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Pastoral Care for College Students Over Break

By John Rogers

As I type this, students are sitting in our campus ministry center studying away for finals. Some are seasoned veterans who know just where to find the exam blue books, free snacks, and know who has swipes left on their meal plan cards. But many are just starting, and the stress levels are through the roof. Most of our students have rarely seen anything other than an A, and most of them are coming in to college with over a semester’s worth of credits from their high school AP courses.

So, the pressure of doing well (mostly assumed on their own) creates a level anxiety—even among those who are involved in one of our campus ministries. Hope, Joy, Love, Peace… Yes, anticipation is in the air, but not always one wrapped up in an eschatological hope. Rather, it is anticipation of the grade they will learn of sometime over break.

PCM Thanksgiving

Campus Ministry Thanksgiving Dinner

Granted, some are pretty laid back, doing well, and surviving the trauma of a changed major or two. But within all of this — all of them — we need to remember are young adults who are maturing into a theological approach to their life. They are all facing challenges and are beginning to newly understand what it means to discern what they are “called” to do in life. They do so within the context of choosing a major or a career path in this new day in which most adults go through at least one if not two career changes in their professional life.

What many of them need to hear from their pastors and church members at home is more than, “how is college life?” They need someone to ask them, “how are you hearing God’s voice in your midst?” Far too often, we fall into the easy misperception that the undergraduate years are little more than a hoop to jump through. When we do this, we miss out on the wonderful opportunities during these years to encourage and spiritual development and maturation. Using language of “gift” rather than “privilege” goes a long way in assuring that the conversation will go beneath the surface. Asking your college student about their understanding of call and vocation is a wonderful way to start.

Yes, most will be catching up on their sleep that they forwent during the exam period (and it is not because they were cramming and did not study throughout the semester — most of them did. When you set high expectations for yourself, the work is never done.) But, amidst the busyness of this season with all the responsibilities and opportunities of Advent and Christmas, reaching out to your students is one thing not to miss. This is a big time in their lives. A lot is going on. New things they are learning along with an abundance of new people and new ideas. Take them to lunch or coffee, and ask them about it. The college years won’t last forever, and if you don’t seize the opportunity now, it will be gone before you know it, and you will have missed the chance to engage with them at a critical time in their lives. Now is when and where they are laying claim on the land of who they are and want to be. From my desk in the campus ministry center and my interactions, I can tell you that if you think their time of confirmation was important, multiply that by a factor of 10. The world is opening up to them in new ways — what a difference it can make for them to hear that their church, their pastors, are interested in hearing about it.  I’ll be praying for them while they are on break — and for you, too.

I’d also invite you to keep in your prayers the 1000+ who will be gathering at Montreat for their annual college conference January 2-5. It is a powerful time for conversation, worship, and engagement with students from all over the country. These students are expressing a collective thanks for the freedom of a break where tests and exams are in the rearview mirror and new classes and spring break mission experiences are on the horizon for the spring. AND if you find that they are hungering for something that is missing in their college experience where they have not connected to a campus ministry — get them plugged in. Call or email someone on their campus and help them identify a ministry that will minister to them as they discern how God will use them.

RogersJohn Rogers it the Associate Pastor for Campus Ministry at University Presbyterian Church, Chapel Hill.   As the campus minister John works with a congregation of students that ranges from about 70 – 90 students each year. Students at PCM come by for Thursday night dinner, fellowship, and program, and throughout the week for other activities and worship at UPC. Also John staffs the outreach committees at UPC. He’s husband to Trina and dad to Liza and Cate. Before all of that he coached golf and was a scratch golfer.

NEXT Church is Not About You!

By Frank Spencer

As I have continued to engage in the NEXT Church movement, I continue to find the extended community of the PC (USA) upholding me in my faith journey.  What follows is an excerpt from my book, The Benefit of the Doubt.  These passages are taken from the Chapter, “It’s not about you!”  Let’s keep this in mind as we all discern together how we will be Church together.

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Spencer BookIt’s not about you!  That phrase may not be the most fashionable in today’s world of customized products, online shopping, mommy make-overs and human bodies as walking billboards.  We live in a fundamentally self-centered culture.  Even old commercial slogans evoke melody and message in the TV generation.  I bet you can sing right along with these words:

“You deserve a break today!”

or

“Have it your way!”

From the TV generation to the Facebook generation the self-focus has intensified.  We have our own web pages.  We tweet about what we are having for lunch, as if anyone really cared.  We hire personal college admissions coaches, personal trainers, personal shoppers, financial planners, lawyers, and accountants, all to improve the life of ME Incorporated.

But it’s not all about ME, at least not when we talk about faith.  There are two dimensions of this external dynamic to which we should pay particular attention.  The first is that God is sovereign.  God has set forth the plan for the world.  We know God through God’s revelation to us………..

When we acknowledge that God is sovereign, the affirmation of God incarnate that has occurred in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has implications for the whole universe.  However, to acknowledge the truth of that claim requires the ceding of control by the individual because our finite minds cannot fully grasp the concept of an infinite God engaging humankind in this way.  Ceding control is something most of us fear on many levels…………….

The answer lies in the faith of the community.  This is the second external element of faith.  Faith exists within a community rather than as the province of one soul, one mind or one heart.  The faith of a community takes on dimensions that eclipse the capacity of any individual.  The first time I heard this concept, I wasn’t sure what exactly to make of it.  How can a community have a faith?  Surely faith is something we must each wrestle with for ourselves.  Like Jacob, I will grapple all night and will not let go of God until I am victorious or vanquished.  But it is my individual struggle.  Ironically, that attitude captures both the intellectual and the egotist in all of us.

But it’s not about me.  It’s about God and God’s faith in God’s people, us.  It is the community that preserves and passes the faith down to the next generation.  The community is there for me when I need support and sometimes I am there when others need help.  Even sinners and doubters can bear witness to the sovereignty of God and to God’s faithfulness to us.  In this sense the faith of the church relieves me of having to have it all sorted out myself.  I become part of the community that has wrestled with these same issues for centuries, and is still wrestling because we are not finished and will never be finished……………………..

Our Reformed theology specifically rejects the idea that each individual controls his or her fate relative to personal salvation.  In fact, it is not only OK to die with doubt; it is inevitable that each of us will.  God has acted in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through that grace has redeemed the world.  Our human response is not determinative of the mind of God.

Thus, the community of faith that proclaims the truth of God’s revelation in Christ Jesus and welcomes those who doubt, wherever they are in their journey, is the place where faith can build and develop in safety.

“Wherever you are, there we will meet you.”

That should be our communal promise.  This is not to say that whatever an individual believes is right and true and that’s OK.  Such an attitude breeds a consumption notion of the church, a desire to extract whatever good I can for myself and move on.  Faith builds over time as one lives, studies and worships in a community.  That is how we live Anselm’s credo of faith seeking understanding…………………


Frank Clark Spencer is the President of Habitat for Humanity Charlotte and a student in the Masters of Divinity program at Union Presbyterian Seminary. Before turning to full-time ministry, Frank had an outstanding business career which included creating one of North Carolina’s 50 largest public companies, leading the company to its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, and being recognized by Ernst and Young as 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year for the Carolinas. Frank has been an Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 1994, is the past Chairman of Montreat Conference Center and currently serves on the Presbyterian Board of Pensions. He was a Morehead Scholar at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and was named a Baker Scholar at Harvard Business School. You may find additional information at www.FSpencer.com.