Spiritual FormationStudent Culture, Trends & Issues

The ‘Trend’ of Service


Serving others seems to be, far and away, the most popular form of faith expression on the campus I serve.

Much more so than participating in a worship service or small group ministry — students seem to believe that the best way they can ‘show’ they are followers of Jesus, or express their faith, is to find a way to meaningfully serve someone who is in need.

But I’m concerned, because there doesn’t seem to be much behind this desire to serve other then the notion that this is what a ‘good Christian’ should do.

There seems to be a lack of time spent in worship.

There seems to be a lack of engagement with God’s Word through personal, and small group, bible study and discipleship.

I’ve been working with college students, on campus, ever since I graduated.  Back in the mid-90s, when I was a college student, it seemed that small groups were the big thing.  Yes, worship and service were important aspects of my college experience, but it was involvement in a small group that seemed to be what young Christians were seeking out most.

Back around the turn of the century, the trend seemed to shift from personal discipleship and small group involvement, to worship, as the popular expression of faith.  It’s not that service and involvement in a small group were not options for students… but if students were only going to create space in their life for one opportunity, that opportunity was going to be a corporate worship experience.

Over the past few years it would seem that the pendulum of popular faith expression has swung away from worship towards service.  And while I love the fact that students are learning to see and give ‘beyond themselves’ during the college years — some of the most self-centered years of life (by design) — I worry about how our students are actually being formed without the critical elements of worship and discipleship (in the more narrow sense).

It seems to me that our service of others should flow out of the abundance of what God is doing on the inside… but if we’re not actually pursuing God, in any real way, than what is actually happening?  Are we becoming the women and men that God really desires us to be?  What differentiates our service from that of non-believers?  Does it matter?

I’ll share some more thoughts on this tomorrow, but I’d love to hear what this looks like on your campus!



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  • Emily Kane

    Interesting thoughts Guy! In some ways I think popular culture may be moving towards service when you look at things like “green” initiatives and leadership through service as I have seen both on the UT campus and at other Universities. One theme that has continued to come up in our ministry this semester is actually putting into practice what we are learning within the walls of our churches and, more specifically for my ministry, the Baptist Collegiate Ministry. Also, books like David Platt’s Radical is definitely calling us out of our Christian “huddles” to serve. However, for my students, I think they are still very devoted to specific worship services offered throughout the week, and casual fellowship time within our ministry building. I have not seen a great movement to go serve, but rather a need for encouragement to take what they are learning in these weekly worship services, church services, and small groups and use it to impact the world. I would love to get some thoughts on how to get students on board with serving, especially from the outflow of what God is teaching them.

    • Anonymous

      Hey Emily! I here what you’re saying… and I wonder if maybe this is something that’s ‘still to come’ for your ministry context. I would guess that there are others, like you, who are still struggling to get students ‘out there’ serving. While your students might still be most interested in a corporate worship experience, the reality is that they’re only choosing 1 primary faith expression — without giving attention to other areas. I would imagine that your frustration with their ‘lack of service’ is similar to my frustration that students aren’t choosing to engage in worship, bible study and small group experiences… SO, how are you trying to combat this?

  • Spencer

    I think this is true to a degree, but the students I work with like to talk about serving/meeting needs, but they dont necessarily do it. I see a different dichotomy between wanting to worship and have an experience with God that includes lights and smoke, versus wanting to really obey God in their everyday lives (Christlikeness). I think big worship venues are still a huge draw. Of course, I think the answer is to call our students to both- fellowship with Christ and followship of Christ. Somehow, we have to create environments for authentic community (small groups are one approach) that moves students from talking and experiencing, to living and doing.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Spencer! Thanks for your comments. I know we’ve got a percentage of our student population that would fall into this category as well… I’ve heard others refer to these well-intentioned Christians as ‘status activist’ (meaning they’ll be outspoken in their social media updates, but not necessarily in their daily living) or ‘slactivists’. I wonder how much this has to do with students taking their discipleship of Jesus seriously… and how much of it might have to do with not having enough ‘margin’ in their lives to actually give significant portions of their time, energy and efforts to the priorities of God??? I know this isn’t all students, but it definitely describes some on our students/campuses…

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