Movement Aim #4: Next Generation Leaders

Campus Outreach and Reaching Next Generation Leaders

By Mike Hearon

1. Will ministry be harder or easier in the future on the college campus for Campus Outreach?

Campus Outreach began forty years ago on campuses located in the southeast United States. At the time college students were idealistic and confident and wanted to make their mark on the world for whatever cause they deemed important. Campus Outreach, though an evangelism and discipleship ministry, was primarily a “reaping ministry” because most students came from some type of spiritual heritage. Sharing the gospel and sharing the vision for the Great Commission excited students who wanted to be a part of something that could change the world. Today students as a whole seem less idealistic and more skeptical. Students also seem more fearful than confident to step out and take a risk that goes against the culture or steps outside what their friends and parents think is acceptable. Additionally, there are more distractions for the average student. In addition to pressure about their future and the need to develop a career resume, many students spend less time in leisure with friends and more time alone or in small groups. In this sense, the college campus is less open and students are less available.

2. What is unique about ministering to the present generation of college students?

Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychologist, writes this about today’s emerging adults:

"[This generation] is distinct from every previous generation in how its members spend their time, how they behave, and their attitudes toward religion, sexuality, and politics. They socialize in completely new ways, reject once sacred social taboos, and want different things from their lives and careers. They are obsessed with safety and fearful of their economic futures, and they have no patience for inequality based on gender, race, or sexual orientation. They are at the forefront of the worst mental health crisis in decades, with rates of teen depression and suicide skyrocketing since 2011. They are growing up more slowly than ever. They are physically safe, but mentally vulnerable."  Dr. Jean Twenge, Psychologist

When Campus Outreach began, we focused on calling students to a vision for their life that was worth sacrificing for and calling students to a team that would be capable of guiding them along life’s challenges. The vision was the gospel of Jesus Christ and the team was the church. Pioneering and partnering were the two arms of the Campus Outreach strategy. Recently we have seen that students see themselves more as individuals and more as people facing complex problems. Ministry to today’s students requires making a commitment to pastor them first by getting to know them, by listening to them, by reassuring them that you have their best interest in mind and by patiently loving them through their struggles. This applies to evangelism and discipleship. The challenge today is to slow down and pastor students first before we call students to partner with others in gospel ministry. Once students are reassured of their place, it is important that they learn how to contribute on a team and that they don’t feel that the burden of reaching the campus or their friends rests on them. Intentional pastoring and partnering will lead to pioneering, but the order—it seems to me—needs to be reversed in developing this generation of student leaders.  

3. What do you believe are the keys to effective ministry among the next generation?

Prayer must be foundational for any effective gospel ministry. Each present Campus Outreach staff member must remember that they are not called to success but to faithfulness. The first place of faithfulness must be prayer, because if anything of spiritual value is going to be done it will be done because of what God does. Praying for conversions, praying for the power of the Holy Spirit to be evident, praying for students to live by faith, and praying for perseverance against the discouraging opposition of the evil one is key to keeping staff focused on gospel ministry. In many ways, in every generation the gospel is still the gospel, the Holy Spirit is still the Holy Spirit, the word of God is still the word of God, and people are still people. We must remember this and minister with this in mind.,