College ministry always keeps you on your toes. With complete turnover of students every four years among the undergraduates, cultural and generational changes come fast and often. Recent years have seen the rise of constant communication, constant distraction, and an ever more diverse student body. Here are five key things you should know about serving Christ in the Ivy League:
1. Ivy League students are busy, ridiculously busy, busy to the point of distraction, busy with equal parts excellence, excitement, and chaos. That busyness perhaps comes with the territory in dealing with overachieving students. Indeed, as far back as the 1920s Princeton adopted rules limiting the number of clubs in which a student could serve as an officer in an effort to ensure that quality was not sacrificed in the pursuit of extracurricular quantity. That busyness though seems to have gotten worse with the rise what the New York Times' David Brooks called the "organization kid." Getting into the Ivy League is typically achieved by doing anything and everything on offer from sports to clubs to volunteer work. For ministry this presents an opportunity if this energy can be harnessed for Kingdom work but it presents a great challenge in getting regular attendance and real commitment out of ambitious students.
2. Ivy League students are from all over. One of the greatest opportunities forthe gospel at a place like Princeton is that the country and the world come right to your door. My closest friends at Princeton were from Brazil, France, Oman, Hong Kong, Singapore, Texas, Montana, and Illinois. The campus ministries are actually greatly strengthened by the presence of believers from Africa, South America, and Asia. While there is truth in the assumption that Ivy League students are typically from wealthy backgrounds, there is a strong effort to attract students from poorer backgrounds be it the inner city or Appalachia. Contrary to widespread beliefs that the Ivy League is unaffordable, huge endowments and generous financial aid let lower-income students come for free. The racial and socioeconomic diversity of the student body opens the door for Christian ministries to do a good work of reconciliation and redemption.
3. Ivy League students do not like "evangelicals." There is no getting around the fact that many students in the Ivy League carry a lot of prejudice around the term evangelical. Some of that prejudice is indeed against the truths of the gospel, that all men and women are sinners in need of a savior, that Jesus is the one true path to the Father, not to mention the claims of God on how we live and direct our lives. However, a great deal of the prejudice against the term evangelical has nothing to do with the gospel and everything to do with contemporary American political and cultural divides. In the era of Donald Trump the need to distinguish the faith from a certain approach to politics is ever more necessary. The gospel gives offense, and those of us preaching it in the Ivy League need special measures of grace and wisdom to avoid letting other issues get in the way of the Lord's work.
4. The Ivy League unintentionally does the Lords work. I always tell prospective students who've been admitted to Princeton that making the choice to attend will be good for their soul. How can the spiritual growth of a young college student be best served in such a secular environment? One word, humility. The best thing Princeton did for me and for really any of its overachieving students is to teach them the limits of their abilities. The high school students who get into the Ivy League almost to a one find their identity and hope in their achievements, which is poison to their spiritual growth. There's nothing like facing the reality of your mediocrity in a school full of overachievers to bring you on your knees before the Lord.
5. Ivy League students are just like everyone else. At the end of the day there's nothing fundamentally different about ministry in the Ivy League. Sin is sin, and the blood of Christ is the only hope for us regardless of our skill on standardized tests. While it is of some value to be prepared to discuss the more intellectual aspects of the faith while ministering at a place like Princeton, at the end of the day students here struggle with the same things as everyone else. Some days it's counseling students through heartbreak, roommate drama, or health issues. The most common sins students fall into include pride, lust, wrath, and envy. We can take great comfort in the reality that God is not impressed with academic credentials, much as He calls us to faithful stewardship of what He has given us. We serve a God who in his great mercy loves even the Ivy League, and only His grace will make ministry here flourish.