5 Things I’ve Learned From 4 Years in Collegiate Ministry in Boston

The end of this semester marks the end of my fourth year on staff with Sojourn Collegiate Ministry. Crazy to think about! I’m sure in another four years this list will transform, but at this point here are a few things I know:

  1. New England/Boston is indeed a challenging place to do ministry, but it’s not all bad. There are plenty of studies and surveys that indicate that the Northeast is one of the least churched/most post-christian regions of the country. Boston is always in the top 5 for cities in these categories. Some of those stats are even more pronounced on campus where things move faster than the prevailing culture. However, most of those studies tend to come with hand-wringing and a concern that is not always truthful. There are a lot of beautiful things going on in the city and in the region. Churches are being planted, people are coming to know Jesus, and new movements and expressions of community are bursting forth. Yes, there are unique challenges, but there is also a movement of God in New England and it is humbling to play a part in that.
  2. College students today are experiencing unique pressures. I always come back to a conversation I had with some Boston University officials a year ago. They were trying to wrap their minds around the fact that for the first in anyone’s memory the school sent more students to the hospital for mental health issues than for alcohol related issues. I see two things at play here: (1) The amount of family baggage kids bring with them to college is staggering. I would argue that family of origin issues are the “thing” students are wrestling with today. (2) Students are unable to profoundly answer the important questions of being and meaning (who are you and what are you doing here?). This is closely related to the family issue, but deep identity questions are at the heart of the unique situation and pressures faced by students today.
  3. Students want to be led. Most students will present as self-assured and desire autonomy and the ability to make their own decisions. And that is a huge part of the college experience: drawing new conclusions and learning how to handle the freedom to make good and bad choices. In ministry, this can be difficult because students want to (a) keep their options open, or (b) take control/ownership of the ministry. That second one, in particular, is interesting because once a student is “in” they are usually all in, and they make great leaders in our ministry. And the tendency them is to let them run with it. But, underneath all that, students want to be led. They want to know you care about them. They want to know you want the best for them. And even if it is really, really hard they want to trust you to lead them somewhere good. It make take a very long time to acquire that trust, and it may be delicate to maintain that trust, but they want to follow somebody.
  4. Students want to see our family. Students love coming over to our house and they love checking out Marina (even if they don’t quite know what to do with her). Our family, and the story we are creating as the three of us, are, in many ways, more essential to our ministry than planning meetings, one on ones, and service trips.
  5. Students are interested in church. They may not come every week, and they may not like everything about REUNION (or whatever church they attend), but they ask a TON of questions about church. What that tells me is that they care about it, they know it’s important, and they want to talk about what it is, what’s wrong, and what it could be.

One of our key leaders at Northeastern graduated this weekend and his parent’s were at REUNION yesterday. I got to meet his family and they were extremely grateful for the role that Sojourn has played in the life of their son. I had to work hard to keep it together during that conversation.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is this: it an honor and a privilege to do this work. I understand that even more now as a parent myself.

There are parent’s all over the country praying for their kids, and in some way I/we get to be the answer to those prayers. Wow.

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