Over the next few weeks, I’ve asked several members of our team at The Austin Stone to write on different aspects of missional community in different contexts and ministries.
College Ministry and Missional Communities
At The Austin Stone we are deeply convicted about the role of missional communities for effectively carrying out the life and mission of our church in the city of Austin. This conviction is especially true when it comes to the way we think about making disciples among the college students in our city.
We recognize that college students are in a unique season of life, and have thus been called to a unique mission because of where God has placed them on their college campus. The 4 to 5 year (and sometimes 6yr.) window that students have on campus offers them the greatest access to the largest mission field they may ever know. In addition, they are in a cycle of life that allows them to have more time, more flexibility, and an increased readiness to learn and try something new for the kingdom of God. For these reasons we are wholly committed to mobilizing students to live in community for the purpose of living on mission.
Over the years we have gone about assimilating students into missional community in a few ways. First, one of the easiest and most logical ways we have found to mobilze students into missional community is through having freshman specific communities. This naturally creates a space for freshman to find their place in the church and a place to settle in with other believers early in their college career. These communities create a place for upperclassmen to disciple freshman and to develop students from the first second they hit campus.
A second way to facilitate students into missional community can be based on their areas of study and involvement. We have found that major specific or Greek-life missional communities are the most effective at reaching peers in those specific groups. These communities are able to form and launch almost organically due to overlapping involvement and focus.
Third, and most commonly, we assimilate students into the life of a missional community through their own relationship networks. Consistently we find that these groups are the most effective. Very often we experience students being hesitant to join a missional community or dropping out of one because their missional community is a group other than their closest group of friends. We always coach students toward being in a missional community that is made up of pre-existing friendships. Something that we try to emphasize over and over again is for students to share life and mission with the people you spend you free-time and weekends with.
One of the things that we have seen work well with college missional communities, and one of the things that we now see as a non-negotiable, is that these communities be led by college students. Student leadership is vital for at least three reasons:
- Students leading students are better able to own their mission together on campus
- Student leadership provides a more relevant environment for students to explore what it means to become a confessional, repentant family, and
- Student leadership creates an organic pipeline for identifying and developing future leaders in the church
The Major Obstacle to Effective Mission and Discipleship
College students are passionate and full of life by virtue of their youth. One the greatest things we can do in leading students is encouraging them to shift from seeing mission and community as an event to attend, and begin to see them as the common pattern of life for disciples of Jesus. We have seen from personal experience that a major obstacle to effectively doing college missional communities is letting students off the hook. Very often too little is expected of college students because of their busy schedules. Trial and error have shown us that the way to get college students plugged-in and engaged in mission isn’t by setting the bar low enough for them to fit it in to their schedule, but by setting the bar high, the way Jesus does (John 14:12).
Jesus never lets us off the hook or allows us to make excuses for not following him. Instead he captivates our hearts, minds, and dreams by being honest with us about our place in his family and his mission. He speaks to us honestly about the sacrifices we must make to live an obedient life of community and mission (John 4:34-38). Set the bar high for college students. Show them their high calling as disciples of Jesus. Hand them the ball and let them run!