Category Archives: College Ministry

All I Really Want for Christmas

This is a post I wrote at this time year. I have reposted it in it’s original form with a 2012 Update at the bottom.

Last week I read an article from CNN entitled, “Black Friday weekend: Record $52.4 billion spent.” The article goes on the say that retail sales from Black Friday increased 6.6% from sales last year and online sales increased 24% from last year. However, the $52.4 billion spent on Black Friday is only a drop in the bucket of the National Retail Federation’s projected $465.6 billion that will be spent over the holiday season. In case you read that sentence too quickly, let me repeat it. Collectively, Americans will spend over $460 billion during the holiday season! Let’s put $465 billion into perspective. According to the World Bank, it would cost $30 billion a year to achieve “universal coverage” for water and sanitation. The United Nations estimates that it would cost $30 billion a year to end the hunger crisis in the world. Americans could pay for food for every man, woman and child in the world who is going hungry and provide water for every man, woman and child forced into drinking dirty water and still have $400 billion to spend for Christmas. 

It makes me wonder where we, as Christian leaders, have gone wrong in teaching what Christmas is really about. And, let me confess, I am as guilty as anyone else. Could it be that in our attempts to put “Christ” back into Christmas that we have actually forgotten about the miracle that the God who created the world came into the world as a man in Jesus? The God who spoke the words of creation came as the Word who “became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). The message of Christmas is simply Jesus.

Recently I finished reading N.T. Wright’s new book entitled, Simply Jesus. Like all of Wright’s works, it is a masterfully written book that I strongly encourage you to read. In the final chapter of the book, Wright wrestles with the question of how Christians can live as if Jesus is indeed Lord of the world in a world that is still so broken. Wright answers that Christians simply do as Jesus did; “Jesus went about feeding the hungry, curing the sick, and rescuing the lost sheep; his Body [the church] is supposed to be doing the same” (219). Unless we teach our college students, our churches and our children that following Jesus means that our lives- our priorities, our money, our dreams are meant to bear witness that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, is now the full and rightful King of kings and Lord of lords, we risk becoming people who contribute to the brokenness of the world instead of people who work toward the restoration of the world. The consumerism of the world has created 465 billion ways to convince us that Christmas is about presents, lights, parties, food and family. However, Christmas is simply Jesus.

As Christians, how can we approach Christmas in the way just described? Let me give you three suggestions that are as much reminders to myself as they are to anyone.

  1. Learn the Lesson of the Grinch: In Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, the Grinch discovers that Christmas means more than presents. Even after the Grinch stole all the Who’s gifts Christmas came just the same. If you woke up Christmas morning and discovered that all the gifts were gone, could you celebrate Christmas knowing that the greatest gift was a baby born in a manger?
  2. Buy Smarter: If I go to the store and buy the 92” HD TV, where does my money go? It goes to the million-dollar company who manufactured the TV and ends up as statistical data in their fourth quarter earnings report. Perhaps there is a way to buy smarter for Christmas. This year consider buying part of your Christmas presents from Fair Trade stores. Fair Trade items are bought from the artisans who made them for the fair market value of the product and thereby try to break the cycle of poverty around the world. Some Fair Trade websites to check out are: and
  3. Start with Yourself: It’s so easy to know in our minds that we should do certain things but it’s much, much harder to actually change our behavior and put into practice what we know. This Christmas choose one thing that you know you should do and actually do it. Write that check to support world missions. Provide Christmas gifts to a family in your community that can’t afford it. Buy Fair Trade Christmas gifts. Whatever you know you should do- do it! Then next year do a second thing. If each of us actually does what we know we should do, it won’t take long before those around us what to know what’s different about our Christmas and that gives us an opportunity to share the real message of Christmas.

© Ryan Vanderland 12/1/2011

2012 Update: The numbers reflected in this post came from the 2011 totals and projections for Christmas shopping in the US. Already the numbers have come in from Black Friday 2012 and the results are staggering. This year Americans spent $59.1 billion on Black Friday shopping alone. That is an increase of 13% from 2011. If overall Christmas projections follow the Black Friday tend, Americans will spent about $526 billion this Christmas season!

What’s the one thing you’re doing to do this Christmas to change our Christmas culture?

Links to the fair trade site mentioned above can be found on the Links page.

The College Dream and the College Reality Part 3: Crisis of Faith

After a couple weeks away from the topic, I have finally returned to complete my mini-series on The College Dream and the College Reality.

In the third part of this series on making you college dream a college reality; I want to examine a reality that will come to most, if not all, college students- a crisis of faith.

I could write an entire book on the crisis of faith that occurs during the college years- and perhaps I will write a book on this at some point. For now, however, I’ll briefly outline why a crisis of faith happens, what to do when it happens and why a crisis of faith is essential in spiritual formation.

Why does a crisis of faith happen?

The fear for some Christian families sending their child off to college or to an university is that there will be a agnostic or atheist professor who will openly denounce and attack Christianity and Christians until they turn atheist themselves.

While there might be professors like that in some universities- that is a very, very small minority.

A crisis of faith happens when what a student has been taught doesn’t match with their new reality. Then a natural progression of questioning takes place as each person has to decide the priority of his or her own values.

In short, a crisis of faith is not as much questioning what one has been taught in regards to faith but more a step within identity formation.

A crisis of faith could happen as a consequence of a decision. It could happen as a student is exposed to new cultures, ideas or people. It could happen because of an outside force- the loss of a friend, a close pastor or minister leaves or parent’s who decide to file for divorce.  No matter what initiates the crisis, it is usually something that shacks the identity of the person.

What to do when a crisis of faith happens

Many college students leave the church during a crisis of faith, not because they have lost faith in God or in Jesus or in the church, but because they feel like their questions and concerns will not be welcomed in church.

Recent data backs up this feeling. In David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me, he notes that even though a majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian, “59 percent of young people with a Christian background report that they had or have ‘dropped out of attending church, after going regularly.’” I believe part of this dropout, and Kinnaman’s research shows this as well, is the fact that young adults feel they’re questions and doubts won’t be received with their church communities.

What a travesty. In Acts, the Bible commends the Bereans because they “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  It’s sad when people believe that the church is the last place that they can bring their faith questions.

So what can a student do? Hopefully they do belong to a church that accepts them questions and crisis and all. If not, just finding one person to talk and share with can help a student experiencing a crisis of faith work through their questions and doubts.

As collegiate ministers, that is what we should find exciting. I believe the best ministry is not leading 5,000 college students in Bible study every week (not that I wouldn’t love that opportunity) but rather it’s sitting with one student as they work through who God is and what God means within their life.

Why a crisis of faith is essential for spiritual formation

As scary as a crisis of faith might be for the person experiencing it, I believe that a crisis of faith is essential for spiritual formation. A period of questioning and doubting is a natural step as each person takes what they have been taught about God and learns how to put it into practice within their own developing worldview. St. John of the Cross describes this experience as a dark night of the soul and he writes beautifully about the experience in his book Dark Night of the Soul.

We also see a crisis of faith occurring with our biblical heroes:

David’s sin causes his son to die – crisis of faith

Solomon discovers that what he invested his life in is all vanity – crisis of faith

Jeremiah tells God he doesn’t want to preach anymore — crisis of faith

Peter denies knowing Jesus — crisis of faith

Jesus cries out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane – crisis of faith

But look what happens after they experience a crisis of faith:

David writes Psalm 51 about God’s forgiveness

Solomon discovers that life comes from fearing God

Jeremiah continues to preach and receives the promise of the coming Messiah

Peter becomes the first evangelist in the history of the Christian church

Jesus submits to God’s will and obediently dies on the cross for the salvation of the world

A crisis of faith comes to everyone- child, youth, college student, and adult. However because of the life stage of college students, the greatest percentage occur during the college years. Our students need to know it’s coming and the church needs to do a better job in preparing students for it.

The College Dream and the College Reality Part 2: An Economy of Ideas

In part 1 of this series, I outlined 7 ways to turn your college dream into a college reality. If you will follow those 7 suggestions, not only will you survive college, you will thrive in college.

In this post I want to look at a shift that has occurred toward an economy of ideas.

Two generations ago, a shift slowly began happening from an economy based on production to an economy based on ideas. Up until the 1940s or 1950s, workers knew a successful day’s work based on the production they exhibited. A furniture builder knew that a goods day’s work was building 3 tables and a bad day’s work was building 1 table but either way they could see result of their work.

Now with a diversity of industries and technology, we have moved to an economy of ideas and production is no longer as visible as in prior generations. What this means for current college students and those who will enter college in the coming years is that there will continue to be fewer and fewer connections between work and concrete productivity. To say it another way, in most modern professions, there is no table that’s standing at the end of the day as the direct result of someone’s work.

This has two effects that I see:

  1. College graduates entering the workforce find themselves working but with little to show for whether or not what they are doing really matters. This can lead to boredom, apathy, constant job jumping and sometimes even stress or depression. As we saw in part 1, the #1 thing college graduates want from their job is fulfillment but in an economy of ideas, fulfillment is increasingly hard to define, obtain and maintain.
  2. Churches have an opportunity to show college students and young professionals that there is something that does really matters- Christ. Thom Rainer discovered that 85% of Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) “felt that they have a lot of unused potential.” I believe that number is so high because they don’t feel that they are fulfilled in their jobs. The Church can and should be a place where all an individual’s potential can be reached. Let’s encourage college students to find their fulfillment in Christ and in doing the work of Christ in the world. Let’s step up to that challenge.

In part 3 of The College Dream and the College Reality, I’ll talk more about the crisis of faith that awaits every person- and for many occurs during college.

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© Ryan Vanderland 2012

The College Dream and the College Reality

As the spring semester ends for many college students, high school seniors are preparing to graduate and many will join the ranks within collegiate institutions in the fall. As these new graduates enter into colleges and universities they are entering into a new and changing world. It’s truly a dream world; a world full of opportunity. However, there is a darker side of college called: reality.

There’s a college dream but there is also a college reality and the more incoming college students understand the college reality the better chance they have to create their college dream.

So, what is the college reality? (I have to credit Dr. Tim Clydesdale and his presentation at Collegiate Summit for some of this information and for spurring me on to discover more.)

–         70% of high school graduates begin college but only 30% finish.

–         Approximately 31% of college students meet the criteria for alcohol abuse.

–         College alcohol abuse leads to almost 800,000 cases of assault and sexual assault each year.

–         78% of incoming freshman say that the #1 reason for attending college is to be “very well off financially” but the average college student graduates with around $27,000 in debt.

–         The #1 thing college graduates want from their job is fulfillment but in 2012 53.6% of recent college graduates are unemployed or under employed.

–         A 2010 CNN Money article reported that 85% of college seniors planned to move back home with their parents after graduation.

It’s a tough time to be a college student right now; economics are changing and education is changing and students are often caught in the middle. In my next post, I’ll talk about the shift to an idea based economy and how that affects college students and education.

But for now, what are some ways to make sure that incoming college students are part of the 30% that graduate college and not the 70% that fail to graduate? I have seven tips. 

  1. Go to class. Showing up is half the battle.
  2. Learn how to study. Learn what study method work best for you and stay consistent in using it.
  3. Know that you will have debt and don’t add to it. While you’re in college, learn to live within your means and start saving.
  4. Remember: EVERY decision has consequences and you cannot escape consequences. Good decisions bring good consequences and bad decisions bring bad consequences. Ths includes what you post on Facebook.
  5. Know that you will experience a crisis of faith. A crisis of faith will be different for each person but know that it’s coming.
  6. Know your plan for when your crisis of faith comes. Who can you talk to? Where can you go for help and advice? Find a church or a Christian collegiate ministry that will help you, not just survive college, but thrive in college.
  7. Don’t treat college as a 4 year vacation from God. The direction your spiritual life takes during college will, in most cases, dictate the direction it takes for the rest of your life.  

© Ryan Vanderland 2012

How Do You Measure the Effectiveness of Mentoring?

Mentoring is one of the hot-button words floating around student ministries right now. Whether junior high, high school or college, more and more people are realizing that one on one relationships are vital for the mental, emotional and spiritual health of students. Within a college ministry context, Chuck Bomar has written extensively on the necessity of mentoring relationships with college students. In his book, College Ministry from Scratch, Chuck outlines only two measures of effectiveness within college ministries as we help them “move toward Christlikeness.” The first measure of effectiveness is “helping individuals process their age-stage issues.” Age-stage issues are issues related to identity, intimacy and truth. The second measure of effectiveness is “cultivating quality relationships between college-age people and old, maturing believers.” I agree with Chuck Bomar that both of these can measure the effectiveness of college ministries, but how can we tell if our mentoring (or what Christians have historically called discipleship) is really having an effect on the students within our ministries? How do we measure the effectiveness of mentoring?

            While reading through Colossians recently, two verses jumped out at me and have become my basis for measuring the effectiveness of mentoring and discipleship. Paul writes to the church atColossaein order to refute a heretical teaching that sprung up within the church; he does this by continually exalting the name and identity of Christ (as in 1:15-20). Paul begins chapter 2 of Colossians by describing how he has fought for these believers to come to a “full assurance of understanding… [of] Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:2-3). Like Paul, this is my prayer for the college students at the church and on the campus where I serve. I want them to understand who Christ is and that in Him and Him alone are hidden the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. But how does that happen? How do we mentor students toward this end? I believe Paul tells us in Colossians 2:6-7.

            In those verses Paul writes: “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” (2:6-7). In this two verses, Paul outlines five benchmarks to help us evaluate how well we are helping students achieve a full understanding of Christ. I’ll sketch each of these very briefly.


  1. Have our students received Christ Jesus as Lord? Before a student can grow toward a full understanding of Christ they first have to begin a relationship with Christ.
  2. Are our students walking in Him? I believe the first stages of discipleship with a new believer should cultivate this daily walking with Christ. This happens by teaching them how to pray, how to read the Bible and how to let Christ rule in their hearts. These are I things I need reminders of all the time and I’m sure our students do as well.
  3. Are our students firmly rooted? When I asked the college students at my church what they wanted from our college ministry, one thing that kept coming up as important was to provide two necessary foundations. First, a biblical foundation. They want to understand the full narrative of Scripture and how it all fits together. Second, a place of security and acceptance with the community of believers. If everything falls apart they want to know that they are rooted into the community of the church. As we mentor, we should work to ground students within the two pillars of the Bible and the community of the church.
  4. Are our students being built up in Christ and established (strengthened) in their faith through instruction? Are we teaching in a way that builds them up in Christ and in their faith? Do we allow students to wrestle with doubt as they work to own faith for themselves? Are we showing through our teaching, as well as our actions, that students can rely fully on Christ? This is the step where students begin to see the world through the eyes and heart of Christ; where they begin to discover the treasures of wisdom and knowledge and understanding in Christ, which Paul mentioned in the previous verses.
  5. Are our students overflowing with gratitude (thankfulness)? When our student are overflowing with thankfulness for who Christ is and what He has done in their lives, they cannot help but love others, encourage others and tell others about the treasures of Christ. Then the cycle can repeat again as others decide to put their faith in Jesus Christ. 

 This semester I am praying Colossians 2:6-7 over my students. I am praying that students who had not received Jesus as Lord would, I am praying that those who are Christians would walk with Him, I am praying that those who are walking with Him would become rooted in their faith, I am praying that those who are rooted would be built up in faith and that after being built up that they would overflow in gratitude in works of service. Will you commit to praying for these as well? As we begin to see students taking these steps of growth, we will know that they are indeed growing toward a full understanding of Christ.


© Ryan Vanderland 2012