Remember that good old-fashioned children’s song “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”? What seemed like a silly childhood game actually represented much more. It fit the bill for both energizing kids and promoting kinetic intelligence. A simple Google search will unveil a variety of alternative verses to this popular children’s song. It seems songwriters, teachers, and children all enjoy creating unique lyrics to gain a renewed interest in learning. In a similar way, college campuses offer unique opportunities for student involvement. Delve into the lyrics of that song a bit more and you’ll find a foundation for campus activity involvement with a focus on ministry. With a head for learning, shoulders of a difference-maker, attitude of the knees, and toes for balance, campus ministry is brought to life through this song.
Head for learning
A college campus is a community of learners where the primary goal is to learn from others and apply that knowledge. The academic rigor of a college will certainly bring about education, but not all college learning happens in the classroom. Cocurricular education—the learning that takes place outside the classroom—provides students with additional involvement and leadership opportunities that complement the academic program.
Many academic courses at Christian colleges include a community service component, and most Christian schools encourage, or even require, community service from their students. This experience puts into action the concept of serving others in a time of need. It also gives students a chance to engage in the community while working alongside those who are different from them—all for a common purpose.
Another way cocurricular education is exemplified involves taking an active role in a student organization, mission trip, music ensemble, or athletic team. These are excellent ways students can learn about leadership, ethical decision making, group dynamics, and creativity. Taking an active role does not necessarily mean you hold an official office or have a fancy title. You can take an active role by simply being available and offering your assistance when needed. One way to do this is to offer to hang fliers for an upcoming event of a student organization with which you’re involved. Something like this is not very time consuming, eases a load from the group’s leaders, and establishes yourself as someone who cares about the success of the organization. Having a true head for learning does not mean you always know what to think and do. It simply means you know how to think critically about the world and how it impacts you and those around you. By learning more about how you can serve others, you can minister in a time of need and perhaps take the next step of making a difference.
Shoulders of a difference-maker
As colleges are communities of learners, it is natural then to address the inherent responsibility on behalf of the learned: act by making a positive difference in the lives of others. It is important to have a head for learning. It is also important to surround that learning with the act of making a difference, just as the shoulders surround the head on a person’s body.
The imagery of the shoulders surrounding the head drives home the point that the two are inextricably connected. Once you learn, you act. You can act by doing something related to what you learned, or you can act by not doing something related to what you learned. Either way, there is an action and a choice involved. The late Joyce Brogan, a Franciscan nun and Assistant Professor of music at Iowa Divine Word Seminary, frequently said, “When you have a choice to make and you do not choose what to do, you have indeed made a choice. Not making a choice is a choice. You have chosen to do nothing.”
On a college campus there are many ways to become a difference-maker. You can do so corporately by getting involved with an existing campus ministry or starting a new initiative. However, the simplest act of making a difference in the lives of others is to simply show you care. Smile, have a conversation with someone who is very different from you, and listen. Find out which students are making a difference on campus and in the community, then thank them for it. Meet your student government representatives. Put a dollar in that fundraising bucket. Pray for your community and its leaders.
Finally, don’t shrug your shoulders in ambivalence. Use your shoulders, and raise your hand to volunteer for an opportunity that comes your way. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Sometimes that change can be as big as fighting a major social injustice, or it can be as small as taking out the garbage for the busy mom next door.
Attitude of the knees
In ministry, attitude of the knees is three-fold. On one side, it refers to the desire to dig in, work hard, and perhaps get a little messy as you strive to meet a need.
Each year new students at Roberts Wesleyan College participate in a day of community service during Orientation weekend. Before they have even been on campus for 24 hours, they are out in the community, on their knees, digging in, and making a difference together. Those paint splotches and grass stains on the knees of their jeans will remind them for many weeks to come how they met a need together with their new classmates.
Secondly, the attitude of the knees refers to getting on your knees in prayer to ask for the Lord’s guidance in how He would have you use your talents for ministry. This could take the form of serving meals to the homeless in your town, starting a Bible study on campus, or going on a mission trip halfway around the world. Say yes to the opportunities that blend your talents, availability, and interest.
To complete this triptych, it is important to remember that the most valuable aspect of how the knees function is their ability to bend, to be flexible. Flexibility is key. Be open to a variety of ways of serving, yet keep in mind that knees are not designed to bend completely backwards. If you strain them too much, they will not be able to support you as you stand, much less walk, for what you believe. Also, too heavy a load causes strain on the knee joints. Getting involved with too much all at once can have a detrimental impact on you, your course work, and your knees.
Toes for balance
The toes allow you to move from a stationary position and spring into action. Without toes, you could not balance. Balancing campus activities with an academic course load can be challenging if you dive in without “checking the depth.” As you consider the many ways to get involved in campus activities, take some time to identify what it is that you are passionate about, and then pursue it. Passionate about law? Join the criminal justice club. Passionate about volleyball? Form an intramural team. Passionate about writing? Submit your work to the campus newspaper. Passionate about all three? Grab your criminal justice club friends, start an intramural team, then write about it in the college yearbook! Ask for help along the way in order to maintain your balance, and don’t get too comfortable. With so many ministry options on a college campus, this your chance to try something new!
Students involved with campus activities glean more than what is originally offered. For example, students working with a meal ministry will receive the direct benefit of knowing they helped the hungry, but they will also gain a springboard for future opportunities by gaining interpersonal skills and event planning experience. If students hesitate to join a club, organize an intramural team, or form a Bible study with their friends, they may miss out on developing these skills and reaping the long-term benefits.
Getting involved in campus activities, specifically those with a ministry focus, is a great way to combine learning, a sense of responsibility, and prayer for a balanced college experience. It may even remind you of a song from your childhood . . .