever is next in their lives. That may be more school or a first major job. That may be huge celebrations or massive disappointments. That may be relationship highs or relationship lows. That may be opportunity to be a part of a church just like yours or one quite different than yours. College ministry is not an end, it is a piece in the puzzle of someone’s life. And, our vision must be far beyond this season to the entirety of their lives.
3. This season is rich with opportunities to influence the rest of someone’s life.
I’ve heard it said (and even said it myself), but this season of life has the potential to be highly strategic when you consider the freedom, flexibility, and opportunity that college-aged people are presented with. In light of that, we have to understand that decisions will be made that influence life beyond the years they will be called “college students.”
Think about how a young adult’s decision to engage in the Mission of God as a college student can influence their future engagement in God’s mission. College students are making choices about how they will serve God, and not just as a vocational missionary, though many will choose that. College students are determining how they view their vocation and family and resources as a means of participation in the Mission of God down the road. Consider how their decisions about money will impact the rest of their lives. Wise stewardship isn’t something best established once someone’s career is established. The earlier the better. So, learning money management and stewardship during the college years can highly influence, for the better, someone’s future. And finally, relationship decisions during this season can have great impact of the future of those you serve. Future friendships, marriages, and even employers and coworkers are often first developed during this season of life. Help your college students see the opportunities in this season that can and will influence the rest of their lives.
No ministry is so isolated that it does not impact any other ministry. And, no season of life is so isolated that it does not impact any other season. We must keep the big picture in mind as we serve and lead college students. We do this best when we help them see the importance of the larger church and the trajectory they are setting for the rest of their lives. In doing so, we win in our ministries, and college students win beyond our ministries.
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.