Encouraging College Students When It's Not Your Job

  • by Melody Copenny

Darnell J. Wilson climbed on a table and said, “We are The Impact Movement™. Who wants a free water bottle?” He started throwing bottles into the crowd. “Surprisingly, people caught ‘em, but one person got hit in the head,” he said.

He wanted to get people’s attention during opening weekend at Kent State University. Facing 5,000 college freshmen would be an intimidating crowd for most, but the challenge energized Darnell.

Kahalia, the young woman struck by the bottle, wasn’t injured and came to the table to learn more about The Impact Movement. She began attending gatherings, where she later placed her faith in Jesus Christ.

Darnell J. Wilson

“She’s brought her sister to Impact; her sister is a believer,” Darnell says. “Kahalia is one of my trusted leaders, and she’s considering serving with our movement when she graduates. But that’s a God-thing, because He took my foolishness to reel her in.”

Darnell, a nurse by trade, volunteers with The Impact Movement’s Kent State chapter. The growing campus ministry – established in 1998 by Darnell’s pastor – attracts 75 students to their weekly functions. Twelve student leaders serve the chapter, leading Bible studies and promoting campus events, and Darnell is committed to helping them beyond their college careers.

A staff member with The Impact Movement told Darnell that the Kent State chapter needed help, and so he responded. More than six years later, Darnell continues helping to lead the growing campus movement. But he recognizes the ministry isn’t perfect. The students need help relating to non-Christians at their meetings.

“We have non-believers who come because of the topics we cover,” he says.

A KSU student fills out an Impact info card

The non-Christian students tell Darnell they feel more comfortable talking to him about their lives than talking to their Christian peers, because he won’t judge them. To help his student leaders better relate to nonbelievers and believers, Darnell teaches them “Gospel Fluency,” based on Ephesians 4:15. They learn how to speak the truth in love, but with grace. He gleaned the idea from a church in Seattle, Washington.

Three essential components strengthen Darnell’s ministry to the Kent State students: Recognize that an investment of time creates commitment, understand the critical role of local church partnerships, and care for college students deliberately.

“Give Me Two Years.”

Darnell challenges each student leader with The Impact Movement, who stays in the area after graduating, to help reach the next generation of leaders on campus.

“I tell them, ‘You have two years, give ‘em to me,’” he says. “I’ll train them to think and replicate like a leader … how to teach a small group–not just lead it, but how to teach people; it’s a different mindset. You teach someone, you learn it twice. You learn it better and you become passionate.”

“Without Them, We Wouldn’t Be Here.”

Impact President Jimmie McGee speaks to Kent State Impact students

Darnell believes the invaluable contributions of his local church kept the campus movement alive. Without his church, he doesn’t believe the chapter would exist. He feels campus ministry must be entwined with a biblically based, local church body.

“The [movements] that failed or died off didn’t have a local community church that was tied to them,” he says. “When students leave, the ministry died. But with our church, a lot of students who graduate stay around because they feel like, ‘This is my home.’”

“My Job Does Not Stop Once You Graduate.”

Through his encouragement and example, Darnell empowers a new class of leaders to own the continued ministry by helping students still in school.

“My job does not stop once you graduate if you stay local,” he says. “My job is to still pray for you. If you go to a different state, my job leading and pastoring you does not end until I find another competent shepherd to pass you onto.”

Darnell lives out his passion for investing in the next generation of leaders.

What’s your passion and how can God use it in your community? What could God be leading you to do? Let us know in the comments section below.

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