Yesterday, I noted the BIG NEWS that Zondervan’s primer on college ministry, College Ministry 101: A Guide to Working with 18-25 Year Olds by Chuck Bomar, is releasing tomorrow. (Read that post for why you should buy this book.)
Since it’s not out yet, I haven’t read 101. But in light of New College Ministry Book Week, I thought it might be a good exercise to think through what books might be most helpful for the field of Collegiate Ministry. I would love your thoughts, too.
What makes a strong campus ministry book in general? Here are my first humble suggestions:
Biblically faithful. This one (hopefully) goes without saying. Certainly, I can consider a book a strong entry in our field even if I disagree with some of its theology. But a book woefully ignorant of biblical principles – or that draws invalid conclusions – will be unhelpful. Likewise, any book that prooftexts its way through college ministry principles hurts its readers and our field.
Knowledgeable. Another big need for any college ministry book is truly informed authorship. Are there reasons we should listen to this author on this topic at this time? Regardless of her position or tenure, does she actually know what she’s talking about?
Are the facts actually correct – and how does the author know? Are the ideas up-to-date? Have the book’s stances arisen more from careful investigation than from personal experiences and limited exposure? Does the book reflect an understanding of the very specialized nature of college ministry and the collegiate environment?
Unpresumptuous. It’s easy to “upgrade” our ideas as we write them. In order to win fans or write boldly, we might start treating “activities that work for us” as Best Practices, helpful principles as rules, and “the way we happen to do things” as a model worth copying.
Presenting principles and models is good, but is what an author is saying truly as valuable for his readers as he thinks? Does the author help readers understand WHY and WHEN those tools might work in their local situations?
Authors may handle this in different ways, and readers share some of the responsibility of discerning what’s applicable. But we look to books for training; those books can mislead uninformed readers through presumption.
Breadth-acknowledging. The most common critique I’ve heard of some college ministry books is that they only reflect the author’s own (limited) experience.
When writing books for foreign missionaries, I assume most authors realize they must consider not only Brazil but Bulgaria and the Bahamas. Less recognized is the similarly wide diversity between college campuses (let alone between the churches, parachurch groups, denominations, and other entities that hope to reach those campuses).
Because of this breadth, anytime one particular model is presented as “the” way to organize a college ministry, the author will be wrong. And most statements about “every” campus or “every” campus ministry or “every” church will be wrong, too. So any book that aims for breadth of impact needs to walk quite carefully.
Not all topics in college ministry require consideration of the wide spectrum of the field. But where the broad spectrum applies to a book’s conclusions, it must be recognized implicitly or explicitly.
Again, I haven’t gotten my copy of College Ministry 101 yet. So please don’t assume the above connects to Bomar’s book. It’s just a good exercise to prepare to read it – and any other college ministry books – thoughtfully.
I’d love your thoughts on how you might critique a book on college ministry – as well as any critique of my ideas here. With a new campus ministry book on the horizon, there’s no better time to think through what kind of work makes a strong contribution to the field of Collegiate Ministry!