staying in the saddle

Of course, the final key in bewaring unhealthy ministry is to make sure our ministry is healthy, too.

I Timothy 4 is an excellent chapter for anybody leading college students, particularly as it challenges us to, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching” (I Tim. 4:16 ESV).

Apparently Martin Luther described the human race as similar to a drunk on a horse – falling off on one side, then getting back up simply to fall off on the other side. We can pretty easily stumble somewhat off-center in our personal lives, and we can pretty easily head off-track in our ministries, too.

And maybe you haven’t noticed, but we don’t have as many safeguards as many ministers do.

Pastors have adult believers in their audiences, many of whom might have been Christians longer than the pastor has been alive! Sometimes seminary profs are sitting out there in the congregation, or other ministers, or former pastors. Plus staff members at the church and some deacons or elders or both. Even the pastor’s spouse and kids are out there!

So if a pastor says something weird or initiates some program that is less-than-wise, it has a fairly good chance of being checked before things go awry.

Youth and children’s ministers have parents around, parachurch ministries have supporters and the public, and anyone else who works with adults at least has true adults in their flock.

But not us. Some of us have spouses, but other than that, we don’t always have many people with the “wisdom of years” to help keep us healthy. Even when we do have bosses, we still can be rather ignored over here in our “college ministry corner.” (Be thankful if you do have some adults in your situation!)

All this means that we could err, and it might be a long time before that problem was checked. Not always. But sometimes.

But that potential for unhealthy ministry is a particular problem when we’re leading young, impressionable, sometimes-hurting, often-needy college students. All those good reasons for college ministry – this is a “make it or break it” time of life, so many key decisions are made during this time, this period sets the stage for the rest of life – can work the other way, too. Even a little mud in the spring at this stage – in the “hinge” moment called “college” – can cause years’ worth of problems.

To say it plain, we college ministers could pretty easily mess people up for a long time. Fear and trembling is a healthy response to the precariousness of our beautiful task. Let’s be careful out there.

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