eclectic campus ministry?

On Monday, I noted that Millennials often live a very eclectic existence: Numerous genres on a single iPod, multi-tasking as the normal mode of operation, a “cafeteria” approach to worldview, a diversity of friendships, a diversity of interests. (That post focused on Jimmy Fallon’s excellence in reflecting this characteristic, and you can read more here.)

So here’s the question: How could college ministries reflect / connect with this aspect of Generation Y?

This is a new question for me, and my first “stab” may not be all that spiffy. But here are a few first thoughts, and I’d love you to help me brainstorm on this!

1. “Loose” or shifting schedules for regular activities.

How necessary is the exact schedule we keep? Take the large group meeting, for example: Where do the music, teaching, announcements, and other items fit? Could some items be longer or shorter on occasion? Moved? Left out?

The principle of eclecticism might be applied to other regular events in a college ministry, too (although the benefit of traditions has to be weighed). Or student-led small groups could practice a shifting schedule when they meet – and it might be interesting to see what students leaders themselves think about “going eclectic.”

If we did try this out, we might (as a bonus) find that event-specific purposes are accomplished by changing our schedules event-to-event. So once we shed our “agenda-pendence,” we would be free to adjust our elements for maximum benefit.

2. Inserting “regular randomness.”

What if we simply aimed for one “eclectic addition” to each event? For many college ministries, this is somewhat accomplished in large group meetings already – through quirky announcements, skits, or other mid-meeting variety.

And some college ministers do this within their teaching more than others. A mid-teaching interview, testimony, video, or other illustration can add a bit of an eclectic feel.

3. Choices and changes.

One last pathway to eclecticism might be providing a variety of opportunities through the semesters or years. For instance, offering different types of small groups presents an eclectic experience for students across time, as does the opportunity to enjoy several topics or teachers across 2 or 3 years. It’s also possible that many students will respond better to short teaching series rather than semester-long ones.

And while we usually assume anything that “works” should be kept, what if some of our student ministry teams, service projects, and leadership positions were more dynamic? Might there be some benefit – to our students and our ministry – if they had the chance to try their hand at a few different roles during their collegiate career? (And might some of our programs become more excellent if they lay fallow every once in a while?)

Ducks all over the place

Believe me when I say that this isn’t my style, and I’m honestly just brainstorming here.

I would prefer my ducks all-in-a-row, my ministries master-planned, and a clear vision for the next several semesters (if not the next several decades!). Nor can I claim that embracing eclecticism is going to be best for every – or any – ministry. But the truth is, college ministry is far messier than many of us prefer already.

Eclecticism might just be one way to embrace that messiness! And I know this is at least one characteristic of the generation we serve. So it’s possible we should follow that trail for a bit, to see how God’s purposes for our students might be met through a bit of eclectic programming. If you get a chance to try it out, I’d love to know what you find.

written from Williamstown, NJ

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Exploring College Ministry Road Trip 13: Days 44 & 45 recap
recap: my final days in Pennsylvania, mostly in the Harrisburg area (see all explorations so far)
new campuses:
Penn State College of Medicine (#31) and Widener University (#32)
T-shirts: the Aggie tribe of New Mexico State and the Red Raiders of Texas Tech
wednesday: the beginning of two days at Rowan University in NJ

2 Comments

  1. PC

    A few of the things we have been doing to be a bit more eclectic with our main gatherings:

    – AWARENESS NIGHTS – it generally falls into about once a quarter…we will not do anything we normally do on a Sunday night, but we will only show a certain film highlighting a certain issue. It may be human traffiking, slavery. In a couple weeks we are showing “What Would Jesus Buy” about over-consuming especially during Christmas.

    – COMPASSION NIGHTS – Our ministry, FUSION (http://firstcov.org/fusion) sponsors two children through Compassion International. So from time to time we have Compassion Nights instead of our normal Sunday night gatherings. We decorate the room with maps and facts of the areas our two kids are from. Then there are stations set up around the room. There is generally a letter writing station for reading the kids letters and writing letters to the kids. There is a prayer station where we set up with giant pillows and prayer requests taped on the wall at about 2 feet off the ground. There is a coloring/drawing section as we can only send flat things to our kids, we have coloring books we spend time to color and be able to send to the kids. We also have a monthly collection of recyclables which all the proceeds go toward our sponsorship of the children. So one station is simply a group we send out with trash bags for a couple hours to pick up recyclables they find. At the end we always take a group picture to put in the next packet we send to our kids.

    – PASTOR PRAYER NIGHTS – On these nights from time to time, I simply write out my prayer for the group and myself as a pastor and leader. Then I read it. I just sit down and read it through. It generally takes about 5-10 minutes. So that mixes it up quite a bit, and the students love and respect the transparency.

    – SPONTANEOUS BANQUET/COMMUNION
    We set up the room like normal so nobody suspects anything. It would include a table in the back set up however you typically do communion but without any juice or bread in the dishes. When I get up to speak, I essentially only read the Wedding Banquet story. Then I walk around the room and ask if anyone brought bread or juice? They say no. I ask if anyone invited anyone to communion. They say no. I then say, “Well, we have an empty table for a feast we were supposed to have. So you have 20 minutes to go get food for our feast and invite people to the feast.” Then I walk away. They stare for a second, but then they get the idea and take off and come back with guests they meet and then a ton of junk food. When everyone is back I explain that every time we eat together, we are to remember Jesus, pray for the meal, and eat.

  2. “Disciplelship remixed” is one of those eclectic things we do that seems to work pretty well. Rather than having a set pattern of spiritual disciplines we expect all of our students to follow, we present several ways to practice the different disciplines, and work with our students to help them integrate the right practices for them. An example would be teaching prayer. We often teach a modified version of the Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, your servant), praying through Psalms, ACTS, contemplation/centering prayer, and various other techniques, but we don’t expect anyone to regularly practice them all (I sure don’t). Instead we’ll throw out options, and try to help students adopt practices of prayer that best fit who they are, and will help them take their next step as they grow as Christ followers. We want to join God in what He is doing in students’ lives as we engage in spiritual formation.

    It’s a bit messier than the packaged deal, and makes accountability more complex, but it has some advantages. It keeps disciple-making a relational practice, more like coaching than teaching/instruction (though there’s always an instructional component). It serves as a great reminder that all these things are always a means to an end, and keeps us focused on that end.

    As I said in my comment on your first eclecticism post, the danger here is that it can become discipleship tutti-frutti, where people consume what suits them and leave off anything they find initially difficult or sacrificial. It’s important to help disciples choose practices based not on personal preference, but around love for God and participation in His mission.

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