Few would dispute that the university years are an ideal time for evangelism. The blend of openness, energy, and willingness to explore new possibilities is almost magical. It's also a reason why I (and many of you reading this article) came to Christ in our university years.
Every campus ministry aims to serve Christian students while reaching the lost. These urgent priorities aren't controversial. But for a moment let's consider some other priorities that are sometimes overlooked—and dear to the heart of the students' parents. (My wife and I speak from experience as students, campus leaders, and parents of campus students.) I've heard from hundreds of parents worldwide. Following are 5 parental concerns—things they wish campus ministers would value and prioritize.
1. They want their children to succeed academically.
Christian students are often zealous in many areas—even commendably so—but not often in the area of academics. For some, receiving an A isn't a badge of honor, but of shame. ("How did you find so much time to study, when the lost are all around you?") Some students use evangelism and church activities as excuses for mediocrity. But all students need guidance and reminders to set an example in their studies. If they don't persevere, then their character, discipline, and confidence suffer—not to mention future prospects. Doesn't God expect at least an attitude of excellence—if not excellent results, at least genuine effort (Col 3:23; Ecc 9:10)?
2. They hope their kids will stay in touch!
Some of their kids have gone off to college and stopped initiating with the family. Sure, church is "family" (Eph 2:19; Gal 6:10). But so many campus kids are so busy—and tired!—and they're out of touch. The parents love and miss their children. They hope campus leaders have their children's best interests at heart, not only in the area of academics, but also with regard to their health, career, and happiness. Some obligations are vital whether or not parents or other family members are part of the church (1 Tim 5:8).
3. They need them to become financially responsible.
When our generation went to college, everything was cheaper. But today many of our kids work 15, 20, or even 30 hours just to be able to afford exorbitant tuition and living costs. Students need help to pace themselves, so that they don't burn out, or take on unnecessary debt. Parents ask that leaders not overcommit them to church activities when they legitimately need time for study and work. Speaking of which... some graduates like to take time off before going on for their masters, or maybe explore the world for a year before they enter the working world. Others opt to go on a short-term mission trip, or support a campus ministry elsewhere for a period of time. But often the parents are still supporting them (food, clothing, medical, allowance, etc.). Is it fair to expect them to pay for their kids' missionary activity (as unpaid or poorly paid church workers) when they were never consulted about this arrangement?
4. They would like to see a place for grad students.
Most campus ministries are structured for younger students. But what about grad students? Adult children may be busier, have more questions, or need more time to make spiritual decisions to become Christians. But surely they need God, too. Parents don't understand why some churches discourage graduate education. Won't that help them to be more productive members—and to command higher salaries, and so better support the ministry? We've noticed that a lot of kids have been led to desire "the ministry." That's fine, but what about using their gifts and entering fields where they can flourish? So many who go on staff eventually lose their jobs, and some are filled with regret that they didn't make wiser decisions during their undergraduate days. Few parents agree that it's "more spiritual" to work for the church than to pursue a "secular" career. (Neither do I!)
5. They hope their children will feel loved—not used.
This last thing is hard to say. Some children have emotional challenges. Some home situations are pretty messy. Parents for the most part understand their children. Some need more time, less pressure, more love. But it seems what is mostly emphasised is evangelism, church attendance, and the pressure to perform. These young men and women aren't cogs in a machine. Where is the gentleness (Ephesus 4:2)? It's especially concerning when harsh leadership is backed up by facile justifications.
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For further thoughts about campus ministry, in a book written not only for campus leaders but also for students, please check out CAMPUS CORE: How to Have a Impact on Your Campus, Get Good Grades, and Figure Out Your Future.
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Some parent responses:
- "Yes, students should be encouraged to stay in touch. Calling and sending emails or texts to parents is good, but a letter is a personal touch that shows love and respect (especially when the parents aren't Christians)."
- "I'm distressed by the legalism in our local campus ministry. Few of the young people becoming Christians really know God and his grace. It's all about performance. Wish leaders would read your book Campus Core."
- "This campus ministry article would have been a miracle from heaven 20 years ago in our churches….hopefully it still can be for those in campus ministries!"
- "I'm concerned about my daughter's grades. Ever since she became part of the campus group, they have been going down. I can't lay the entire blame on the church group, since it's ultimately her decision how much she studies, but this campus ministry makes it very hard for her."
- "Having campus kids in the homes of families is a great evangelism tool—one campus ministry leaders need to appreciate. Better yet, churches should proactively organize campus group gatherings in members’ homes. The impact is eternal."
- "You wrote, '[Parents] hope their children will feel loved—not used.' I'd say that anytime the church errs, it is almost always because love was neglected..."
- "Our local campus group seems to be moving backwards, with high accountability and numerical evangelism goals. Some of the kids who don't reach their targets feel like spiritual losers."