To Serve, to Learn, to Love
On sign-up day, college students start lining up at 4:30 a.m., outside in the cold. They're not pledging fraternities or sororities--they want the first shot at a spot on spring break mission trips.
When registration opens at 7:00, there will be 130 students in line.
By the end of the morning, 80 percent of the spots are filled.
The mission trips--16 of them this year--are part of Campus Ministry at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.
"Our goal is to send students somewhere so they can learn about a particular part of the world--what the needs are, what the challenges are--and to come alongside a ministry that's trying to be a light and a witness in that place," says Chris Pieters, campus minister. He says the students go "to serve, to learn, to love."
For Pieters, the rabid interest in these mission trips is a sign that students are taking the faith they have been raised with and making it their own.
"We hear that continually," he says. "'I was around the church, I was in the church, and I had some level of understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. But now I'm owning it, and applying it, and living it out. And it's affecting every aspect of my life.'
"We've got students hungry to learn the Word."
A mission outpost
Campus Ministry is "a mission outpost on campus," Pieters says, with "students wanting to live out their faith and reach out to their friends.
"Our ministry is all about helping students discover who Jesus Christ is, and engaging them with the life-changing love of God, to train leaders who make disciples, and to be a bridge for students to the local church.
"That's the biggest thing students are really looking for--where do I fit, where can I be part of a community, where I can be kept strong in my faith and grow in my faith?
"Our goal is taking them from that point to training them up to be leaders." Pieters works toward this with the rest of the Campus Ministry staff, husband and wife team Ben and Stacie Post and Scott Stark, a Christian Reformed campus minister.
"With four staff on a campus of 25,000 students, our work is to equip students for ministry with their peers," writes Stark in a ministry update. "Our staff trains and encourages our students to be leaders on campus.
"So every ministry program we do is planned and led by a team of students under the supervision of our staff. Give thanks for the 12 student interns and 110 student leaders who are leading life groups all over campus, planning and leading our weekly worship gatherings, planning and leading our mission projects, and running our college Young Life program."
Developing students as leaders
Much of Campus Ministry is carried out by students themselves. They can join the Campus Ministry leadership team, where they receive guidance from Pieters, Stark, and other campus pastors.
"A lot of our approach is let them learn by doing," Pieters says. "We don't run them through a solid course and then at the end start giving them responsibility."
Through team meetings and one-on-one meetings, students are coached and trained in the roles they're taking on. Pieters says he and other leaders also focus on the students' own personal discipleship walk and let them learn.
The mission trips are an example of this leader-in-training philosophy. Each trip has a point leader who's over 21 and a support leader who's under 21, "and I try to send an adult leader with them," Pieters says. "We talk through every aspect: what does it mean to take care of the details, what does it mean to spiritually lead these trips?"
The questions change depending on the student's leadership role. "For worship team, what does it mean to lead people well in worship?" Pieters asks. "For the bridge team, how do we offer a place for students to gather, but also how do we do one-on-one relational discipleship for students?
"We've very focused on team building and one-on-one meetings and discipleship, and on the job training."
Those leaders keep all of Campus Ministry running, and expand its reach to more students. In addition to the spring break trips, Campus Ministry offers a weekly worship service called the Well at both GVSU campuses, local service opportunities, Young Life, life groups, and social events.
There's no escaping the temporary nature of ministry on campus--students are only at university for a few years.
"We know Campus Ministry is a temporary thing," Pieters says. "We do want to be a bridge to the local church, so we've got a number of church partners that are trying to position themselves to care for students and bring adults around."
A few years ago, Campus Ministry discontinued a Sunday morning worship service on campus, instead encouraging students to connect with local churches. Pieters says that was a direct result of recent research. "We want students involved with families and kids and older adults to get intergenerational connections and the benefit of their wisdom," he says. "That's the number one factor in building lasting faith in young adults."
For at least one student, many of the aspects of Campus Ministry were formative.
"I was telling a few friends the other day that it's odd to be graduating," she wrote to the Campus Ministry staff last year, "and so terribly scary because Campus Ministry was the first place, community, and church where I've ever felt at home.
"The dedication you put into your ministry is seen [by] my friends and so incredibly evident in my life and the lives of so many others. It radiates Jesus' love.
"I have learned immeasurably more [about living for Christ] in my time at Campus Ministry and being a part of leadership teams, and I wouldn't have it any other way."
"It's truly amazing how much my faith has grown in my new journey in college," says another student. "I've always had strong faith in God, and becoming more involved with Campus Ministry is creating such a stronger love for him."
Pray that as young adults leave home, they'll deepen their faith in a new setting.
Dig deeper into Campus Ministry at Grand Valley State University at www.campusministrygv.com.
Learn more about intergenerational faith development by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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