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3 ways to help college students have a pro-life voice on campus

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November 30, 2020

I remember attending my university’s freshman orientation the summer before school began. For all of the talk of academics, the prevailing conversation among us, the prospective students, revolved around the fun we were ready to have. To us, college was one big game, a grand experiment that was just waiting for us. After all, that’s the way it’s pitched. Sure, college is the place we go to get a degree, but more importantly, it’s the place we go to have fun before entering into the real world. The underlying narrative is that every person gets four years between high school and a 9-to-5 job to do whatever he/she wants. For most freshmen, it’s viewed as four years with no parents, no curfews, no restrictions—to have the most fun possible—with no consequences.

All students eventually discover that the generally accepted narrative is unable to deliver on its promises. Though college is fun, it’s unable to produce lasting satisfaction. This realization, though disappointing, is bearable. But, the truly devastating realization for most students is that the choices they make in their quest for ultimate fun do inevitably bring consequences, sometimes life-altering.

For the past four years, I was the college pastor at the same university that I attended as a student. And each week, I sat with students who were struggling through weighty consequences. It broke my heart to see the effects of the “grand experiment” lifestyle; however, it also gave me unique opportunities to be a voice of gospel healing and hope in a hard-to-reach place.

The need for a pro-life voice on campus

One particular consequence common to university students that demands a loving, hope-filled response from the church is unplanned pregnancy. Statistics reveal that college-aged women (18-24-year-olds) experience unplanned pregnancy at a higher rate than the rest of society.1https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/contraception/unintendedpregnancy/index.htm Sadly, many of these pregnancies end in abortion. In fact, when abortion rates are broken down by age group, college-aged women account for nearly a third of all abortions (31%).2https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/ss/ss6713a1.htm

These statistics alone are devastating, but what’s even more tragic is that many women (and men) walk through an unplanned pregnancy and the grief that follows an abortion in isolation. The “grand experiment” narrative sold to them as exhilarating—a retreat from “being tied down” by meaningful relationships—breeds a life of loneliness that only compounds with the fear of an uncertain future. Often, in these moments, a friendly voice seasoned with reason, hope, and stability acts as a salve to the fear, grief, and loneliness. 

In my experience, the college students who are suffering in this way are desperate for a place where they can share their pain and be free from shame. They just don’t know where to find that person. This is where the people of God can not only provide a listening ear and safe place to cry, but we can also apply the love, grace, and hope of the gospel to their life and circumstances.

How to be a pro-life voice

The first time I encountered the need for a pro-life voice on campus occurred when I was a student. I was discipling a guy who asked me for advice on a situation that he and his girlfriend were walking through with their friend; she was facing an unplanned pregnancy and considering abortion. Their friend, who was not a Christian, approached them, who were both Christians, because of the genuine care she felt in their relationship and asked if they would drive her to an abortion clinic. The guy I was discipling wanted to know what he should say and where he and his girlfriend could take their friend for real help. I don’t remember my exact words. I’m sure I stumbled through a response and pointed them toward church counsel, but more than anything, I remember feeling ill-equipped for the situation as a 19-year-old.

My hope is that the Lord uses our pro-life voice to protect babies in the womb, provide hope and healing to the hurting, and most importantly, to lead many to salvation through Jesus.

Years have gone by since that day and though it was difficult, I’m thankful for that experience as a student because it greatly influenced my strategy as the college pastor and continues to shape the ministry’s objectives today. It reinforced my belief in the need for a pro-life voice on campus as well as the need for a practical strategy of how to be one. As a result, here are three things I put into practice during my tenure: 

1. Introduce pregnancy resource centers to the students

On any given week, our church’s college ministry connects with hundreds of students. These interactions take place in various settings including our weekly gathering, small groups, outreach events, on-campus marketing, etc. What’s clear to me is that God has graciously given us a lot of influence on campus. I believe a practical way to faithfully steward that influence is to use it to champion the tools, resources, and mission of pregnancy resource centers. 

In an effort to do this, we’ve invited representatives of the centers to speak at our gatherings, included their promotional materials at some outreach events, and allowed representatives to have face-to-face interactions with students in various parts of campus through our small groups. In essence, we want to leverage our influence to amplify the voices of pregnancy resource centers.   

2. Provide avenues for men and women to receive post-abortive care and counseling 

I’ve already addressed some of the heartbreaking realities that the statistics regarding abortion and college-aged women indicate. What I haven’t mentioned is that I know college students within the ministry are among those included in the numbers. Namely, there are students we interact with on a weekly basis who have chosen to get an abortion and are grieving alone. Instead of ignoring this reality, we’ve begun to address it directly and now provide avenues for men and women to reach out anonymously to receive post-abortive care.

3. Partner with local pregnancy resource centers to equip students under my care  

After my experience as a college student, I was thankful to discover that pregnancy resource centers often provide training to individuals who want to develop a more effective pro-life voice. Often, in college towns, the content is specifically tailored toward students. As a pastor, I’ve encouraged students under my care to take advantage of these opportunities, and then I work hard to help the students understand the impact of their voices for the protection of human life on campus. 

This influence is most clearly felt in personal interactions with friends or acquaintances struggling with the fear associated with an unplanned pregnancy. I am convinced that the greatest weapon students carry in the fight for life in these crucial moments is not merely statistics or arguments, but a gracious ear and a loving presentation of the truth. God has given students a meaningful voice on campus, so we’ve begun to teach them how to use it.

The college campus is a segment of the nation that seems to be growing increasingly cold to the gospel and the implications it carries for the sanctity and dignity of life. The grand experiment culture appears to have a strong hold on students. However, since Jesus provides the only real answer to the let-downs of the grand experiment, I’ve found the hearts of college students to be incredibly soft when lovingly presented with the truth of their condition and its consequences. My hope is that the Lord uses our pro-life voice to protect babies in the womb, provide hope and healing to the hurting, and most importantly, to lead many to salvation through Jesus.

Stephen Johnson

Stephen Johnson serves as a pastor at Summit Church in Southwest Florida. He earned his B.S. in Finance and M.B.A. from Florida Gulf Coast University. Stephen is married to Ashley, and they have two children. Read More by this Author