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After serving for 8 1/2 years as student/university pastor at Cornerstone in Simi Valley, Ca he is now the planting pastor of Colossae in Portland, OR. As founder of CollegeLeader his desire is to help church-based college ministry leaders in the trenches anyway he can. He and his wife Barbara have two beautiful daughters: Karis and Hope.

Okay, there is no possible way I can do this series in five parts! I’ve tried to limit what I say about each topic to fit three of them in one article, but I have a hard time short changing them. These are far too important in the life of a college-age person to give you the abbreviated versions. So, I’ve limited this article to covering just one topic, and the next couple will most likely do the same.

What’s Next?
In the last article I covered three topics: wrongful identification in sin, the Bible, and relationships. Each one of these topics is HUGE in the lives of college-age people. Even though these subjects may seem to some like no-brainer topics to cover, there are unique things about each one that hit home with a college-age person like no other stage in life.

In this article I want to focus on one topic that, in my mind, is most frequently seen in the lives of college-age people: searching for an identity. Different topics come up all the time, but this one I deal with by far the most as I sit down one-on-one with this age group! When it comes to identity, there are unique elements for a college-age person that are different than any other stage of life.

So here are my thoughts on the importance of covering the issue of identity, and some practical ideas of how to go about it.


Topic #4: Identity
Finding a sense of identity solely in Jesus Christ is a struggle for all of us, but to a college-age person the search for identity goes to an entirely different level. Essentially this age group has no identity, but are desperately seeking one—both in society as well as spiritually. Now with their high school identity in the past, the search for a new identity is pursued intensely.

Unfortunately, due to parents and others pressuring them to find a career path, most are only searching for an identity in society. Parents ask their kids, “What are you going to do with your life?” As they look to other adults settled into a career and/or family life, college-age people are in a state of wonder as to where they will land. They have dreams and aspirations but most lack a sense of direction as to how to get there. This is vital to understand as we work with them!

The goal of teaching on this topic is not to get people to find a sociological identity in a career, but rather to take advantage of their search. The goal is to help them embrace their spiritual identity in Christ before they find one in society. If there is ever a teachable moment where the topic of identity can be capitalized on the college-age stage of life, this is it! When we talk through this issue, it automatically goes straight to the heart because this is the one thing they are constantly thinking through.

Junior high and high school students are searching for identity as well, but the difference is during these stages it isn’t as much of a conscious thought process. The college-age person however is extremely conscious of their search and when we talk about it in the church, it connects with them like no other topic.

I weave this topic of identity throughout most of my messages and conversations. So in hope of being able to help you more in your ministry, here are specific topics/message titles I have given to my students over the years:

  1. Identity: Beyond the crowd. Although we can never completely separate our identity as Christians from the body of Christ, we still must have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The goal of this message is to push them to question whether they have more of a relationship with church events and gatherings, or personally with Christ. A lot of people would say they have a relationship with Christ, but when examined, the reality is there isn’t really much of one at all outside of religious gatherings. College-age people really struggle with this, especially those who have grown up in church.
  2. Identity: Beyond sin. The number one ingredient to a mediocre Christian life is wrongfully identifying our selves in sin struggles rather than in Christ. College-age people are becoming very aware of their weaknesses, and as they search for an identity in something, unfortunately many can only embrace one in their sin (because it’s ever before them). This causes many to shrink back from truly pursuing a relationship with Christ as well as engaging in ministry. The goal of this message is to give them freedom in Christ and to help them understand the pain of wrongfully identifying themselves in their sin rather than in Christ’s righteousness.
  3. Identity: Beyond circumstances. If we’re honest about it, much of our faith is too often based on circumstances. This talk is designed to help college-age people identify themselves in one abstract truth—hope in Jesus Christ. With their thinking capacities, they can follow this train of thought, especially when they have nothing to hang their hat on physically (i.e. career, etc.).
  4. Identity: Spiritual vs. Sociological. College-age people are re-evaluating all their childhood assumptions when it comes to faith. Consequently they don’t have an identity in spiritual truths, and the only place they have to run to feel a sense of identity is a career or a relationship. This is what we want to protect them from because these sociological things always seem to change. When that change comes, it leaves the individual searching for yet another identity. Our identity must be found outside of the circumstances we find ourselves in (good or bad), and the goal of this message it to help them think through all of this.
  5. Identity: Beyond the American Dream. Owning a home, having a family, and a good paying job to support them—it is what we consider the American Dream. However, by “support them” Americans typically mean, “give them everything they want and never having to struggle with finances.” This identity search is not only empty, it’s flat out wrong. This talk seeks to stretch college-age people to a point where they move past this American standard of success to a point of contentment where they are okay with doing and being anything God has for them. We must be careful not to create bitterness toward their parents while at the same time challenging the typical standard parents place on their kids. If there is ever a topic that will get the attention of your college-age friends, this is it. They feel a tremendous amount of pressure in this area and you could be the breath of fresh air they need!

Until the next article . . .

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