What is our aim with college students?
The time frame from ages 18 to 22 is highly formative. It is a season when young people face their existential questions, develop convictions and responsibility for their lives(and the lives of others), and often find the one they will marry. In short, it is a transition to adulthood. This is one of the primary reasons that we find the college campus to be so strategic in ministry. But when I step back and examine our aim with them, I am leery of becoming a self-help program, a mentoring ministry that produces stable and productive individuals in our society who know how to work a job with integrity and lead a family with vision. I ask myself the question, "What is the aim of the gospel?" Whatever it is, that must sit at the heart of our aim on the campus, fueling every component of collegiate ministry.
In Luke 4, Jesus announces his ministry by quoting Isaiah 61:1-2: " 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.' " It teaches a great deal about our aim with students. We are primarily bringing an announcement. We are not primarily offering a program of self-betterment through a series of steps or assignments. We are announcing the year of the Lord's favor through the finished work of Christ. While there are innumerable life-altering realities that flow from the announcement, they are not the center of our ministry, nor are they the primary vision we should have when we see these 20-ish-year-old students meandering around the campus. We should look at these students and say(however we want to package it), "I have news for you. An announcement of a finished work that you can receive. Come and learn of this announcement." There is not a responsibility to be laid upon them, but an objective gift to be received. I am handing them a newspaper full of good news before I am ever explaining to them how to live.
Now that we know we are bringing an announcement of good news, upon examining its content we find that it is specifically an announcement of liberty. Those who were captives are now free! Those who were oppressed have had their bonds loosened! To clarify this offer of freedom, we are telling students that the wrath of God has been absorbed by Jesus on behalf of all who trust in Him. Their sins are no longer held against them, nor are they slaves to their perpetual and desperate attempts at fulfillment any longer. And as is fitting of an announcement, this freedom does not require any process or repayment.
It is the year of the Lord's favor, and we want to let people know it. We want to see those who are bound in their sins(students, in this case) be freed by the great announcement of the gospel. And we want them to rejoice, over and over again. The entirety of their growth in Christ and our efforts to that end must flow from our desire to see them rejoice in the freedom of that truth. We don't want to simply see responsible husbands and wives 20 years from now. We want to see people who are experiencing the great joy and freedom of Christ's finished work on their behalf 20 years from now, and who are loving their spouses as a powerful by-product of that joy and freedom. The entire process of gospel ministry should be tethered to that one announcement, which is itself the whole message of the Christian life.