mind the spectrum

“Mind the gap,” popular on placards in the London subway system, means, “acknowledge the distance between the platform and the train.” Spending time at the Refresh (college ministers’) Conference this week has reminded me once again of the spectrum worth minding, as each of us looks upon the world of college ministry from our individual vantage points.

One of the most common mistakes I’ve noticed as I’ve talked with college ministers around the country is overgeneralization. This shows up in plenty of ways, and one of the most common is assuming a ministry’s size, methods, or something else is truly one-of-a-kind. While we may know our own city or our region or even our entire national organization really well, it’s rarely enough data to make such claims about the field as a whole.

But an even more unsettling form of overgeneralization happens when college ministers encounter only ONE of something… and draw conclusions about every OTHER version of that same something.

This “something” is another college ministry on your campus. Our extended encounters with local peers make it easy for all of us (including me) to assume that we can judge a whole national organization by the individual chapter (or its leader). But as one who has now gotten to visit many different chapters and leaders from many different organizations, I can tell you that while there are indeed organizational distinctives, methodology and even theology can vary quite widely.

The reason this conference highlighted this fact is that this happens to be a conference mostly made up of United Methodists from the Evangelical end of the UMC spectrum. If you were to visit many of the campus ministries represented here, it would probably “feel” pretty similar to the local Baptist Collegiate Ministry or Campus Crusade meeting (and the main, focused-on theology might be much the same, too).

“Spectrums” are evident in just about any college ministry you can name: RUF, Campus Crusade, BCM, Chi Alpha, InterVarsity, PC(USA) ministries, Navigators, and on and on. For some, the theology may be largely standard – but the methodology (and by that, I mean any possible methods) may look wildly different on certain campuses. Other college ministries may have pretty standard methodology, but their leaders’ may be more conservative or less so, more traditional or less so, more focused on social justice or evangelism or one-on-one disciplemaking or expository teaching… or less so.

Collegiate Ministry is a really interesting world, and our generalizations very quickly go out the window when we actually experience more than a setting or two. Or at least mine have.

written from CollegeUnion’s Refresh Conference, The Woodlands, TX


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  1. Good call, Ben! And this makes sense as each university/tribe is different. Being missionaries, we need to be reaching to our specific context. This would be yet another reason not to overgeneralize a college ministry …because you shouldn’t overgeneralize a college.

    SO maybe something we college ministers should practice is going on field trips from time to time! I mean, seriously, if we are ever on vacation or if we live in an area with more than one university or college, we should go and check out the campus or another college ministry. Why not? And if you are a church-based college ministry, go and check out the university and ministries that your away students are at. They would love the visit and it is good to see what contexts they are coming from while away.

  2. Excellent post Ben.
    I want to comment on this more but this might not be the right platform.
    A couple years ago I heard a pastor address this issue by asking this questions, “Can we agree that Christ’s body was broken and His blood was poured out for the healing of the world? Let’s start there.”
    This is a touchy subject and I can’t imagine how often you field questions or even judgment from the vary ones who are supposed to be encouraging you.
    Thanks for all that you are doing.
    PS Tell Creighton I said hi.

  3. As a “convert” to Methodism (and now one who has been known to defend my denomination to it’s many critics–seriously! Have you read John Wesley? I personally think most of his sermons are a great combo of head/heart/hands and he was very concerned with “Real Christianity.”), I think that you make an important observation. We have quite a bit of diversity within our denomination and many who are quite evangelical. Thanks for pointing this out. So glad that you could come to Refresh and witness it firsthand! ;) Great to meet you and glad to have your website as a place where different denominations can cross paths.

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