Lessons Learned in College Ministry
Guest Blogger: Jackie Knapp (Associate Campus Director)
Seeing as this page is not often influenced by the feminine side, I toyed with writing “Decorating on a Dime” or “Fabulous French Market Recipes.” But, realizing these exhilarating topics aren’t quite the reason most of you visit this blog, I decided to save that for the next time around (and now I’ve just worked my way out of a next time)!
Instead, I wanted to share a few thoughts about my time in college ministry. During the last seven years, I have spent much of my life with undergrad students. Five of those actually living with them, in a dorm somewhere very west of here, and the last two in East Lansing as an almost-Spartan at Michigan State. (While I have respect for the Spartans, they can’t convince me to leave my Illini roots.)
Although the cumulation of these years with students may mean I am a few inches closer to losing my sanity, it also means that the richness of relationships that I have gained is something I would never trade in for the hours of sleep lost, the hair I sacrificed to dye for a costume, or the “normal” life I could have been living. These are not times I would give back, no matter how many one-sided conversations I’ve endured with awkward freshmen who aren’t quite sure why you are trying to be their friend, and perhaps wonder if you are the creepy stalker their mothers warned them to stay far away from.
Now that the newness of this ministry has worn off and I don’t feel quite as much like I have been hit by a train by the time Labor Day rolls around, it is tempting to look for an easier way to do this thing. Life would be a lot simpler if I could find the answer that is going to draw thousands of students, transform their lives, and magically help them walk with God for the next fifty years. Being part of the microwave, drive-thru, instagram generation, I would like a shortcut for developing college students who passionately love God and their neighbors. In reality, I want a way to do it without having to give my life away.
Instead of discovering the quick fix, I am slowly learning how Jesus lived and loved as He lead his motley crew of disciples should be the heartbeat behind my ministry, and that there is not some hidden secret I am going to find. “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). This is the way He calls us to live, with whoever is in our lives. In my particular context, there aren’t flashy programs or easy substitutes for the time, energy and love it takes to build relationships with students starting with a foundation of friendship.
I definitely believe there is a place for training and innovative ideas, and I realize this call to love does not easily determine how exactly to live it out on campus. But it does clarify my main purpose and approach to how I spend my days. I want to use my time to pursue students, genuinely care and ask questions, put in the hours and energy to know each person well, and learn to speak honest truth, not because I am the “professional” Christian in full-time ministry, but because I actually love these people.
Unfortunately I don’t always like this answer, because it involves hard work and demands much of me, not something I normally sign up for. When I first started on campus, I didn’t have any grasp that the self-sacrifice it takes to try to emulate Jesus really would cost me something. I jumped into full-time ministry thinking it would be really fun; I would help a few people, learn how to counsel, and that I really didn’t want to be stuck in a cubicle for my job. While those things have been true, this life has been much more challenging and demanded much more sacrifice than I could have imagined.
It doesn’t take too many weeks to see that loving wisely and caring for dozens of students at the same time is not as easy as it appears and that it is only sustained long-term by the grace of God. Nor does it take too many encounters with students to realize that some will be apathetic, some very hard to connect with, and some will actively turn away from God, despite the amount of love or care you pour into their lives.
But it also doesn’t take too long to see that you get to play a role, however small, in a crucial stage of life, helping point them to Christ, witnessing God powerfully pulling souls from darkness into light. And, that in many unexpected ways, those awkward freshmen do transform before your eyes to become true friends who will love you even better than you have tried to love them.
So while I may pick up new books, brainstorm events, and alter the ways we try to reach and lead people, how I most want to prepare for the school year is to pray that I would love well and sacrificially, that our students and staff would live this calling, and that we would be willing to put in the time to lay down our lives, in big or small ways, for one another.