Mentoring College Students
by Ryan Vanderland
Mentoring is one of the hot-button words floating around college ministries right now. 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. In his book, College Ministry from Scratch, Bomar outlines only two measures of effectiveness within college ministries as we help studnets “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 Bomar that both of these can measure the effectiveness of college ministries, but how can we tell if mentoring is really having an effect on the students within our ministries?
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 at Colossae in 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 “that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him” (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 do we mentor students toward this end? I believe Paul tells us in Colossians 2:6-7: “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.” In this two verses, Paul outlines five benchmarks to help us evaluate how well we are helping students achieve a full understanding of Christ.
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 Him.
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 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 Scripture and church community.
4. Are our students being built up in Christ and strengthened in their faith through discipleship? 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? When our students are overflowing with thankfulness for who Christ is and what He has done in their lives, they can’t help but love, encourage, 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’m praying Colossians 2:6-7 over my students. I’m praying that students who haven’t received Jesus as Lord would, I’m praying that those who are Christians would walk with Him, I’m praying that those who are walking with Him would become rooted in their faith, I’m praying that those who are rooted would be built up in faith and 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.
For more on biblical mentoring, check out the Threads short-term study Mentor: How Along-the-Way Discipleship Will Change Your Life.
Ryan Vanderland currently serves as the college pastor at First Baptist Church Midland, Texas, as well as the BSM Director at Midland College. He has worked in full-time ministry for almost 5 years. Ryan graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies from Hardin-Simmons University in 2007 and a Master of Arts in Religion from Hardin-Simmons University in 2011. He and his wife have one son.