Writing down my thoughts about engaging students on local campuses is kind of like giving a sermon about evangelism. I love evangelism. It comes naturally to me, I enjoy people who don’t know Jesus, and I meet with God in the process. However, giving a sermon about evangelism and trying to encourage people to actually go evangelize the world around them, well that is a different feeling all together. Part of me wants to say “Just do it” like I am in a Nike commercial or a Shia Lebouf video. The other part of me understands the challenges involved in getting started. I don’t think I can write a better article than what Tim Levert wrote earlier this week. If you want ideas about how to get started read his article. Its super practical and helpful.
Instead I want to briefly discuss why. Why would you give up your time and intentionally point it towards the schools around you? First, I want to talk about what doesn’t qualify as your top motivator for engaging local schools. Here it is. Are you ready? This might not grow your youth group. It might, but in my experience there is a gap between the growth of my youth group and local school engagement. My youth group typically grows when my students are inviting their friends but not necessarily when I engage in the local schools around me. Part of that is my context. My youth group is comprised of students from at least 7 different high schools. The result of this context is that working on campus with students doesn’t always mean I am working with students who are a part of my church, plus I obviously can’t go to every school. So for my context, I had to choose one.
Which leads me to how I am involved on campus. I help lead a Fellowship of Christian Athletes leadership team. We organize outreaches and evangelism “huddles” on campus twice a month. Most of my time is spent helping students form other churches who are on the FCA leadership team organize and lead their events. This is my “in” with the campus. I preach an average of twice a year, but I am on campus every week and have the opportunity to form relationships and influence students towards Jesus. Honestly I love it, but it hasn’t grown my group in any significant way. So why do I do it? If I am honest there are two reasons that keep me going.
I am convinced that one of my jobs as pastor is to “bless” the community I live in. I believe I have been intentionally placed by God for this season in this particular community to be an ambassador of the Kingdom. Its very tempting because of workload and the demands of ministry to just focus on my particular group. There is plenty of work to be done making disciples of the students that come to my youth group. The workload can be overwhelming when I consider working with parents, leaders, students and doing all of it in a changing and technologically advancing culture. Whew just writing that sentence stresses me out. However, because of who I am as a pastor I have the training and skill set to help students on campuses in ways no one else will. Specifically, I know how to talk about and point people towards the kind of life only offered in Jesus. This life, typically called eternal life by Jesus, is not available on public school campuses in any explicit form. My very presence, because of who I am and what God has done in my life, is a blessing to the students at public schools. They may not recognize it always but they need me, or at least they need who I know.
This leads to the second and perhaps most important reason. I am uniquely equipped to serve public schools because I am a youth pastor. I am trained to encourage students, set a welcoming environment for a diverse set of students, speak in public, organize events, work with student leaders, and listen to student’s hardships. In addition, I have knowledge of morality, big questions, God, how to study, how to work hard, and what to do when you get stuck in life. All of these characteristics are true of a large majority of youth pastors and because of that we are uniquely equipped to serve public school students.
I guess one way to sum all of this up is to say this, “students need you.” Isn’t that one of the reasons you got into youth ministry in the first place? You believe that students will benefit from being around you and learning from you. Maybe that’s audacious but it is nevertheless true. In choosing to engage in campuses in your context you are choosing to believe that God wants you to influence students not just in your youth group but also in the world around you. I hope you will consider using some of Tim Levert’s ideas or your own to engage with students on their campuses. Yesterday I got to preach to 100 students about the resurrection of Jesus and that never happens if I don’t show up regularly to engage with students at the local school around me.