By Charles Holmes
College campuses are going to look dramatically different this upcoming school year.
As someone who leads in a college ministry, it’s daunting to consider the many restrictions we’ll have to deal with as we seek to make disciples on college campuses in the middle of a pandemic.
Not only will things not be business as usual, there are varying and passionate opinions on how virus mitigation should be treated.
But COVID-related restrictions aren’t the only thing college ministry leaders will have to face in the weeks and months to come.
We’re heading full swing into an election season. Emotions are heightened, and people are clamoring for their viewpoints to not only be heard but adopted.
Issues of race and injustice have become a focal point due to the recent tragic killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery.
We need to equip college staff and students on how to engage the campus in light of these polarizing issues, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
On paper, there seems to be some hurdles in the way of the Great Commission due to our cultural moment, but what if these “hurdles” and “restrictions” are opening up opportunities for us to prioritize things that are normally overlooked—or worse, ignored.
So, a question we may have right now is, How do we reach college students in this cultural moment? Here are three ways.
1. Lead with the Great Commandment.
The pandemic has taken away a lot of our normal ministry activities, leaving many leaders disoriented and coming to different conclusions about what God is doing.
Some say God is trying to wake us up and bring revival. Some have argued that this is God’s judgment on us because of our rebellion and sin.
I’m not going to pretend like I know exactly what God is doing or saying right now, but I do find it interesting that our cultural moment is centered around the treatment of others—whether we’re talking about racial injustice or wearing a mask.
This forces us to focus more so on our actions and the character that defines us.
As we engage college campuses, we may not be able to host large worship gatherings and have attractive events, but what we do have is an opportunity to respond with prophetic relevance and a love that transcends personal preferences, limited gathering spaces, and cultural hostility.
Love lessens the tensions created by our cultural moment and causes us to count others more significant than ourselves. This requires sacrifice, but it produces healing and transformation.
With having to rethink how we structure large gatherings and groups, one benefit we now have is being forced to focus on individuals and smaller groups of people.
Instead of having a Bible study with 30 people in a room, leaders are forced to have Bible studies or small groups of 5-8 people on Zoom or in person (with masks in this case).
This allows us to genuinely get to know people, their backgrounds, and lives. It urges leaders and students to better pay attention to and love individuals on campus; not to contextualize and apply the teachings of Scripture in more relatable and specific ways.
In the age of COVID-19, the church can no longer hide behind gifted teaching and aesthetically pleasing environments. We’re forced to lead with love.
2. Prioritize the Great Requirement.
In recent months, untold numbers of people—many of whom are college students—have organized and participated in marches and protests in response to racial injustice.
In Micah 6:8, we find what has been called the Great Requirement. COVID-19 and the racial divide have magnified our need as the church to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God as we serve our neighbors.
College students should be ignited around justice in light of the gospel. It’s vital that college ministry leaders provide opportunities and spaces for college students to ask questions and have conversations around race.
We must help students listen to, learn from, lament with, and love those around them who are different from them. In a culture where conversations around race can be virulent, we must help students navigate these conversations with humility and kindness.
The road to racial healing isn’t paved with self-righteousness, social media outbursts, or even accumulated knowledge on said subject.
If we want to raise up holistic disciples, we must help students not only have conversations, but have the right kind of conversations around race that will be honest, loving, fruitful, and empathetic.
These conversations will lead to the right kind of action.
How amazing would it be to see the church mobilize college students coming together around issues of injustice?
What kind of service opportunities are available in the community around your college campus? How can we send students into a community to love the least of these?
College students aren’t only looking for a message that will change their personal souls, they’re looking for a message that holistically impacts their neighbors, communities, and lives.
A prioritization of the Great Requirement will give validity to—and opportunity for—the Great Commission on college campuses.
I’m afraid that if we miss the Great Requirement, we’ll limit, even fumble, opportunities for the Great Commission.
3. Pray for and prepare students to obey the Great Commission.
From the outside, it may look like there are insurmountable obstacles in front of the Great Commission. As of right now, it isn’t even possible to go on a mission trip. How do we fulfill the Great Commission at this moment?
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Matthew 9:38: “Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out works into his harvest.” One of the primary ways the church we will fulfill the Great Commission is by praying.
In the past, the evangelistic effort of the church has focused on the width of our reach.
What if God is giving us the opportunity right now to focus on the depth of our reach by discipling the students we can reach and prioritizing prayer in our ministry?
Instead of wondering how we’re going to get students to the mission field, let’s pray for more laborers.
Let’s disciple our students holistically and more intentionally than ever before so that when things do open up again, we aren’t begging students to go, but are unleashing well-equipped and trained students all over the world for the sake of the gospel.
The opportunities for the Great Commission to go forward haven’t been limited or restricted—but in my view, have become boundless.
As we get ready to enter a turbulent school year, may we not shrink into fear, but may we turn the world upside down by doing justice, loving our neighbors, and praying for more laborers.
CHARLES HOLMES (@cholmeshbcu) leads college ministry at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina.