strong college ministry books (what it takes)

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.

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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!

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10 Comments

  1. stevelutzpsu

    Great question Ben–

    In addition to what you wrote, and in no particular order, and drawing some from the book I may never write someday :)

    1. Gives a missiology of our people-group: including information on sociology, demographics, psychology of college students. Who ARE we trying to reach, anyway?

    2. Gives a missiology of our context: higher ed/academia. this is a failure IMO of the old guard campus ministries, who tended to just look at reaching students without much interest in redeeming/renewing places and institutions.

    3. Addresses history of campus ministry, because (repeat everyone) “those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it.”

    4. Addresses relationship between church and parachurch, including what do we all need to work together on, and what should we do separately? Also models on how the local church can most effectively serve and reach out to students, which I believe you blogged on not too long ago.

    5. How to work with and mobilize volunteers.

    6. Best practices for educating and equipping campus ministers. Let’s face it: we’re all over the place. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. Especially theologically. I see too many people thinking about strategy but without sufficient grounding.

    7. Lots of stories, examples, and anecdotes of who’s doing it well, who should I follow.

    8. How to foster innovation in campus ministry. I’m bored by a lot of what I see. Why has so much of campus ministry become dull? We’re doing the same old, same old. While the church has been breaking new ground in church planting and thinking missionally, we’re still content to play chubby bunny.

    9. Ecclesiology (related to #4). What is the church? With the rise of house churches and the Organic Church/Blueprint (Jaeson Ma) approach, what IS a church? Is a bunch of college students gathered for a season a church?

    10. Last but certainly not least: attractional and missional. What is it, why does it matter. It’s not enough to attract a crowd anymore. We have to mobilize them for mission.

    This quote from Tim Keller would serve as a good outline for a campus ministry book, and is about as close to a personal mission statement that another person could write for me. I’ve basically memorized it:

    “A looming crisis for all American evangelical churches [and campus ministries] is that they cannot thrive outside of the shrinking enclaves of conservative and traditional people and culture. We have not created the new ministry and communication… models that will flourish and grow in the coming post-Christian very secular Western world. Our vision should be to develop campus ministries, new churches, [and] Christian education/discipleship systems that are effective in those fields in North America.” – Tim Keller

  2. Very good words, Steve. We do need all of that in books.

    But I’m guessing you wouldn’t think that each of those points need to be included in every single book that’s written for our field – they sound like the content (or chapters!) of a great primer, academic intro, etc.

    Are there characteristics, though, that for you are “make-it-or-break-it” as you read a book like Chuck’s, or any of the other (present or future) college ministry books? Which of these are your non-negotiable characteristics of a college ministry work?

  3. stevelutzpsu

    Ben, no I don’t think EVERY book would need to include all that. But I would like to see at least one book TRY. We need it. I’m thinking something along the lines of Stetzer’s “Breaking the Missional Code: College edition” That would hit most or all of these points.

    Don’t know if Bomar’s book will do that, but the outline looks good and regardless it’s a much needed contribution to a field that’s WAY too small. I’m with you, we should support the book to demonstrate there’s an audience for that sort of thing.

  4. Agreed. It really does sound like a perfect collegiate ministry textbook – the kind that can train future college ministers in revolutionary ways!

    Looking at your list, I do see a couple of things that I might personally add to my original list of must-haves:

    For one thing, I appreciate your word about knowing who we’re trying to reach (#1 hits that hardest). I would probably say that any book in our field should reflect and present a solid understanding of students. (Sadly, I bet that not all will do that.)

    I also really liked your word about creative approaches. It made me realize that’s probably a must-have, too. And this will apply more and more as other books are written. If a book doesn’t bring anything new to the discussion, how valuable could it really be to our field?

    Again, I loved your whole list. Hopefully you or others will get to tackle that book (and other contributions) sooner rather than later.

  5. Steve – GREAT thoughts and I agree with most of what you’re saying. Just know that the content of what you’ve stated could never be all in one book! Based on what you’ve articulated, and again I agree, it would take 10 books.

    Benson – I agree with pretty much you said as well. It is hard, however, to stick to the last one – breadth. the problem with that (or probably better put as the balance to keep) is that if you try to meet everyone you end up meeting no one. So, my approach was to take principles and things I knew would be universal to anyone working in college ministry, but then apply them to a specific context – the local church. that said, i think the first and last chapter are designed specifically for the local church and chapters 2-11 are really applicable to anyone, in any context. but, all of it is of course from my 10 year experience working in a local church with students from a variety of schools in that area – from community college’s to major universities. I of course added what i’ve learned from being involved on a national level as well.

    That said, here is how I sought to define a “good” book on college ministry at this point – which of course I applied these to my writing:

    It dives into the heart and mind issues college-age people are struggling with, helping those working in this ministry not only understand the discipleship needs, but also gives practical assistance to them in regards to walking them through each of these areas.

    Clearly defines the role college ministry has, specifically in the context of the local church. If we don’t understand the role and the ultimate goals we can never obtain them – nor will we understand how to deal with the first issue above.

    Gives ample sociological perspective so that we can understand the context of our field better and most importantly the mindsets of those we work with. the how’s and why’s of the issues we’re seeing.

    Practical advice on how to connect college-age people to the larger context of the Church body – beyond an age-stage/campus ministry. Also, providing some appropriate measures of success in this area.

    Clear vision and ideas on every day ministry life.

    Discussion on teaching philosophies.

    The bottom line for me is that the book should cause thought as well as show, from experience, how and why the approaches work – or don’t work.

  6. Good thoughts, Chuck! It’s very cool to get to hear from an author about his own purposes when writing. Thanks for sharing that.

    By “Breadth-acknowledging” in the original post, I definitely don’t mean being acceptable or applicable to a broad spectrum of college ministry people. I mean that any book that discusses college ministry has to reflect the breadth of collegiate contexts. Resources have to show an understanding of the breadth within college ministry – but not necessarily be “broad” in and of themselves. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    I definitely agree with you that trying to please everybody in a book won’t make for a very good book. (I’m glad you said that – I could probably include “Taking clear stances” in the list of things that most college ministry books should have.)

    In fact, as the field develops more and more, we will HOPEFULLY have narrower and narrower resources – interesting works like Histories of particular college ministries, Inquiries into specific models, Debates of certain college ministry theories, etc. But even those “narrow” books should reflect a clear understanding of the breadth of the field. Like you said, the principles should be universal.

    I look forward to your book. I’m about to go order it right now.

  7. stevelutzpsu

    Chuck–thanks for filling us in on your goals & aims for the book. That’s some good stuff right there.

    You’re right, each of those topics could be it’s own book. Seems like you’re hitting a bunch of them in yours, though.

    I love your evident passion for ministry connected to the local church. And I’m thrilled you’re getting an opportunity to champion college ministry at the national level and through this book.

    I’ve just ordered it and look forward to reading it. You guys have inspired me–I’ll be blogging on this tomorrow.

    [You can find Steve’s blog at stevelutz.wordpress.com. Thanks, Steve!]

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