Top 5 Ways to Engage College Students, part 4 of 5

As I have mentioned in previous posts in this series, there are many more ways to engage college students than just the five I am bringing. However, these five ways of engagement have proved themselves over and over again in my ministry on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus.  Each post will consist of one of the top fives ways to engage, so keep checking back!

(Other posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

4. Depth

Remember when you were little and were relegated to the shallow end of the pool? If you were like me, you couldn’t wait to get to the deep end. You pushed yourself to be ready so you could pass the test for getting into the deep end.  Then, finally the day came and you passed the test, the deep end was yours! I think that many college students desire to swim in the deep end of faith, but are stuck in the shallow end. This may be because we as their pastors/leaders/mentors find it easier to just swim in the deep end with them.  We may fear that if we take them too deep too fast, they’ll drown.  Maybe we ourselves have been so long in the shallow end, we can’t remember how to swim in the deep and thus keep our students where we know how to keep from drowning.

We must be honest with ourselves and see where we spend most of our spiritual time.  Are we in the shallow or in the deep? We then need to assess how we are leading--shallow or deep?  Engaging students in the deep end is something for which this generation is yearning and seeking. They may not always know this or have the ability to articulate it, but it is a real desire. Students want to be challenged, to have their eyes opened, and to experience the vast depth of God, not just the surface. Too often, we stymie the growth of our students because of our neglect of the deep end of spirituality. We are afraid to call them deeper because we know the commitment we’d be asking of them. We are afraid to take them deeper because then they’d have to live holier, more sacrificial lives. This calling to the deep end may cause some to leave the church because they just wanted the fluff, not the real stuff. We are timid because we don’t want people to leave.

Yet, if we never call them deep, when they are thrust into the deep waters of real life, they will not know how to swim. For example, I had a student who had to learn how to swim quickly as she was thrown into the deep end of doubt. She was in a class at the University of Pittsburgh titled Origins of Christianity where the professor consistently bombarded her with doubt. She then would come to me and grill me for answers to ease her growing frustration. We ended up going deep very quickly and she grew as a result. I realized I needed to go deeper with my students.

On another occasion, a freshman woman had just begun being a part of our church. I was leading a discipleship study on Thursday nights called Personal Spiritual Formation. In this study, we deal with grief, pain, loss, intimacy, honesty, and many other deep issues of faith.  This student each week came back and would consistently declare: “I never heard this before! I grew up in the church and NEVER heard any of this!” She was experiencing the deep end of faith and didn’t even realize it had been there all along!

Students today long for the deep end of faith. They may act content with non-challenging, fluffy campus meetings, but deep down their soul yearns and needs the truths found in the deeper life. Let us be people who dive in, teaching and leading others to the deep end.