In his new role, Santos will work closely UKirk, the church’s network of collegiate ministries.
In announcing the Santos hiring, PMA Evangelism Coordinator Ray Jones said he was excited for a number of reasons. “Jason was hired through a committee that represented a range of collegiate ministry professionals,” said Jones. “All of them felt he had a good sense of how to equip and nurture them in their work.”
Jones added: “Plus he has such a heart for the spiritual experience and journey of college-aged young adults.”
Santos, who just completed a Ph.D. in practical theology from Princeton Theological Seminary, where he was named a Timothy Scholar for the research and study of youth and young adult spirituality.
Most recently, Santos served as the associate pastor to families, young adults, youth and children at New Wilmington Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania.
He says he hopes to push Christianity beyond a system of thought — to help make it more personal for college students.
“Across the nation, through UKirk, we can create spaces and places for young people to encounter the living God through Jesus Christ,” Santos says. “Unless Christianity is experienced in a real and transformative way, we run the risk of reducing it to how it is expressed, by our cultural understanding and ideology.”
Referencing Christian Smith’s groundbreaking research in the National Study of Youth and Religion, Santos says college-aged students view institutional religion as “moral therapeutic deism.”
“In other words, it helps you figure out right from wrong while helping you feel better about the hardship life offers,” he explains. “And, unfortunately, it means that many students view God as distant — a divine being that is there to interact with them in times of need — but with little or no impact on their daily living.”
Santos believes college students are at time in their lives where they are cutting ties and — often from what they learned about Christianity in their home churches.
“They’ve been raised in a far more pluralistic environment, so they’re wondering ‘what does it mean to be Christian in this context?’” he says. “They’re beginning to ask very serious questions about their faith.”
For the past two decades his work and study has been centered in the process of faith development — from childhood, through the teen years, to emerging adulthood (ages 18-35).
“Jason’s teaching — preparing leaders for ministry with youth and young adults — receives rave reviews in the seminary classroom and continuing education seminars,” says Kenda Creasey Dean, professor of youth, church and culture at Princeton Seminary.
“But where he really hits his stride is as a coach and a mentor,” she adds, “where relationships are primary, context is accounted for, and listening and learning go hand-in hand. All of this makes me think he is an excellent fit for this position.”
Santos — who was awarded the Robert E. Speer Prize in Collegiate Ministry while in seminary — will begin his collegiate ministries work in the Evangelism and Church Growth ministry area on Oct. 20.