6 ways to welcome college students home this summer

June 2, 2017

Summer is here, which means many college students have returned home from their universities. Many churches find it difficult to determine how to best welcome them back. Do you simply funnel them into your youth ministry programs? Do you recruit them to help the other age-graded ministries? Do you create some type of summer worship experience for them? What’s the best way to welcome them back into our congregations? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Acknowledge them. This may seem to be a basic suggestion, but it’s one worth mentioning. Many college students return to their local churches and don’t have anyone reaching out to them. Chances are, if they’re back in your church, they were involved in your student ministry and church as a whole in high school. Why not have a pastor or small group leader reach out to them personally? Let them know you’ve missed them and that they add value to your church.

2. Probe them about the culture. It could be a valuable exercise to gather the college students you have and ask them what they’ve learned about the culture. They have just returned from being immersed in the collegiate experience. Are there insights your church could gather from this exercise? If "tomorrow’s leaders" are being produced on the college campuses, churches should take notice of what’s happening on those campuses.

One unique trait that college students will bring to your congregation is passion.

3. Plug them into visible roles. One tendency we can have with college students is to give them tasks with minimum responsibility and visibility. Some may be returning from college/campus ministries where they provided a lot of leadership and support. Why not leverage their passion and experience for their home church? Have them lead a student ministry small group. Could they help in your Sunday service with the opening and prayer?

One unique trait that college students will bring to your congregation is passion. They’re passionate about God and life in general. They can inject a type of energy into your services that you may be missing. Sure, you may have to help them stay grounded and focused, but the value of having them connected will far outweigh the work you’ll have to put in through redirecting their energy.  

4. Connect them with a mentor. Many of your students may have been involved primarily with a campus ministry. What you can offer them that, perhaps, their campus ministry can’t is an intentional relationship with a mature adult. One idea is to connect them with someone in the same career field they’re studying. Do you have an engineer in your congregation? How about a school teacher? Students need to see how they can use their specific vocation for God’s mission. You know your congregation better than anyone. Find out what your returning college students are studying, and then find them a matching mentor. Paul explicitly exhorts Timothy to “entrust to faithful men who are able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2) and for “older women . . . to teach what is good” (Titus 2:3). It’s our responsibility to ensure the next generation is disciplied.

5. Create missional opportunities. If there’s one thing college students are passionate about it’s service opportunities. They want to make an impact in their community. They believe the gospel should motivate us to make a tangible difference in our communities. Is there a food pantry or homeless shelter than needs support? Do you have elderly couples that need home repairs or someone to spend time with them? These are all tasks college students could help fulfill. Who knows, they could build bridges for you with some businesses/organizations that you have wanted to connected with.

6. Be patient with them. This suggestion is a little different, but I think helpful. Some will return from college with grand ideas about life and how things should work. They might be critical of how things are done at your church (if they stick around and don’t find another church). College students will be naive about life. However, it’s not your job to "set them straight.” If you develop that posture with them, they will quickly leave your church. At school, they’re taught to think critically. They are in a process of growth and maturity. Has God been patient with you? Shouldn’t that motivate us to be patient with them.

Paul instructs the church at Colossae to forgive and bear with one another (Col. 3:12-13). Let that motivate us to forgive and bear when necessary. Serve as their “emergency brake.” When they get moving too quickly or seem too critical, lovingly help them hit the brake. I have, at times, allowed students to do something that I know will fail simply to allow them to feel the failure. In those moments, we step in and help them assess why it went wrong and what could have been done better. Don’t give up on them, and don’t take their criticisms personal.

Depending on your location, college students have flooded into your community. God has called your congregation to enfold them into your body upon their return. This will take extra work and effort on your part, but imagine equipping your college students to head back to their campuses, more matured and challenged in their faith. Your ministry to college students this summer could be a wonderful gift to college pastors like myself. Your hard work could not only impact your community this summer, but the lives of countless others that your students meet during the semester. Let’s commit together to loving and serving our college students this summer.  

Editor’s Note: In a changing world, your children will have questions you may not know how to answer. Join us for the fourth annual ERLC National Conference on "Parenting: Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World" on August 24-26, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn., this event will welcome key speakers including Russell Moore, Jim Daly, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Todd Wagner, and Jen Wilkin. 

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24