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Why Your Students Aren’t Serving

December 24, 2018

It’s a common enough complaint. Why are so many Christians who fill pews on Sundays happy with consuming, instead of making meaningful contributions to their communities and churches? We see this in campus ministry too. Even students who were faithful, growing disciples of Jesus in college struggle to find the same level of faith and commitment after graduation.

I believe one reason is that we haven’t properly trained students to serve.

I confess that service has rarely been a regular part of my faith either. It has always been an add-on activity for special occasions. Mission trips. Service projects. Volunteer hours.

It’s always been outside of my regular life.

However, Jesus famously said,

“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be servant of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:43-44.

We talk often about faith. We talk about leadership. We even talk about tips for college. Why not about serving? It was a fundamental part of Jesus’ mission and should be of ours too!

Now think about this: If we only teach students to serve on spring and summer break trips, what happens when they don’t get those breaks after graduation? Well…they don’t serve! We never trained them to practice it in their daily lives.

We need followers of Jesus who are actively working towards justice through serving in their communities. Our call to be salt and light in the world is an invitation to transform our neighborhoods into increasingly clear reflections of the kingdom of God–communities where all humans flourish through service to one another.

Here are three ideas for practice:

Communicate the “Why.”

As we’ve already discussed, Jesus came to serve. He revealed a God and King who serves the people He rules. Fundamentally, Jesus isn’t a god who demands service. He is a god who begins by serving us. So first and foremost we serve to reflect his character! We aren’t just volunteering. We aren’t just going on trips. We are serving the living God by serving His people.

We almost always frame the “why” in terms of thankfulness. We are propelled to serve out of the gratitude we have for what Jesus has done for us. Service done out of duty will only last so long. God is always giving us things to be thankful for so service done from that well will never run dry.

Model it.

It’s cliché to say for a reason. The people who follow you will do what you do, not what you say.

Unfortunately, ministers can have the attitude towards service that says, “this ministry is my service, so I don’t need to serve elsewhere.” For overworked and often underpaid people, this is an understandable response.

Nonetheless, it’s detrimental to the disciples we are training, most of whom will not become full time ministers. We have to train our students for the environment they will be living in after college. That means serving in the community outside of their “normal” responsibilities.

Make time for it.

Students struggle to manage time and prioritize the things that really matter. Make the time for them!

At Sojourn we take a week off from our weekly meeting times on Thursdays to give students margin to serve with us at the local homeless young adult shelter. Right now, we serve once a month together and encourage students to serve with other RSOs on campus that are doing good work, like the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Activists. We’re not exactly saving the world here. We’re just trying to take steps to live a life of service.

This simple practice also communicates importance. We are changing our regular schedule (and making service our regular schedule) because it is crucial in forming us into who God wants us to be.

What are you doing to train students in service?