This post was suggested by a Facebook message I received recently. I’m always on the lookout for helpful topics, so feel free to suggest one!
How should college ministers respond to harmful ministries on campus?
This is an issue that has come up multiple times during this trip, and it’s one I freely admit I struggle to get my head around. I haven’t personally been involved in standing up to an unhealthy ministry. So I would love any wisdom you’ve got, or suggestions for who might have good wisdom for this area.
The history of campus cults and other ministries that harm students runs pretty deep. College campuses naturally draw and nurture errant people and groups. Sadly, the first entity to stand up against harmful ministries might be a campus’s (secular) administration, once they see the emotional harm it brings.
Shouldn’t college ministries to some extent, as shepherds, help protect students from harmful groups – even when those groups seem to come from within our ranks? But what does that look like?
This is a tricky issue from a lot of angles.
First, there’s the question of how we define / discern unhealthy ministry. That’s not the point of today’s question, but it certainly matters. Before a college minister “does something about” a ministry they believe is harmful, they had better be clear on their concerns (On the difficulty of determining what’s truly unhealthy – and Christians’ ever-present ability to misjudge this characteristic, be sure to read Adam Ratliff’s solid comments on my post here.)
Second, some ministries with past errors have repented or simply become healthier. We need to make sure our understanding of a local or national ministry is current. (It would also be helpful for us to be aware of the histories of campus cult-like activity. I fear we are doomed to repeat our difficult history because we aren’t aware of the problems of the past.)
Third, national ministries always vary chapter-to-chapter. College ministries are generally quite autonomous, even when they’re tied by organization, denomination, or other affiliation. So we need to be extremely hesitant to make generalizations just because we’ve seen problems locally. (That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t deal with the local problems, but in fact a national organization may be an ally in helping with local ministries gone awry.)
All that being said, I still think we need basic ideas on what to do if this situation arises. But I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a college minister discuss how they have handled campus cults or other clearly unhealthy ministries. I think we could all really use some wisdom on this, because our need to employ it could be just around the corner.
I would love to hear any thoughts you have, ways you’ve handled this, or examples of how others have handled these issues. (As always, just be wise about how you refer to groups, please.)
written from Motel 6, Madison, WI
Road Trip 13: Day 30 recap
recap: a whole lot of catching up… though it never really ends…
T-shirt: the Rebel tribe of UNLV
tuesday: a little exploration around Madison, then on to Chicagoland! (see all explorations so far)