Ministering in Transient Populations

What do young professionals, singles, college students, church hoppers, and the mobile poor all have in common? Transiency! Transient, by Webster’s definition, means “passing through or by a place with only a brief stay or sojourn.”

So starts a good article, Ministering in Transient Populations, by Eric Mason on the Resurgence website.  Most of my time is spent ministering in the transient population of The Ohio State University.  Particularly, I tend to minister to the undergraduate population which is even more mobile than the graduate and young professional population that currently make up a large percentage of our parent church, Grandview Christian Assembly.

Mason does a great job of differentiating between seasonal transience and perpetual transience.  Those in the former category tend to move about simply because of where they are in life, but it is not a lifestyle.  Those who are in the latter category are the people who have adopted transience as a lifestyle and unless they cease and desist they will ultimately lead spiritually unfulfilled lives and never be of true benefit to a local church or to the kingdom of God.

The article itself focuses on the seasonally transient population which is the group of people who will truly benefit from those who labor in college towns and with people in the armed forces.  The tips provided are worth prayerful consideration.

What do young professionals, singles, college students, church hoppers, and the mobile poor all have in common? Transiency! Transient, by Webster’s definition, means “passing through or by a place with only a brief stay or sojourn.” There is seasonal transience and perpetual transience. Seasonal transience describes those who serve in the armed forces or college students. Perpetual transience is often seen in those whose lives are built around what serves them versus God’s mission.

Stability in a transient world

Transient people groups are the most challenging people to missionally engage and connect to healthy community life in the local church. As a pastor, I am often working through ways to connect the lost and the found to some sort of gospel stability.

Being in a transient context myself calls me to ask one key question: how do we lovingly challenge those who are caught in the cycle of perpetual transiency and call them to biblical faithfulness and stability without it feeling like a sales pitch? How do we aid those who are powerless to end their transiency and find some level of stability in their lives? As stated in my last post, the apostles were very much concerned with the comprehensive stability of God’s people.

Commitment in an uncommitted context

In Colossians 2:6–7 Paul states, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” The words of stability in these verses are compelling and profound. Rooted, built up, established in faith, and abounding are terms of deep connection and commitment.

  1. The importance of patience. Rushing people to a place in their lives they have never faced never works. Just because you hit a great home run in preaching and teaching a few times doesn’t mean people get it. People are becoming more process-oriented and need a place to work through worldview-transforming information with God’s people.
  2. Commitment to community formation. Community formation is more than just throwing people into “small groups” or “missional communities”. It takes the Holy Spirit to knit people to other disciples. Being positionally connected to the body through the gospel does not make a person functionally connected to God’s people. It is the beginning and an empowering mechanism of true and practical knitting. People have to want to be with one another (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).
  3. Help people face what they are running from. Stability is scary to many of us, although we know we need it. Slowing down helps us face places in our soul where Jesus’ functional rule has not yet conquered. Running only postpones the inevitable.
  4. Dealing with natural and spiritual maturity equally. Although all things in our life should be viewed through a spiritual lens, it is helpful to work through some distinctions. Emotional, volitional, intellectual, geographical, financial, sexual, and relational health is a must to help people grow in Jesus. While not a comprehensive list, these are the greatest obstacles that impede people from stability. Ephesians 4:15 calls us to grow up in all respects—a phenomenal challenge for transient people. When they are challenged in a way that is compelling and gospel-centered, they feel encouraged to face what they are fighting.
  5. Recognizing that people ultimately belong to God. Some people will remain for a season. Our goal must be to do as much as we can to love them and engage them in the season when Jesus has allowed them to cross our paths. God ultimately is sovereign over people’s life span and direction. Living by faith calls us to commit ourselves to see God use people’s instability to show us how fragile we are and our need to repent and believe the gospel in uncharted areas of our lives.
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