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Right at the end of last school year, I posted the below chapter from Reaching the Campus Tribes. But I first wrote it several months before I published that book, after visiting a couple of eastern campuses toward the end of my yearlong college-ministry-exploring road trip.

Whether you’ve read this before or not, I encourage you to read through, think deeply, and drink deeply of the experience you’re facing once again. You are entering another school year, and it’s an awesome time.

If this is useful with supporters, overseers, or even just family and friends who need to know the import of what we do… spread it! Feel free to use it however you can, to tell – or remind – others of the great mission field we serve.

Orienting

In the last week, I’ve had the opportunity to visit two campuses – West Virginia University and George Mason University – which happened to be holding New Student Orientation activities during my visits.

For the uninitiated, NSO is a summer event when freshmen make their way to campus, often with parents in tow, in order to (presumably) get “oriented” for the year to come. This event often involves registering for classes, touring the campus, learning traditions and other school “rules,” and perhaps even moving in to the dorms.

Orientation also brings recruitment by countless organizations. Depending on the school, this can include extracurricular activities (frats, clubs, ministries, etc.), but it very likely also includes community establishments…

…such as banks, with their slick cups and pens and checkbook holders, recruiting students and their (parents’) money. You’ll also find newspaper subscription-hawkers, cell phone companies, and the ever-present bookstore, who will remind you from the beginning of your college experience that its convenience and support of the school make higher prices worth the cost.

Each business recognizes that this is a fresh crop, a group of pre-freshmen ready to be served! After all, a whole bunch of customers just graduated in May, and while their faces are long forgotten, their patronage is certainly missed.

(The credit card companies are probably absent at this point; they will instead show up within the semester, when parents aren’t around, with lots of free T-shirts or other flashy giveaways.)

This is Orientation.

But as missionaries, we look closer.

This is a land of fresh, wide-eyed potential. 18-year-old men and women walk these halls with maps they won’t soon need. Over the next four years, they will encounter a sort of life they haven’t known, with freedoms to do and be and become. The skin of high school, often so restrictive with its cliques and malformed “cool” and Babel-like, single-language culture, will be shed. New friends, new acceptance, new opportunities are here, whether this place is 50,000 people strong or much smaller.

A college is bigger than its numbers.

The hustle and bustle that will soon be found daily on campus will be a great visual metaphor for the life, the energy, the haphazard but steady progress that happens in this place.

Successes in the next four years will lead to the greatest joys imaginable, with experiences that last a lifetime or even lead these beautiful people to a new sort of life altogether. Reinventing oneself is not an uncommon event on a college campus.

These men and women will “find themselves” in all the best ways: within majors they didn’t know existed, within communities they didn’t know could exist, within new routines and challenging schedules and the maturity that makes life breathe easier. Leaders will rise up, either realizing the potential we always knew they had… or shocking everyone with ability we never knew existed.

Some of these men and women will find husbands and wives over the next four years, and many others will have their “antes upped,” as co-ed friendships help raise the bar on what they’re looking for in a significant other.

In even the first month of school, many of these guys and gals will join clubs that will “stick.” Many will start a friendship that will last forever. Many will be invited to a Bible study. Many will find their church – or at least start looking with intentionality. Many will reflect on this new experience after a few weeks, grin, and look forward to an amazing four years.

In those next four years, plenty of these men and women will get a leadership position. Or two. They’ll get in shape. Get a kiss (even their first, in some cases). Get engaged. Learn to schedule. Get a 4.0. Get honored. Make 2,000 Facebook friends. Find a career. Study abroad. Let go a little, loosen up a bit, mature a lot, and laugh nearly every day.
Some of these nearly-collegians will be back smiling next year at Orientation, happily representing the glories they’ve found to a new batch ready to be influenced and trained. Many of those glories would pleasantly surprise them today.

And some of those booths will be ministry booths, because the college ministry communities will have welcomed in Christians and non-Christians for discipleship and fellowship and conversion and love. Lots and lots of love. Boys and girls will come to school uncommitted and will leave vibrant, wide-eyed Jesus followers, and the whole world will be different because of it.

As missionaries, we look.

This Orientation also presents a land of unspeakable danger. 18-year-olds walking these halls at Orientation don’t realize the changes about to take place, and there are few good maps. Over the next four years, they will encounter a sort of life they haven’t known, with freedoms to fail and waste and destroy. The buffers of high school and family, often places of unappreciated coziness and naiveté and ever-present help, will be long gone. New kinds of pain, new temptation, new harshness are here, whether this place is 50,000 people strong or much smaller.

A college is bigger than its numbers.

The hustle and bustle that will soon be found daily on campus will conceal much of the death, the hurt, the haphazard and steady decay haunting this place.

Simple “mess-ups” in the next four years will lead to the deepest pain imaginable, in some cases pains that last a lifetime or even lead these beautiful people to take their lives altogether. Collegiate suicide is not an uncommon event.

These boys and girls will “find themselves” in all the worst ways: within temptations they didn’t know existed, within relationships they didn’t think could exist, within new routines and schedules and the stresses that can color days gray. Cults will rise up: cults of personality, cults of pleasure, and even real religious cults.

Many will “play house” over the next four years, and even today at Orientation the girls flaunt bodies, and even today the boys muster courage and methods to take them up on it. Many boys and girls will lower their expectations, willing to do much and accept many that they wouldn’t have only a year or two before, in hopes of touch and friendship and love and promise.

In even the first month of school, many will be invited to parties that get them in over their heads. Many will get drunk for the first time. Many won’t be invited to a Bible study. Many will attend church for the last time for many years. Many will reflect on this new experience after a few weeks, shudder, and walk forward into four long years.

In those next four years, plenty of these men and women will make a life-changing bad decision. Or three. They’ll get in heavy debt. Have a homosexual encounter (even their first, in some cases). Get an eating disorder. Get depressed. Reject their faith. Abort their education. Abort a child. Bring shame to themselves, their family, or their student organization. Masterfully learn “the world,” in all its selfishness and evil and temporary gratification. Lose friends. Let go of too much, loosen up too much, mature too little, and cry on many, many days.

Some of these nearly-collegians will be back smiling next year at Orientation, happily representing the “glories” they’ve found to a new batch ready to be influenced and trained. Many of those glories would repel them today.

This is the brink called Orientation, as men and women walk the halls of campus with their soon-tossed maps and their soon-absent parents and their fearful hope in tow.

[Remember, you can download Reaching the Campus Tribes for free!]

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This post will sound like it’s only for church-based college ministers. But it’s meant as an encouragement – really, an exhortation – for the two other branches: campus-based college ministers (both parachurch and denominational) and institutional college ministers (who serve on the staffs of Christian colleges). Church-based leaders can apply it, too (but they’ll have to be really Kingdom-minded to do that…).

On most Mondays, I’ve been looking back at Reaching the Campus Tribes, the book I published following my yearlong exploration of college ministry around the U.S.. This weekend, I stumbled upon one key passage that applies well to the new school year. The end of that passage states,

Not every church needs a standard, holistic college ministry, and obviously not every church will be able to support that level of investment. In fact, our Christian cause among campus tribes would actually be damaged if every local church began competing for the students on the campus.

But every church that encounters college students must plan for that encounter. (p. 100)

(I’ll give a little context for that quote in a later post, and of course you can read it in the ebook on pages 98-100.)

So here’s the challenge: As local experts on the work of college ministry in our areas, we need to invest some time – or at least offer a little time – to help local churches develop a College Student Plan.

Nope, this isn’t about helping them establish a college ministry – most of them don’t need it, and that’s probably not your calling (since you’ve got your own to run!). But every church needs to know how it’s going to welcome and assimilate college students, and how it will either disciple them or point them to discipleship (which may, of course, mean pointing them your way).

You’re the local expert. I don’t see how we really have a choice. Remember, this is missions. What you participate in, as a college minister, is the entire campus ecosystem. You not only serve a tribe, you serve from within a tribe. What those local churches do (or don’t do) when it comes to students affects the tribe, even though they come from beyond it. And what they do affects how well your students will relate to the Church in the future, too.

This is missions. If we were overseas, we would certainly care about “outsiders” who had a true impact on members of the tribe. As a member of the campus tribe, we have to consider what role we might play in helping outsiders – like churches without a solid “College Student Plan.”

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On Mondays, I’ve been looking back at my free book, Reaching the Campus Tribes, and the many ways our work parallels the work of international missions.

Today’s entry is controversial – especially for two groups: college ministers who have experienced rapid numerical growth, and those who have made that their goal. But I encourage us all to read with an open mind, and to remember that health is a huge part of our lasting impact.

College ministers and those who oversee them must understand that slow growth is normal and indeed often necessary.

In international missions, it takes time for connections to be made, for important truths to sink in, for a minister to get to know the context and culture, for language to be learned, for strategy to be developed, for trust to be earned, for life to be shared, and for God to prepare the missionary herself for the task ahead.

Many new college ministries also naturally grow slowly, too – for many of these same reasons! Just as with missions efforts, it takes time for word of mouth to spread on a college campus. It takes time for spiritual foundations to be built. It takes time for a new college minister to learn the campus tribe and its particular “language.” It takes time to build relationships, a major key for impacting college students. It takes time for the campus missionary to prepare personally for the marvelous pioneering task ahead.

In fact, if those things don’t happen, it is unlikely that the ministry will be a valuable addition to the campus tribe. Any college ministry that quickly settles on its target audience, mission statement, core group of students, major goals, or other fundamentals should question whether it has done sufficient work to learn the campus tribe, build meaningful relationships, and develop the ministry strategy. Certainly, many elements of a new college ministry may be derived from other ministries. But how those elements are formed and fit together should be as unique as the mission field itself.

Since there is no “college ministry in a box,” college ministry formation that is both quick and healthy will be rare. College students may be drawn to a singular personality, flashy programs with little substance, or unbalanced teaching more quickly than to a healthy, holistic, purposeful, and “in-this-for-the-long-haul” college ministry.

Looking back at those words, what might I add?

For one thing, I’ve certainly run into plenty of additional unhealthy ministries since I penned those words. And for many of them, sorting through these issues might have helped; weeds seem to spring up more easily than trees.

Second, a good number of the questions I receive from people seem to place an undue importance on speed of growth or size of ministry. But let me be clear: numbers matter, because they represent people. I would most likely want my college ministry to grow large, too. Yet a focus here can cause plenty of issues – especially because it distracts from more important focuses. (After all, a focus is a focus. You can only have so many.)

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This week has brought a focus on cooperation in college ministry, and yesterday and today I’m unpacking one particular sentence from Reaching the Campus Tribes:

“Likewise, vital college ministry needs – such as strategy, creativity, collaboration, resources, and administration – may be more easily accomplished when ministries work together.”

See yesterday’s post for some thoughts on the first two items – cooperation when it comes to strategy and in creativity. Today, quick thoughts on the last three.

Collaboration: It’s not simply that we need to share ideas (as we might in strategy and creativity), but we can also share more concrete information. Who are some allies we’ve discovered on our campus? What ministry methods have worked well in the past? What methods or resources did you learn about from your organization’s annual campus minister’s conference?

Sharing info isn’t all collaboration might involve, either – it might mean working together on an upcoming effort, piecing together a resource for students, or any other joint effort. If you’re taking a pro-cooperation stance and you see cooperation as helpful, you’re likely to find plenty of moments to collaborate in your specific context.

Cooperation in Resources: These last two areas are perhaps even more outside-the-norm than the first three. First, there’s the option of cooperating in resources.

How much resource-duplication takes place between college ministries on a campus in a given year? Is it possible that things might be shared / traded? Sermon illustration videos, small group materials, equipment for events, a study library, signage for the Large Group Meeting, cost of bringing in a special speaker or band, travel (to visit our students during the summer, for instance), and on and on… I don’t know your context, but it seems like at some level, we who are invested in similar missions could share some resources.

Cooperation in Administration: This one’s really wild: What if you shared an administrative assistant with another college minister? If you don’t have the resources to hire someone on your own (or even if you do), this would be a place cooperation might work wonders.

I could see this area playing out in other ways, too: trading off weeks to make copies or do other office tasks, for instance. Working on fundraising efforts together (even if not to the same people)… or what if, indeed, you did make pitches to some potential supporters together? Meeting once a week simply to do the tasks you each hate the most, even if it’s just for accountability and motivation.

This last area – cooperation in administration – may require more creativity, but I feel like there have to be some ways the “nuts and bolts” of collegiate ministry might be shared among a group of ministers. Ideas?

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On Monday, I highlighted one of the ideas from my book – that missions requires cooperation. I quoted,

But cooperation is not merely essential; it can also be incredibly fruitful. By working together – wisely – ministries can often do more together than they can do separately. This may be particularly true in college ministry, when “critical mass” can bear particular importance in drawing college students, attracting support, and raising up qualified student leaders. Likewise, vital college ministry needs – such as strategy, creativity, collaboration, resources, and administration – may be more easily accomplished when ministries work together. Instead of duplicating activity, ministries can better complement and supplement each other’s work. (Reaching the Campus Tribes, p. 59)

There’s one sentence in there that would be easy to miss but has BIG implications: “Likewise, vital college ministry needs – such as strategy, creativity, collaboration, resources, and administration – may be more easily accomplished when ministries work together.”

That’s one sentence I would have loved to unpack, but I didn’t have room for it there. Each one of those possibilities for cooperation could take weeks or semesters to implement – but it could be highly worth it, if it fits your context.

Cooperation in Strategy: If plans succeed through the “wisdom of many counselors,” who among your college ministry peers are strategizing with you on occasion? This doesn’t have involve giving up autonomy; you can simply brainstorm together about how God might use you (and others) to best reach the campus. Plus, some ministers have personalities better attuned to long-range strategy and planning; you need them (or they need you).

Two heads are better than one, and while your overseers AND your students certainly have some wisdom to give, there is no one who understands your situation and your context quite like a fellow college minister on your campus.

Cooperation in Creativity: I mentioned brainstorming when it comes to a strategic plan, but the same is true for creativity. Of course multiple individuals might be able to brainstorm toward more creative (and effective) means than a solo college minister can.

When’s the last time you huddled with campus ministers to dream big… or even to ask for some random ideas for your next event, message series, etc.? What if you held monthly lunches only for the sake of creative idea-sharing and idea-pondering?

I’ll hit the other three areas tomorrow!

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On many recent Mondays, I’ve been highlighting the fact that what we do is missions – it usually has much more in common, in other words, with Christian work across the ocean than it does with Youth Ministry, Young Adult Ministry or any other form of Christian Education.

On page 59 of my book, I highlight another description of campus ministry… that’s also a prescription for our work:

Finally [after discussing several ways we should approach college ministry], understanding college ministry as missions also indicates that cooperation is both crucial and fruitful.

The need for cooperation is simply a reality. There will probably be no time soon when parachurch organizations disappear from campuses, when churches place all their collegiate discipleship in the hands of campus-based groups, when multiple local college ministries combine into a single outpost reaching the campus, when all students attend Christian colleges, or when any other plan removes the need for cooperation between ministries. (Nor is it clear that any of these approaches would be healthy or best.) If this is our reality now, then cooperation – at some level – is crucial.

But cooperation is not merely essential; it can also be incredibly fruitful. By working together – wisely – ministries can often do more together than they can do separately. This may be particularly true in college ministry, when “critical mass” can bear particular importance in drawing college students, attracting support, and raising up qualified student leaders. Likewise, vital college ministry needs – such as strategy, creativity, collaboration, resources, and administration – may be more easily accomplished when ministries work together. Instead of duplicating activity, ministries can better complement and supplement each other’s work.

Isn’t this what we have found in international missions? Foreign missionaries face the same scenario we face in college ministry – multiple Christian groups often working within geographical proximity. So they often decide that some efforts are best performed cooperatively. Their examples of taking advantage of these realities can provide wisdom for us as we reach our campus tribes.

As is often the case in the book, I didn’t have the space to explore some really major implications of the pro-cooperation stance for college ministries. So instead of trying to hash all that out here, I’ll let you mull over what I’ve said above (and offer any feedback you have!). Then, in the days to come, look for more right here!

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On recent Mondays, I’ve been looking back at some of the passages from my book on campus ministry, Reaching the Campus Tribes, expounding on some of the ideas that sprang from my yearlong research trip. (See those posts here and here and here and here.)

In this case, I wanted to offer a portion that is especially interesting to read right now, as many of us finish out our school years. I really hope you’ll read and reflect – and pass this on to anyone who needs to be reminded (or told) about the great mission field we get to serve!

In the last week, I’ve had the opportunity to visit two campuses – West Virginia University and George Mason University – which happened to be holding New Student Orientation activities during my visits.

For the uninitiated, NSO is a summer event when freshmen make their way to campus, often with parents in tow, in order to (presumably) get “oriented” for the year to come. This event often involves registering for classes, touring the campus, learning traditions and other school “rules,” and perhaps even moving in to the dorms.

Orientation also brings recruitment by countless organizations. Depending on the school, this can include extracurricular activities (frats, clubs, ministries, etc.), but it very likely also includes community establishments…

…such as banks, with their slick cups and pens and checkbook holders, recruiting students and their (parents’) money. You’ll also find newspaper subscription-hawkers, cell phone companies, and the ever-present bookstore, who will remind you from the beginning of your college experience that its convenience and support of the school make higher prices worth the cost.

Each business recognizes that this is a fresh crop, a group of pre-freshmen ready to be served! After all, a whole bunch of customers just graduated in May, and while their faces are long forgotten, their patronage is certainly missed.

(The credit card companies are probably absent at this point; they will instead show up within the semester, when parents aren’t around, with lots of free T-shirts or other flashy giveaways.)

This is Orientation.

But as missionaries, we look closer.

This is a land of fresh, wide-eyed potential. 18-year-old men and women walk these halls with maps they won’t soon need. Over the next four years, they will encounter a sort of life they haven’t known, with freedoms to do and be and become. The skin of high school, often so restrictive with its cliques and malformed “cool” and Babel-like, single-language culture, will be shed. New friends, new acceptance, new opportunities are here, whether this place is 50,000 people strong or much smaller.

A college is bigger than its numbers.

The hustle and bustle that will soon be found daily on campus will be a great visual metaphor for the life, the energy, the haphazard but steady progress that happens in this place.

Successes in the next four years will lead to the greatest joys imaginable, with experiences that last a lifetime or even lead these beautiful people to a new sort of life altogether. Reinventing oneself is not an uncommon event on a college campus.

These men and women will “find themselves” in all the best ways: within majors they didn’t know existed, within communities they didn’t know could exist, within new routines and challenging schedules and the maturity that makes life breathe easier. Leaders will rise up, either realizing the potential we always knew they had… or shocking everyone with ability we never knew existed.

Some of these men and women will find husbands and wives over the next four years, and many others will have their “antes upped,” as co-ed friendships help raise the bar on what they’re looking for in a significant other.

In even the first month of school, many of these guys and gals will join clubs that will “stick.” Many will start a friendship that will last forever. Many will be invited to a Bible study. Many will find their church – or at least start looking with intentionality. Many will reflect on this new experience after a few weeks, grin, and look forward to an amazing four years.

In those next four years, plenty of these men and women will get a leadership position. Or two. They’ll get in shape. Get a kiss (even their first, in some cases). Get engaged. Learn to schedule. Get a 4.0. Get honored. Make 2,000 Facebook friends. Find a career. Study abroad. Let go a little, loosen up a bit, mature a lot, and laugh nearly every day.
Some of these nearly-collegians will be back smiling next year at Orientation, happily representing the glories they’ve found to a new batch ready to be influenced and trained. Many of those glories would pleasantly surprise them today.

And some of those booths will be ministry booths, because the college ministry communities will have welcomed in Christians and non-Christians for discipleship and fellowship and conversion and love. Lots and lots of love. Boys and girls will come to school uncommitted and will leave vibrant, wide-eyed Jesus followers, and the whole world will be different because of it.

As missionaries, we look.

This Orientation also presents a land of unspeakable danger. 18-year-olds walking these halls at Orientation don’t realize the changes about to take place, and there are few good maps. Over the next four years, they will encounter a sort of life they haven’t known, with freedoms to fail and waste and destroy. The buffers of high school and family, often places of unappreciated coziness and naiveté and ever-present help, will be long gone. New kinds of pain, new temptation, new harshness are here, whether this place is 50,000 people strong or much smaller.

A college is bigger than its numbers.

The hustle and bustle that will soon be found daily on campus will conceal much of the death, the hurt, the haphazard and steady decay haunting this place.

Simple “mess-ups” in the next four years will lead to the deepest pain imaginable, in some cases pains that last a lifetime or even lead these beautiful people to take their lives altogether. Collegiate suicide is not an uncommon event.

These boys and girls will “find themselves” in all the worst ways: within temptations they didn’t know existed, within relationships they didn’t think could exist, within new routines and schedules and the stresses that can color days gray. Cults will rise up: cults of personality, cults of pleasure, and even real religious cults.

Many will “play house” over the next four years, and even today at Orientation the girls flaunt bodies, and even today the boys muster courage and methods to take them up on it. Many boys and girls will lower their expectations, willing to do much and accept many that they wouldn’t have only a year or two before, in hopes of touch and friendship and love and promise.

In even the first month of school, many will be invited to parties that get them in over their heads. Many will get drunk for the first time. Many won’t be invited to a Bible study. Many will attend church for the last time for many years. Many will reflect on this new experience after a few weeks, shudder, and walk forward into four long years.

In those next four years, plenty of these men and women will make a life-changing bad decision. Or three. They’ll get in heavy debt. Have a homosexual encounter (even their first, in some cases). Get an eating disorder. Get depressed. Reject their faith. Abort their education. Abort a child. Bring shame to themselves, their family, or their student organization. Masterfully learn “the world,” in all its selfishness and evil and temporary gratification. Lose friends. Let go of too much, loosen up too much, mature too little, and cry on many, many days.

Some of these nearly-collegians will be back smiling next year at Orientation, happily representing the “glories” they’ve found to a new batch ready to be influenced and trained. Many of those glories would repel them today.

This is the brink called Orientation, as men and women walk the halls of campus with their soon-tossed maps and their soon-absent parents and their fearful hope in tow.

[Remember, you can download Reaching the Campus Tribes for free!]

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[Click to ask questions, comment, or see any comments on this post!]

On Mondays for a little while, I’m looking back at (and expanding on) some points from my book, Reaching the Campus Tribes. So far, I’ve looked at our need to use greater means to reach the campuses and the truly contextual nature of college ministry (even if some college ministers don’t really like hearing it).

Today, a section from the final chapter – a substantial epilogue, really – entitled, “Into the Harvest: A Road Map Forward from a Road Trip’s Findings.” I start that chapter by expressing that we need heroes – including potentially an organization that will display the wisdom and breadth to help jump-start Collegiate Ministry advancement. But then I turn the corner to look at individual ministers:

Of course, many of college ministry’s heroes will be men and women called to impact students directly as college ministers. We need to pray for God to send more people into the harvest field of the campus tribes, whichever branch of college ministry they serve in.

And hopefully a number of these ministers will become college ministry “lifers,” those women and men who serve for decades in this noble cause. As I saw numerous times throughout my trip, veterans have a wisdom for other college ministers (and for their students) that simply can’t be matched. Having an increasing number of seasoned collegiate missionaries will be enormously powerful in helping our field develop.

College ministers also must do their part in helping draw others to this task, by sharing their stories with the greater Church. From early years, even children and teenagers should hear the stories of faithful efforts among the campus tribes. Articles and books should be written about these missionary efforts, and local congregations and even larger audiences should be privy to the captivating testimonies. God may use those stories to call other people to join this noble missions effort – whether they are called to pray, to give, or to go.

It’s the second and third paragraphs that I wanted to focus in on. Have you considered what role you’re meant to play inthe field of college ministry as a whole? Is it possible God wants you to help impact beyond your own ministry, to help college ministry thrive  in other places?

Just as not every foreign missionary is called to spend some time appealing for the cause of foreign missions, not every college minister will take part in this task. But some should. Let me reiterate all the possibilities I mentioned, only this time a little more personally:

  • You can serve in our field for years and years, and share your seasoned wisdom with younger ministers
  • You could help recruit more college ministers
  • You could help draw others to impact students and invest in college ministry – like churches, organizations, and other Christian people and groups
  • You can tell stories of your work (and others’ work) among the “campus tribes”
  • You could submit an article or even write a book about the glories of college ministry or what you’ve learned
  • Through any of these methods (or others), you could help raise funds for college ministry work
  • Through any of these methods (or others), you could help increase prayer for college ministry work

Is it possible your college ministry passion and knowledge are meant to be shared?

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I’m taking the next several Mondays expanding on some of the points from my book, Reaching the Campus Tribes. (You can read the first installment in this series here.)

One of the key points is that collegiate contexts are widely diverse. That one fact is probably the most important (but is certainly not the only) characteristic for understanding how collegiate ministry parallels foreign missions.

Here’s a paragraph from the book:

Like any tribe, each campus has a particular context that affects the ways it will be reached best. For example, large metropolitan areas, mid‐sized cities, and true “college towns” are all separate contexts that require different college ministry approaches. A community college is a context of its own, as is a medical school or other training institution. In a large city with many campuses, the presence of a “focus campus” – like the University of Washington in Seattle, or Ohio State University in Columbus – changes the context; large cities without one “focus campus” – Dallas, Boston, Washington, D.C., etc. – require different strategies (and can be far more difficult for college ministry). Schools with a Quarter System calendar require different ministry methods than colleges using semesters. Christian colleges require a very special sort of ministry. Campuses in the Northeast are different from those in the Deep South, which are different from those in the Midwest. With nearly endless contextual possibilities, each tribe presents unique circumstances that affect how we  engage it for the cause of Christ. (p. 42)

Beyond those regional and structural differences, schools also vary widely in their culture. As I note there (p. 43), you’ll even find much variation between “Harvard and MIT and Tufts and Cambridge College and Boston College, even though they’re all accessible from the same subway system.” (For more discussion of all this, check out chapter 4!)

The problem is, very few college ministers have actually examined more than a handful of campuses themselves. Many of us have only worked at one or two schools, and it’s likely those are in the same region.

So that’s probably why so few college minsters are interested in hearing things like:

  • You should consider starting your new ministry very slowly, learning the context carefully before you ever decide the basics of what your ministry will look like.
  • Don’t assume what you’ve learned about college ministry will necessarily transfer well to others’ situations. You may not even realize all you don’t know!
  • We shouldn’t automatically assume our brand of college ministry will serve a particular school well (whether we’re a church, a campus-based college ministry, or a college minister looking for a job). There is no “manifest destiny” for any organization to reach any particular campus(es).

Believing that contexts differ doesn’t mean I believe that every school’s the same or that there aren’t any transferable principles. This is more a question of approach than it is about actions. If we enter a new mission field humbly, learning its unique context before we start our work, then we can be pleasantly surprised when some elements turn out to be familiar. Certainly, our actions may often look the same as they would have elsewhere, but we will have started in the right place for maximum effectiveness and impact.

On the other hand, if we approach a campus with our methods ready-to-go and only later try to “tweak” as we learn the campus, we’ve started well behind… and we may even damage a campus in the process. (Again, look to the history of foreign missions for this phenomenon.)

Humility is a cornerstone of good foreign missions, and it should be a cornerstone of our work, too. The contexts really are different – take it from the guy who’s seen several hundred.

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In 1792, during an era of particularly long book titles, William Carey published An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. Many Christians believed that missionary activity was not especially necessary, since God could accomplish salvation without their “help.” As Carey’s title implies, his book argued that Christians should use means – should carry out purposeful activity – to reach unsaved people throughout the world.

In the centuries since, Carey’s words have taken hold within Christendom – to say the least! Today, it’s hard to imagine not “using means for the conversion of the heathens.” Churches, denominations, and thousands of individual Christians have been gripped by a call to international missions, and this effort is now one of Evangelicals’ most significant investments. The entire world is different because Christians decided to “use means” to reach it, despite the difficulties and costs involved. And we continue to look for even better ways to reach more and more people, laboring in missions until Christ returns.

one hundred and eighty-one mission fields

Recently, I had the marvelous opportunity to visit one hundred and eighty-one separate mission fields in a single year. I walked among the natives, examined the Christian work (if any) being accomplished, and prayed for God’s wisdom for better reaching these tribes.

This was an eclectic group of tribes, with differences in size, history, economic prosperity, regional prominence, culture, and traditions. But these particular tribes share one thing: They may have more potential to influence the entire world than any other single kind of tribe. While we can never judge the overall importance of reaching one group of people over another, missiologists recognize the strategic value of reaching groups that serve as gateways to greater impact. And without a doubt, these 181 tribes (and the few thousand tribes like them) provide an immense opportunity for impacting not only their regions but the entire world.

Yet the sad truth is that we have reached these people for Christ far less than we can or should. Despite the ease of accessing most of these tribes, despite the relationship American churches already have with many of the tribes’ members, and despite these tribes’ clear potential to influence the world, mission work among these millions of people is given very low priority by most Christians. This is true even among Christians who otherwise exhibit a true passion for missions.

But as in Carey’s day, Christians are waking up to the necessity of greater missions efforts among these key tribes.

We call these tribes college campuses, and we desperately need to use greater means to reach them.

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As you may already realize, those are the opening paragraphs of my ebook, Reaching the Campus Tribes, which turns 3 years old this month. If you haven’t had the chance to read it – or if you want to be re-encouraged about what you do and what you CAN do – I encourage you to take a look.

I’m going to be spending some Mondays revisiting some of the themes. In general, I’ll offer commentary, not simply quotes. But I thought today’s quotation might stand alone as a good intro to the Monday series – and a good reminder that American Christians need to be told what we’re up to as we labor among the campus tribes! Remember, my book was written for them – not simply for us college ministers. I encourage you to share it!

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Welcome to Exploring College Ministry

After ministering to college students for 8 years, I've spent the last 6 years trying to help push our whole field forward. This meant, among other things, a yearlong road trip, an e-book (Reaching the Campus Tribes), exploring 250+ campuses, consulting, writing, speaking, and more. I love any opportunity to serve college ministers or to consult with churches and others about reaching students better. To learn more, explore the header links or the tools below.

...and if I can help your ministry directly (or you want to support my mission), contact me!

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