College ministry is hard. It’s a joy, certainly! I’ve never experienced more excitement about Jesus and His mission than I have working with and alongside college students. Their excitement and passion for Christ is infectious and life-giving.
Yet, we should acknowledge that the joy of college ministry comes with great difficulty. We can all think of students who have broken our hearts, leaders who have left us, burdens from lostness on campus, or overwhelming obstacles to effective ministry.
We go into battle daily on the college campus, with the souls of college students at stake.
The frustration and pressure easily leads to loneliness in ministry. Do you ever feel like a one-man army? That the success or failure of your ministry rises and falls solely on you?
I’m reminded of a time when Moses likely felt that way. Exodus 17 tells us of a time when victory literally rose and fell by the strength of Moses’s arms. As the people of Israel fought, Moses held his staff above his head. As long as he kept his staff aloft, the people of Israel pressed forward, winning the fight! But the moment his strength failed and his arms sagged, the enemy surged forward and prevailed.
In that moment, I imagine that Moses felt like the battle depended solely on him.
Have you ever felt that way in ministry? I know I have. I can think of countless moments where I felt like, were I to run out of steam, the ministry I worked tirelessly for would crumble to the ground.
For Moses, this was certainly true. The Israelites’ victory depended on his ability to keep his arms aloft. And he recognized he did not have the strength to secure victory.
However, in what was surely a moment of loneliness and defeat, God wanted to teach Moses something: it actually didn’t depend on him alone. Aaron and Hur came alongside him and lifted his weary arms for him, so the army of Israel could prevail. Moses needed to hold the staff up; but he didn’t have to do it alone.
As you go out to the battlefield of the college campus or your church, who is holding up your arms?
The author of Hebrews echoes this idea when he says this in 11:36: “For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” This idea is tied to earlier in the chapter, in verses 24-25, where he calls believers to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Although this is in the context of the local church, the principle is clear: every believer needs people to encourage them in ministry, or they can not endure. We need people who can hold up our arms when we have run out of strength, so that we may see God’s victory carried forth.
Building community as a busy college minister
I serve on the staff at a local church. Those of us who are college ministers at local churches tend to be pretty bad at building peer relationships with other college ministers. By contrast, when I look at my brothers and sisters who work in on-campus roles, I notice that they tend to have networks of peers to support and encourage them.
Regardless of your role, however, we need people who get what we do. As a college minister, you have countless younger people you’re investing in. You may even have a couple of older people who invest in you. But you also need peer relationships with people who truly get college ministry. I love the people I work with on my church staff; yet, most of them don’t get the unique joys and struggles that come with working in college ministry. I have found few things more encouraging than simply sharing my struggles with someone who instantly understands because they have lived it.
If you don’t know where to find peers, start by calling the other college workers in your city or your state. Begin meeting periodically to pray for your city and for one another. Call each other with questions, or to express concerns or frustrations. Hold up each other’s arms.
No matter how long you’ve been doing college ministry, find a coach. I spent years thinking that a coach would be nice, but was not a priority. I began working with a coach three years ago, and I can’t believe I didn’t prioritize it sooner. Coaching has helped me identify blind spots in my leadership and has been a constant source of encouragement for me during difficult seasons of ministry.
If you’re a campus-based minister, there’s a good chance you’re already a part of a network. If not, find one, and lean into it!
If you’re a church-based minister, however, you probably don’t have a network. I want to challenge you to take the time to find one and invest in it. I’ve connected with a few different networks that exist to encourage and equip church-based college ministers. Each time I spend time with these networks, I leave encouraged and challenged to take a step to improve my ministry. Two great places to check out are College Metro and Texas Roundup. These are annual conferences that work to network local churches engaging college campuses with the Gospel.
Develop a leadership team.
If you don’t have a leadership team, you’re missing one of the biggest encouragements in ministry. My favorite part of college ministry is investing in college students who believe in the mission of engaging campuses with the Gospel. Let them grow into the kind of men and women who can stand next to you and hold up your arms when you grow weary.
When you can’t find community, build it!
My final encouragement is this: if you can’t find a community, start building one! Call ministers at churches or in other ministries in your city, and begin by praying together. Praying together on mission will foster community quicker than any other action you could take.
If you’re struggling to keep your arms up and have recognized you don’t have community, get out there and build some! You are not called to win the battle alone. I’m praying that God will surround you with meaningful community.
Drew Dabbs is the Minister to College Students at Morrison Heights Baptist Church. Follow the ministry on Instagram @moheightscm.