Archives For Souls in Transition

This month I gave two talks on sex/dating.  I got great feedback on both of them (though the Dating talk solicited more) and wanted to pass them along to other campus ministers to hopefully save someone some prep time in the future.  Feel free to use them for whatever purpose you need.

Yesterday I summarized and gave downloadable notes/powerpoint from the Sex talk.
Today, the Dating Talk.

Summary Ideas:

  • You have to understand the sex/dating culture in which you find yourself to effectively fight upstream

College students live in a hook up and shack up culture.


  • Hook up:
  • Relationships are increasingly ambiguous
    • “Romantically, the lines between just met, just friends, something a bit more than friends, “Talking”, “going out”, “dating”, being boyfriend and girlfriend, sleeping over, cohabitating, and relating like married people can seem like passing through a series of gradually darkening shades of grey.”
    • “Such tendencies toward nebulous relations . . . leave emerging adult females [with] somewhat more investment than their male peers in getting clear on the nature of their relationships. But they also do not seem to feel empowered to demand that or to be up for challenging the larger amorphous relationships culture. Mostly they seem to simply go along and try their best to figure out what’s going on.”  Souls in Transition
  • Girls have been given the expectation that the very most they could or should expect from a guy is a hookup
  • From an eye-opening article in the very secular The Atlantic magazine: “Is it any wonder that so many girls are binge-drinking and reporting, quite candidly, that this kind of drinking is a necessary part of their preparation for sexual activity?  These girls aren’t embracing sex, all evidence to the contrary. They’re terrified of it.”
  • I showed a short clip from the MTV show The Hills where Kristin and Brody (pictured above!) painfully demonstrate this.  (Start at 14:20End 15:09)
  • Shack Up
  • The vast majority of college students believe that cohabiting is a smart if not absolutely necessary experience and phase for moving toward an eventual successful and happy marriage
  • BUT  – “Studies consistently show that couples who live together before they marry are more, not less, likely to later divorce than couple who did not live together before their weddings”  – Souls in Transition

So what is the Biblical Pattern?

  • Date to Marry (Dating is laying a foundation for a potential marriage which is obviously in contrast to our Hook Up culture)
  • No Sexual Immorality. Love Mark Driscoll’s thoughts on this: “Girls if his interpretation (of the Bible) ends up with you naked in bed, I would argue that he may not be the most objective theologian. I’d go with my interpretation which is: dump him”
  • Guys Initiate – from the first date, to DTR-ing, to setting physical boundaries
  • In dating, the man is demonstrating his ability to lead, protect, and provide.
  • The woman is discerning whether she will be well cared for and provided for, and whether she can follow his leadership. (I think that’s a quote from Mark Driscoll)
  • I ended this section with a 7 minute clip from Mark Driscoll’s excellent talk on Dating (Start minute 35:28 – End minute 42:30)

Here are my notes (I probably cut out 10 minutes of this content b/c the talk had already gone close to 40 minutes, including the video clips).
And the powerpoint.


Sex and Dating Talks

October 12, 2010 — 3 Comments

“Not only is God pro-sex, he explicitly uses sexual union
as a metaphor for a believer’s union with God.

In a very daring way, the Bible says that sex was God’s invention,

to give us a sign of the Union that he built us for”

(paraphrase of Tim Keller)

I wish I could speak on Sex/Dating every week at Cru!  Such a critical topic for college students.  My prayer is that hundreds of future marriages will be affected as men and women learn to honor God in dating.

This month I gave two talks on sex/dating.  I got great feedback on both of them (though the Dating talk solicited more) and wanted to pass them along to hopefully save you some prep time in the future.  Feel free to use them for whatever purpose you need.

Today I’ll summarize and give downloadable notes/powerpoint from the Sex talk.
Tomorrow, the Dating Talk.

**Be sure to check out the phenomenal Matt Chandler clip at the bottom.  Amazingly good.**

Sex –

  • Main Idea= Sex is the #1 reason students don’t want anything to do with God in college.

From the book Souls in Transition: “One of the reasons why many emerging adults may want to distance themselves from religion is that religion in their minds conflicts with [their] lifestyle options.  Most of them want to party, to hook up and to have sex”

Major Premise – Serious religion says sex is bad

Minor Premise – I want to party and have sex

Conclusion – I am not interested in serious religion

  • But ironically Sex/Desire is one of the greatest proofs that there is a God.  The “inconsolable longing” is what brought CS Lewis to Christ.
  • Most college students would say:

“For right now I want to get a lot of that stuff out of my system, like messing around with girls and stuff, or partying.  You know, Get all that stuff out of your system before you get married.  Once you get married, you won’t be able to do all that stuff.”

  • The problem = that stuff doesn’t get out of your system.  Jesus says that “stuff”/sexual desire is internal and is a raging fire that will consumer your life
  • It’s not a switch you can turn off once you “Settle down”
  • This talk borrows heavily from Tim Keller’s two sermons (especially the former): Love, Lust and Liberation and Singleness
  • Some of the talk is verbatim from TIm Keller’s talk.  I type up many of my notes verbatim and then use them as jumping off points when I speak – using the ideas but putting them in my own words

I ended the talk with this powerful clip from Matt Chandler where he tells the story of a pastor who passed around a rose that represented someone’s sexuality – and as it’s “passed around” and “handled” by everyone – it comes back to the front it’s used and broken.  One girl e-mailed me after the talk: “I broke down in tears when the clip ‘Jesus Wants the Rose’ was played and I have watched it over and over again in my dorm room.”

Here’s my notes.

For the powerpoint slides backdrops, I used the incredible (and free!) artwork from Southeast Christian Church. Here’s my slides.

photo courtesy of steeljam

Part 5 in a series on seeking to better understand our college audience from the research of the book Souls in Transition

Settling Down is for Later – College is a time to have fun.

I know. Not exactly ground breaking. But read some of the excerpts from Souls in Transition explaining this mindset of Emerging Adults and tell me this doesn’t have huge repercussions for ministry:

Rather than being settled, most of them understand themselves to be in a phase of life that is free, fluid, tentative, experimental, and relatively unbound. They want to enjoy it while it lasts. Here a bit of tension over life goals is expressed. They want to acquire independence and the ability to stand on their own two feet. But most of them also do not want full adulthood to come too quickly.

Someday in the future, when they’ve got their youthful passions worked out of their systems, then they will settle down.

Furthermore, when it comes to romantic relationships and sex, many – if not most – emerging adults see little connection between their lives now before settling down and the lives they will live later after having settled down.  Now . . . they can party, hook up with strangers, and generally play at being wild.  Later, when they settle down they’ll be sober, faithful, and responsible adults. The assumption seems to be “whatever happens in my early twenties stays in my early twenties”

As one young man said, ‘I think people should have a career and good income before getting married. Maybe get a lot of stuff out of your system, like messing around with girls and stuff, or partying, get that our of your system. Get all that stuff out of your system before you get married.  Once you get married, you won’t be able to do all that stuff.

The problem?  That “Stuff” doesn’t get out of your system.  That stuff is in you.  Sin is not external to you.  It is in your heart.  Lust is not a switch you can flip off when you get married.  You have the same heart.  The same sinful desires.

“They reflect only slight awareness that they may now even in small ways be establishing patterns and priorities. . . that will carry through the rest of their lives.”   pg. 71

We interviewed a student named Pete last spring who, I think, speaks for most college students.  He would likely call himself a Christian (as most students at the University of Arkansas do) but lives the wild college life – partying and hooking up with girls.

We asked him what he and his friends thought of Cru.

His response, “Most of my friends in my fraternity just want to have a good time in college.  So they don’t want to come to Cru or a Bible study because they don’t want to be good, they don’t want to be perfect right now.  They want to make mistakes and party and have sex with girls.”

So how do we reach Pete and his friends?  What have you seen that has worked?

We’re talking about this topic this morning at our team’s staff planning so I’ll share anything we come up with.

photo courtesy of Szymon Kochański via flickr

Getting Past Irrelevance

August 12, 2010 — 9 Comments

The random picture will be explained below.

Helping Students find Purpose (when they’re not looking for it).
There was some great discussion/comments on yesterday’s post The Chief End of College Students so I thought I’d solicit more specific help.

Crowd-source my ministry planning.

Using your collective genius to help us better reach college students with the gospel.

Stehanie N. summarized the question well in the comments yesterday:

“I understand that they aren’t already thinking about Life Purpose…but is it possible to get them there? And then create doubt about whether their ladder is leaning against the right wall, so to speak?”

So yesterday AM, our staff team spent about an hour looking for practical application points for our ministry. Here’s what we came up with in our first pass. I’m not posting this because we figured it out – I’m posting because maybe you/your team have found some things that work.

So if you would, take a look at what we came up with as a team and let me know what you’d add/subtract/change, etc.

It’s a bit long but hopefully very practical:

The main “solution” we came up with in “Getting Past Irrelevance” is relationships. As we see it, there is no one shot solution. It will take a sustained relationship and many conversations to help students see the incredible relevance of the gospel.

Just to be clear: we’re not going the relational evangelism route because we’re scared to share the gospel up front. Us? Scared? Please! If Campus Crusade drove a truck, we’d have 30 “Aint Skeered” and “No Fear” stickers plastered on our back windshield.

It’s just that our boldness with the gospel in the past (speaking for our team) has fallen on deaf ears because it’s filtered out thru the “not relevant to my life right now” auto-reflex of college students. So we will be bold by creating tension and then presenting the gospel.

Our vision statement is relational and provides the solution: “Equipping students so that everyone knows someone who passionately follows Jesus”.
As they really know (go thru life side by side) with a passionate Christ-follower they will see what is lacking in their own life (tension).
Then we can present the message of the gospel – because they have ears to hear.

So the long term solution is a relationship where the gospel is lived out and explicitly communicated through many mini-gospel presentations (best done in a conversational, “this is how the gospel is humbling me to the ground right now and how I’m finding hope in the grace/love of Christ right now”).

To get really practical, what do we do during the initial conversation?

  • In our particular situation, we have 2,000 contact cards at the beginning of the year. And hundreds of follow up appointments in the first few weeks. And throughout the year we (staff and students) are trying to “stir the pot” with whomever we talk to on campus, trying to start spiritual conversations. How do get past irrelevance in this initial conversation?

Here’s what we’ve done in the past on follow up appts:

  • Explain who we are as Cru and what we offer.
  • If the conversation is still moving along (i.e. their eyes aren’t glazed over), ask the Kennedy Questions (If you were to die tonight, how sure are you that you would go to heaven? & If God said, why should I let you into heaven, what would you say?) and try to share the gospel
  • If the conversation has hit a wall, yell as they’re slamming the door: “OK, so Tuesday night is Cru and we’ll see you at Bible study tomorrow night right???”
  • The goal – to invite them to a meeting/Bible study and share the gospel with them

Maybe we just suck at ministry but this hasn’t yielded much fruit for us (anyway you measure it – conversions, involvement in Cru, etc)

Here’s our best shot at a new approach – The goal of the initial conversation is to get a second relational connection (going to a movie, lunch the next day, a Bible study, playing Ultimate Frisbee). The primary goal of the first appointment is to launch a long-term relationship.

And to try to create tension starting with the first appointment or encounter.  Some ideas we had:

  • Quote/paraphrase Acts 17 – From before Creation God “determined the times set for you and the exact places where you should live.”
  • So God has you here at the U of A for a determined purpose.
  • So why do you think God has you here? What do you hope to get out of college?”
  • Their probable answer: “Get a degree. Meet People. Have a good time.”
  • Our response: ?????

That’s where we’re a bit stuck. How do you increase the tension in a conversational/non-preachy way: “I’ve arrived at the solution, let me tell you how yours is wrong”?   Because I think if you do that – you lose them again.

One idea – Use CCC’s Soularium cards and ask them to pick a couple pictures that best represent:
1. What drives you in life? What motivates you?
2. What does your spiritual life like now?
3. What would you like your spiritual life to look like by the time you graduate?

So help us out – what has worked for you in “Getting Past Irrelevance”. Additionally, how do you ratchet up tension in a bold yet conversational/non-preachy way.

photo courtesy of slambo_42 via Flickr (with the obvious Aint Skeered/CCC adaption)

One of the first rules of communication is “Know Your Audience”.  As we seek to communicate the life changing message of the gospel to this generation of college student, we have to understand their world.

Every day this week during our team’s staff planning we are getting to know a different aspect of our audience.

This morning we’ll be looking at: “What Drives College Students – What is their purpose in life?”. The book Souls in Transition, thru careful research, presents a fascinating view into the minds of the current generation of college students.

Here’s what the authors found:

“Some emerging adults have settled on what seems to be a clear and strong sense of purpose in life.  But they are the minority.”

So what Drives College Students, what do they organize their life around? The short answer: Themselves.

The fuller answer reveals

  • A driving focus
  • A long term goal
  • And thus the (perceived) irrelevance of religion/God:

Driving Focus = Standing on One’s Own

“The central, fundamental, driving focus in life of nearly all emerging adults is getting themselves to the point where they can “stand on their own two feet”.  Life’s major challenge for them is transitioning from dependence to independence, from reliance on others to self-sufficiency, from being under others’ authority and eye to living on their own.”   pg 34

Long Term Goal = Materially Comfortable Life

Most of the transitions, the figuring new things out, and the learning to stand on one’s own has the long-run goal of enjoying a materially comfortable life.  [The interviewees were asked] what they wanted out of life, to describe their life goals and dreams.  Nearly all of them replied with some version of the same essential answer: finish education, get a good job, marry, have children, buy a nice house with a yard, raise a family, become financially secure, drive reliable cars, enjoy family vacations, enjoy good relationships, maybe have a dog.  In short, nearly all spoke sincerely as if they still believed in the American Middle-class dream. Respondents voiced very few alternative life dreams, like achieving major social reforms, living overseas, serving the poor, or pursuing any other alternative lifestyles.  pg. 69

Unfortunate, all too common by-product of those two: Religion is irrelevent to life right now

One student summed it up well: “I’m not really involved with that type of thinking [religion] right now.  I’m really involved in my life and where I’m heading right now.”  pg. 145

“Emerging adults are primarily dedicated in this phase of their lives to achieving their own financial, identity and household independence from their parents.  Serious religious faith and practice do not necessarily directly conflict with that mission, but they are not crucial or intrinsic to it either.”   pg. 76

Those three things – 2 things they organize their life around, and 1 (religion) that they don’t – HAVE to affect how we do ministry.

Their focus has to be transferred from self to God.  They are not “captain of my ship master of my soul”.

They have to be shown a greater purpose.

But the third one is what it all rests on – how do you even get your foot in the door (to talk about 1&2) when Joe Freshmen you’re talking to dismisses you out of hand because he’s not buying what you’re selling? Your message is irrelevant to him.

I would LOVE to hear any thoughts you have.   How do you overcome this perceived irrelevance?

photo courtesy of depinniped via flickr

Scared to Share

July 25, 2010 — 1 Comment

This is part 3 in a series of posts inspired by the book Souls in Transition.

Young people are sharing their faith less, but why? My gut is they do it less because they believe (& have been told) a myth.

Keith Davy reports on an interesting survey called “How teenagers faith practices are changing” (link to a great summary on the survey – a quick, must-read for college ministers):

“The study suggests a significant decline in believing teens attempts to witness.  Believing teenagers were asked if they had attempted to explain their religious beliefs to someone else with different religious beliefs with a hope that they might receive Jesus Christ as Savior. In 1997, 63% of “born-again” youth answered affirmatively. In December 2009, that number had dropped to 45%.”

Here’s my 2 cents on what causes students (and all of us) to share the gospel less:

  1. Lack of understanding of the gospel. If we really understand it, we can’t help but share it.
  2. They’re gun shy. We’ve all heard the doom and gloom of “post-Christian” America and are scared to approach people who surely must hate Christians.

It’s something that I’ve noticed in students in the last few years – an almost embarrassment to tell others that they are Christians.  The book unChristian really hits the nail on the head as far as students’ reluctance to share their faith:

“2/3 of young born-again Christians say they believe that most outsiders have a negative image of Christianity. Another 1/3 say that the way Christians act and the things they say make them embarrassed to be a Christian. We heard many young believers say that in some circumstances they are reluctant to admit they are Christians. They don’t fear being unpopular, but they feel that raising the Christian flag would actually undermine their ability to connect with people and to maintain credibility with them.”

But here’s the interesting thing, and back to the whole “myth” thing.

Souls in Transition says something REALLY interesting: that it’s a myth that young people are hostile or averse toward talking about religion (christian teens’ fears are unfounded). In their research the authors find non-Christian students “generally seem happy to talk about religion if it happens to come up.” (page 144)

“In the ordinary lives of many emerging adults, religion doesn’t come up often as a topic of conversation, but that’s no because most are actively avoiding it.  It is . . .simply not something of central importance that most would expect to . . .come up in discussions. . . it is no particularly threatening or controversial.” (page 144)

So, to me, the 2 questions we need to address are:

  1. How do we help students more fully experience/understand the gospel (besides the obvious answer of having them listen to TIm Keller sermons 24/7)?
  2. How do we help them “get in the game” and simply talk about their faith as a way of life?

Any ideas?

photo courtesy of Tiago Ribeiro via Flickr

This is part 2 in a series of posts on the book Souls in Transition.

First the bad news: College-aged young people are “the least religious adults in the United States today.”  Only 20% attend religious services at least once a week.  They are morally adrift and alienated from religion.

These are a few of the findings of the Authors of the book Souls in Transition.

Based on five years of academic research, Souls in Transition presents the best information to date on the spiritual beliefs of the current generation of college students.

Here is what they report about how Emerging Adults (what they call those age 18-22) line up spiritually (and I find this to be less “doom and gloom” than I’d feared):

  • 15% are Committed Traditionalists who “embrace a strong religious faith, whose beliefs they can reasonably well articulate and which they actively practice.” (p 166)
  • 30% are Selective Adherents who “are not that interested in matters religious or spiritual” but do hold to certain aspects of their religious tradition that they pick and choose (p. 167, 295)
  • 15% are Spiritually Open, who “are not personally very committed to a religious faith” but mildly interested and open to some spiritual topics or activities. (p 167)
  • 25% are Religiously Indifferent who “simply [don’t care] one way or the other”.  They “religion really doesn’t count for that much” (p 168, 295)
  • 5% are Religiously Disconnected who have little exposure to religious ideas or people.  Religion is not a particular interest.  They lack “the social and institutional ties to religion to know or care that much about it in the first place.” (p 168,295)
  • 10% are Irreligious who “hold skeptical attitudes about and make critical arguments against religion generally, rejecting the idea of personal faith.” “Religion just makes no sense” (p 168)

So on your typical campus:

  • 15% are “solid believers”
  • No more than 10% are “atheists/agnostics” –
  • 30% come from a churched background (this would be more like 60% on our campus) but are moral relativists
  • 45% are what I would call “Unspiritual but Open” – they would be very receptive to Christians and having a conversation about God

Obviously (like I mentioned re: our campus) you’d have to adjust for your campus but these findings would/should definitely shape the way you approach outreach on your campus.

A few takeaways for our ministry:

  • It might be helpful for staff/students to be able to think through: “which category does the person I’m talking to fit into?”  And then training students how to communicate the message of the gospel to each group.  You wouldn’t talk to a “Religiously Disconnected” student in the same way that you’d talk to a “Selective Adherent”.  The former has never really been exposed to religious beliefs or people.  The latter has been inoculated to the gospel and now want little to do with it (at least during college).
  • At our campus we need to get a lot better at communicating the gospel to our average student: The churched kid who picks and chooses which parts of Christianity he wants to follow: “sex before marriage?  Perfectly fine.  Attending church?  Optional.  Alcohol/drugs?  Why not.  But I feel really guilty. Thanks religion”  The authors summarize their outlook: “I do some of what I can.”  They are religious moralists (and pretty crummy ones, at that) who do not understand the gospel of grace..
  • My heart really goes out to those in the “Unspiritual but Open” category – it just seems like if they just consistently rubbed shoulders with a passionate follower of Christ over the course of a school year, they would be open to the gospel.

What are you takeaways after reading these findings?

Photo courtesy of Neil Dorgan via Flickr

It’s either or.  As a whole, college students are either hostile toward religion or ambivalent/open toward it.

Yes, I know every college student is unique and they range from passionate follower of Christ to atheist.  But when you think about doing college ministry, especially evangelism, what college student are you imagining you will encounter?  An angry, Christian-hating atheist or an open-to-discussion student.

Obviously, your approach to evangelism (as a ministry and as an individual) will be vastly different depending on your answer to that question.

Two landmark books have been published in the last few years on spirituality among the college-aged:

unChristian  &  Souls in Transition

I highly recommend both of them.  Incredibly eye opening.

I just read Souls in Transition this summer and will unpack its content over the next few weeks on this blog.

But, although they have some similarities in their findings  (and both are rather dry books written by researchers – Souls is far tougher to wade through of the two), I think they paint a very different picture of Young Adults (as they call those of college age).

This is a gross generalization but here’s what they conclude about Young Adults:

  • unChristian – There is a growing tide of hostility and resentment toward Christianity
  • Souls in Transition – Most “are OK with talking about religion as a topic, although they are largely indifferent to it”

Working with college students in the Deep South I find the results from “Souls” to be much truer to my experience.  But we live in the Bible belt and I know our students aren’t typical of the average American college student.  College ministers at Cal Berkeley or NYU obviously will encounter a different audience.

What has been your experience in working with “outsider” college students (as unChristian calls non-Christians)?