One of My Biggest Regrets in Ministry

I’m at the point of life where I’m both planning for the future and reflecting on the past. As I think back on 40+ years of ministry, including 14 years of lead pastoring, here is one of my biggest regrets: I did not invest in college students well. We gave a great deal of attention to youth (junior and senior high students) and to young married couples, but we were guilty of neglecting our college students. 

Let me tell you why I regret this omission. First, there were college students all around us. We had a number of our own members who were studying locally and around the country—but we tended to give them little attention once they were not with us every week. Even within our county in Ohio was a large public university that should have served as a mission field for us. 

That might be the case for you, too. More than 18 million students attend college in the U.S. They are at a pivotal stage of life that almost forces them to consider their basic belief systems. They are often inquisitive and open to other belief systems. This latter fact is a good thing when churches and believers reach out to them, share the gospel with them, and live a strong Christian life alongside them; it’s not such a good thing when no believers walk beside them as they’re wrestling with serious life questions. 

At the same time, more than 1 million of these students are international students who have come to the U.S. to study. Most of these students actually never visit an American home. God is bringing the nations to us—often nations that are not open to a gospel-focused missionary presence—but our churches are often missing this opportunity. I know my church, under my leadership, did. 

Here’s a second reason I carry this regret: college students who truly love Jesus can be some of the most on-fire, zealous evangelists and disciple-makers in our churches. Even as I write this post, I’m in South America traveling with an almost 19-year-old college student I consider my grandson. I’m walking with him as he considers a call to missions. I came on this trip thinking I would simply be “Papaw Chuck” helping him out, but it’s become more than that. As I learn more of his passion for Jesus, hear him communicate the gospel in almost every conversation, and learn of other young students he’s investing in, I find my commitment to Christ challenged. In fact, my faith feels a bit routine and stale right now in light of a college student’s zealous commitment to Christ. 

Actually, I often experience something like that each time I have opportunities to hang out with believing college students these days. I almost always come away praying, “God, give me that zeal again.” Thus, I realize now that I likely would have been a better pastor years ago had I given more attention to the college students in our area. That’s why this oversight remains one of my biggest ministry regrets today. 

I don’t want you to have this same regret. So, I challenge you to:

    • Reach out to college students in your church. Check on them. Encourage them. Pray with them. 
    • Check out gospel ministries in any local college or university around you. Get to know their leaders. Ask how your church can assist that work. If there is no such work in that university, find out if you can start one. 
    • Finally, may I ask you to pray for my grandson as he seeks the Lord’s will this week? I thank you for this prayer support.

Posted on March 6, 2024

Dr. Chuck Lawless is a leading expert in spiritual consultation, discipleship and mentoring. As a former pastor, he understands the challenges ministry presents and works with Church Answers to provide advice and counsel for church leaders.
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  • Neil E Wehmas says on

    The closest college or community college to us is 45 minutes away. However, we have many members spread across the country attending college. What suggestions do you have to keep connected with them? What about those who don’t go to college, but go straight to the workforce (or farming)?
    I do agree with your concern, but struggle with solutions in a setting where college students/young adults are quite sparce.

    • Chuck Lawless says on

      Great question, Neil. For college students, I’d suggest these kinds of options:
      1. a monthly pastor-led online gathering of all who can attend just to check on each other and pray for one another
      2. small groups adopting 1 or 2 college students and ministering to them/loving on them for their college career–not unlike a church loving a missionary they send out
      3. the church sending a couple care packages each year (finals week? their birthdays?) to each student
      4. one-on-one mentoring between a church member and a college student via Zoom or Teams meetings. I can tell you from experience that you can accomplish a lot via digital means today

      Hope this helps.