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“Topics Worth the Tussle” is a series of themes that might be useful to wrestle with. Whether it’s to teach these topics or just to consider how well your students are living them out, these often undervalued themes might be worth another look!
I appeal to you therefore… (Romans 12:1a ESV)
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. (Romans 12:17 NIV2011)
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1 ESV)
Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. (Romans 13:13 NASB)
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Romans 14:13 ESV)
My community group at church has been marching through the Book of Romans, and this week we turned the corner from chapter 11 to chapter 12.
If you’ve forgotten the structure of Romans, chapters 1-11 mostly present very complex theological issues. While it’s not fair (or accurate) to describe those chapters as strictly “Theology” and the last five chapters of Romans as strictly “Application,” the book’s structure does lean that direction.
Theology is, of course, extremely important. The problem is, these days plenty of our students think they’re solid Christians because they’re “Romans 1-11 Christians.” They know what to believe, they know theological terms, they know “deep thoughts” from the likes of John Piper or C.S. Lewis or Matt Chandler or A.W. Tozer or Don Miller or Relevant Magazine or the more “complex” parts of Scripture. Wherever they are on the theological spectrum, these students place a lot of stock in what they know.
But we and/or our students need to wrestle with the Therefore of Romans 12:1. Urging us to become living sacrifices, Paul appeals to us to “by the mercies of God” – the same mercies he’s just spent 11 chapters describing. If these eleven chapters are true, then this is how you’ll actually live, he says. So if we’re not up to the task of Romans 12-16, then we apparently don’t grasp “theology” at all. Or, as Peter puts it, “whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins” (II Peter 1:9).
Romans 12-16 isn’t really the “shallow” part of Romans, though our students sometimes think that way about “little things” like hospitality and harmony and humility and honoring others… just four of the twenty-seven-or-so commands in the second half of Romans alone.
The “topic worth the tussle” here isn’t just Romans 12-16 (though that could be a phenomenal text for a message series!). What’s worth tussling over is whether our college students realize that “deep Christians” are the Christians who live out our theology, not the ones who can only debate it skillfully.
My longtime friend is a partner in a new restaurant here in Dallas, and he and I ate breakfast-for-lunch over there on Friday. At some point, he asked for my honest opinion on anything I noticed… and if you know me, you know that analyzing any experience is like Christmas for me.
I hemmed-and-hawed, not because I don’t thoroughly enjoy that process, but because I’m always worried I’m going to insult, bore, or otherwise turn off with my tedium. But he assured me he wanted my thoughts – even the ticky-tack stuff – and kept encouraging me to write those thoughts down on a Comment Card.
Your college ministry has likely wrapped up the bulk of its operations for the semester / quarter, but there may still be students hanging around taking Finals or waiting for graduation. And even if everybody’s gone home, fortunately for today’s idea they don’t have an awful lot to do as they sit at home.
It might be high time to get feedback from your students, just like Shane asked for my ideas about his eatery. Maybe it’s through constructing a survey, a direct email to a bunch of students, or several in-person interviews. Maybe you can encourage students to ponder and then follow up – specifically – in January. Whatever. However you do it (and that’s worth praying and thinking through, of course), there’s double delight in student feedback:
1. For your college ministry.
Feedback will make your campus ministry better. No doubt about it. It’s a chance to get the wisdom of many, many counselors. And even when some students aren’t all that “wise” about your ministry (’cause they’re new or ’cause they’re not so wise!), it’s a chance to learn what they think about your ministry… and knowing people’s perception is just as important a piece of information as their ideas for betterment might be.
2. For the students.
Everybody likes knowing they’ve got a hand in something. Everybody likes believing their opinion matters. And especially students in the Millennial Generation like knowing they can enact change, they have a voice, there’s authenticity in their leaders, they’re a part of the team, and so on. Soliciting feedback (and treating it with respect) conveys all that. (And I’d point out – specifically – some of the changes you make as a result of feedback. Maybe even name names…)
One last idea: Don’t just ask students. Ask volunteers (if you have some). Those guys and gals have some of the most important feedback you need to hear.
And while you’re at it, consider who else’s opinion matters: maybe parents of students, faculty, administration, past people in your position, townspeople, donors, alumni. In various ministries, any or all of these people might have really important things to share.
Don’t get me wrong: When I attend movies or watch ‘em at home, I usually do it for entertainment. But there are times when I watch something for the sake of ministry or for other spiritual edification – like watching The Social Network for the second time this week, or viewing Temple Grandin with my autistic friend.
It’s Movie Week here at the blog, starting with Monday’s post!
But even when I’m not “on the clock,” watching primarily for these reasons, I would hope that my calling – to the field of college ministry – wouldn’t ever be left too far behind. So lots of times a movie surprises me, because I notice something (or lots of things) that hone my ministry skills in some way or another.
These days, there are lots of movies that give us the chance to learn about, ponder, or (re)discover Millennials… which just happens to be the only sociological generation we campus ministers tend to impact these days. (And it will be for another decade!) Because the oldest of those guys and gals are in their late 20s, Millennials are not only being marketed to, but their ethos is permeating society and is reflected all over. Including in modern film.
So looking for Millennialness in the movies accomplishes at least the following:
- We are reminded of what Millennials are generally like, as films reflect the members of this generation.
- We are reminded of what Millennials want and need, as films either reflect that or try to offer that.
- We see how others (filmmakers, in this case) are targeting Millennials.
- When a film does well among this generation, we have the chance to determine why a movie “fits” or “speaks to” the Millennials.
If there’s a good perpetual training regimen for college ministers, I would say one powerful – but also fun – exercise is understanding our students through the light of popular culture. It takes a little practice and is helped by a little outside info, but remembering to chew on this idea – whether you’re watching The Social Network or Horton Hears a Who – will get your college-ministry-mind in even better shape.
I have indeed looked at Horton Hears a Who through Millennial lenses, along with a small smattering of other films. (I’d write more, but it’s kind of time-intensive.) If you wanna practice seeing the Millennialness in the movies, you should be able to rent most of these! Here’s the list:
- (500) Days of Summer, Surrogates, and Whip It (during last fall’s Millennial Movie Mish-Mash blog event)
- Whip It (full review)
- Post Grad
- “Every Reason I Needed to Know for College Ministry I Learned from Transformers 2” (a tongue-in-cheek look at a terrible movie)
- Horton Hears a Who
- The Social Network – I wrote about it here (first reactions) and here (about what it says about college ministry). I plan to look at the specific Millennial-ness soon
Cool It could be a useful tool for college ministers, helping them better grasp the climate change issue and start (or continue) discussions on how their students can help in all sorts of world concerns. The film brings up great questions about what it means to truly help; as the movie says, “It’s not about feeling good about yourself, it’s about actually doing good.” Could that be any more relevant to college students on our campuses?
Theming is fun, so this week is Movie Week here at the blog. Enjoy.
My free screening for Cool It last Thursday came in response to a mass email from Relevant magazine. [And you can go free this week if you live in D.C., Nashville, or Grand Rapids.] Maybe I shouldn’t have assumed the ticket site‘s repeated references to “God’s creation,” as well as the movie’s promotion by Reel Truths (whose tagline is “Finding God at the Movies”) meant there would be overtly religious content here. You might even think the Christian small group discussion guide available for the movie would indicate that it touches – at least somewhere – on the spiritual connection.
It doesn’t. But while the whole experience originally felt like a bit of a bait-and-switch, it’s been good for me to remember that creation stewardship is still a spiritual concern, even if no spiritual case was made within the movie. (And unlike the movie, the free, impressive discussion guide definitely turns that corner.)
In any case, I did enjoy this movie, which takes a look at world concerns and where climate change / global warming fits into those concerns. For somebody who hasn’t paid much attention at all to this issue (and I bet I’m not alone!), the movie at least “caught me up” a bit and put it on the radar for me. But one surprise I appreciated is that Cool It expands its vision beyond discussing climate change to looking at quite a few other world issues, including issues that more directly affect individual lives right now. (“Priorities” is a major concept in the film.)
For a few moments, this documentary reminded me of Expelled; both documentaries reveal ideas skeptical of prevailing scientific opinion that have been supposedly subjected to an excommunication of sorts. But that focus doesn’t turn out to be the meat of Cool It; although the introduction-of-sorts drags something like 25 minutes, it then curves toward even more interesting topics.
Unlike Expelled, the primary subject and the narrator are the same (very interesting) person, Bjorn Lomborg. And it’s important to note from the outset that he is – by no means – a “climate change denier.” This film doesn’t have as obvious a conservative slant as Expelled; for example, while Lomborg’s critique of Al Gore’s work is strong here, he also praises Gore for putting environmental concerns on the world’s agenda. A Reuters article quotes Lomborg elsewhere as saying, “A fundamental problem of climate change is that we seem to be stuck in two positions – it’s either the end of the world or it’s not a problem at all.” It’s thinking about a pragmatic balance that is the heart of Cool It, for sure.
From the movie’s official site:
Award-winning filmmaker Ondi Timoner travels the world with Lomborg exploring the real facts and true science of global warming and its impact. Lomborg is the founder and director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a globally respected think tank that brings together the world’s leading economists to prioritize major global problems — among them malaria, the lack of potable water and HIV/AIDS — based upon a cost/benefit analysis of available solutions. Amidst the strong and polarized opinions within the global warming debate, Cool It follows Lomborg on his mission to bring the smartest solutions to climate change, environmental pollution, and other major problems in the world.
So the movie focuses on more than climate change; it looks at priorities and asks what we can do to help with all sorts of difficult problems faced by the world community. As I noted at the top, thinking about true help vs. “help” is one of the best ways we can help our college students grapple with the very current social justice issue.
Later this week, ideas on why and how Cool It (or other movies) can be helpful to us as college ministers. But I’ve provided enough links and info that hopefully you can consider that already!