Every fall, millions of high school graduates start their journey into higher education. They pile into their parents’ car with laundry baskets, a few suitcases and so many questions. Will I get along with my roommate? What if I never figure out what my major should be? Will I make friends? How long until I stop getting lost on campus?
One question not everyone thinks of—where should I go to church? College is a time of intense growth and discovery. For many, it’s also when their faith and values are tested for the first time as an individual. At college, they don’t have the immediate influence of their family.
Walking Alongside College Students amid Crazy Schedules and School Pressure
Rev. Kent Pierce, a pastor serving Campus Lutheran Church in Columbia, knows that college students are feeling pulled in many different directions. They have so many organizations they can join, and they’re more connected now than ever, due to technology. And yet, it’s surprisingly easy for Lutherans on campus to feel a little lost.
Rev. Pierce works with many students who are navigating Greek Life and other opportunities that can enrich their college experience. The challenge is that some of these activities might be at odds with their values if they don’t approach it thoughtfully and prayerfully. Plus, many students go home on the weekends, making it hard to find something to do. That can feel lonely and Rev. Pierce has seen students who feel like their only option for socializing is something that isn’t necessarily healthy.
Four Years to Equip Students in their Faith for the Long-Term
Rev. Pierce and the rest of the Campus Lutheran Church team work hard to foster a sense of community. Getting students involved with a congregation is important. Lydia Ross, the Director Student Ministries Intern, explains, “We only have these four years to invest in the future leaders of our church…Our goal isn’t for them to hang back after college as lifelong members. We see this as a transient, in-between kind of ministry.”
Ross says, “The [college] students involved in campus ministry are incredible because their parents aren’t asking them to go church on Sunday and nobody is pressuring them to go to Bible study. It’s fully on them.”
Because college students are so busy, the team usually spends time with them on hour-long, weekly events, such a small group or a Bible study. While these events offer great value, Ross had a vision of doing something even more intentional and in-depth.
A Retreat to Equip College Students to Minister to Others
Campus Lutheran Church realized that they had a unique opportunity to unite Lutheran college students from across the region. They’re centrally located, and they have a new building, which is equipped with shower and kitchen facilities, and ample room for activities. This meant they could offer a weekend long retreat at a low price point (approximately $50), a huge advantage for college students. Despite a severe bout of winter weather, they ultimately had 15 students in attendance of what they’ve titled “the Go Conference.”
The purpose of this weekend was to offer fellowship and consider the opportunities in their life to disciple others. Pastor Dave Benson spoke about helping the students figure out how their God-given attributes could help them be a unique leader for Christ. Everyone has gifts, and each student evaluated how they could use their introverted or extroverted personality to reach other people.
Ross says, “A lot of the feedback that we got from students was that they never really thought about those things and that we hit the mark. This was what they were looking for. They were looking for something to remind them that God created them uniquely and they already have what they need. That there’s no magic to it, to do what they are called to do.”
You can view a video of the Go Conference here: https://youtu.be/USi1dL8gYUI
Redefining Christian Leadership
Many of the students have long done things like inviting their friends to church, praying in public, and striving to be a real friend to people. Yet few of the students attending ever considered these actions leadership. Since the event, the first weekend in March, Rev. Pierce and Ross have rejoiced in hearing stories of the students already finding new ways take initiative to reach out to their communities for Christ.
What You Can Do
If you’re active in a congregation, now is the perfect time to assist campus ministry organizations. Find out where the students you know are going to college and find out if there’s a Lutheran organization on campus. Make sure the student and the organization get connected, preferably before they depart for orientation or return to school.
It is the joy of campus ministry sites throughout Missouri to serve these emerging God-fearing leaders. Thank you for the ways you walk alongside these ministries through prayer and financial gifts.
To learn how you can further support campus ministry in the Missouri District, contact Leah Sieveking at Leah.Sieveking@mo.lcms.org or 314-590-6211.