Breaking the Threshold: 3 Simple Ways to be Present on Campus

My wife and I were watching a TV series on near-death experiences one night, and we heard the story of a hiker who got lost in the woods. He wasn’t that deep in the wilderness, he was only about three miles from the nearest road. The problem? He was hiking in circles. Unwilling to break away from his current track, he hiked the same circle over and over again. Soon, the sun began to set, and with no phone, no shelter, and no survival training, this young man died of hypothermia. He was alone in the woods, just a short distance from civilization.

In youth ministry today, this same story is being lived out in the lives of youth pastors and their students. We believe that if we just keep pressing forward, we’re going to eventually get the results that we’re looking for, but that’s not promised to us if we’re not being intentional about the direction in which we take our ministries.

One crucial way of being intentional is being present on the high school campus. I once heard Preston Centuolo say, “Students are in two places; their schools and social media. If we’re avoiding those venues – we’re not doing youth ministry.”

Ryan Sharp from www.everyschool.com writes “Don’t retreat back to the safety of the church and convince yourself that campus ministry isn’t for every youth pastor. It simply isn’t true.” I would echo his words with the call for youth pastors to make themselves personally present! Youth pastors belong on the high school campus.

Schools are communities within themselves. Once you’re in – you’re golden. But as an outsider, it can be uncomfortable at first. Here are 3 simple ways to be present on your campus:

1) Sponsor a Campus Ministry – Some schools already have strong clubs going. If that’s the case, see if your students are part of the club and have them invite you out to be a sponsor. If your students aren’t present, connect with the club and ask if you can be of assistance. Find out who’s currently sponsoring the club and invite them out for coffee (even if it’s a teacher – teacher’s like coffee too!)

One of the biggest excuses I hear from leaders is that their students aren’t interested in doing campus ministry so they can’t get on the campus. This just isn’t true. A friend of mine in ministry just ran into similar circumstances. His students weren’t attending the club because it wasn’t “hip”. So he took the initiative himself and started serving in the club without his students. Within a few weeks, his students started attending the club as well (this is called leadership). By the way, you’re “hipper” than you think!

2) Seek Opportunities to Serve – The needs on a high school campus are innumerable! Use your imagination. Young Life, a parachurch ministry,  compiled a list of 33 different ways their leaders are serving their schools in Indiana. Some may not apply to your context, but I bet at least five of them do.

3) Attend School Events– There is no substitute for longevity and relationship, but you can accelerate the process of earning trust with your school by being present on a consistent basis at events open to the community (sporting events, art shows, musicals and concerts, etc.). I try to find events where I can support multiple students.

If you see them, be sure to say hello to the principal, the assistant principal, or anyone in leadership. Politely and appropriately make your presence known. They’re probably not going to remember you at first because they meet thousands of people. That’s okay.  Once you approach them several times, they’ll put two and two together, that you’re someone important from the community and that you care.

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Being intentional takes time and effort, but honestly, is there any other path to take except the path that leads us to our destination, and to results?

The story of that hiker still grips my heart. It’s doubly important that we take the right path, because you’re not the only hiker on this trail. You’re students are following you. Lead the way, leader!