cooperation vs. independence (best of the blog)

Continuing with this week’s Best of 2009… One series this year encouraged discussion more than any other EVER. Titled “College Ministry Poles,” these posts describe “the ‘two sides’ of basic methods and issues in campus ministry, things that most of us deal with regularly – but may not realize are approached quite differently by a number of college ministers.” (from the intro post)

Today’s post is the first in the series, and like all the posts, readers wrote some very significant comments. Be sure to check those out! And to see the other 5 entries in this series (so far), click here.


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Yesterday I announced the beginning of a new semi-regular series, “College Ministry Poles,” looking at key collegiate ministry issues that are often fleshed out between two extremes. My hope is to stretch our thinking, especially as we realize that in many cases, a large number of college ministers have chosen – and found success with – methods from across each spectrum.

We begin with a big issue that unites and divides college ministries “on the ground”: Cooperation vs. Independence.

For heavy cooperation between ministries

I’ve heard it argued that various college ministers at a single campus could/should function as “elders” over the campus, ultimately comparing calendars, avoiding overlapping segments of campus, and nearly meshing ministries. Clearly, this model is one “pole” along this continuum.

Not quite as polar but still on this side of the spectrum are ministries that have fleshed out cooperation in various forms:

  • Direct partnership in regular ministry activities
  • A college ministry taking a purposely complementary approach
  • A ministry purposefly focusing on a niche not already reached
  • Direct cooperation in single events / efforts on campus

There are some obvious positives here – like not duplicating ministry activity, revealing Christian unity to a watching campus, gaining wisdom from “many counselors,” increasing group size, helping disciple students in diversity / unity, and so on.

For clear independence from other ministries

While I don’t necessarily hear it argued too often, it’s clear that many other ministries have placed a low priority on intentional cooperation or partnership. Instead, these ministers’ focus is impacting students through their organization as best as they possibly can. In the more extreme cases, there is little or no contact between leaders of these ministries and other leaders in town.

But before the more collaborative-minded blame those who seem isolationist, realize that there are clearly good reasons to take a stance somewhere on this side of the continuum:

  • All of us have chosen our ministry organizations for real reasons, presumably; cooperation and partnership often take us away from (or at least water down) our ministry’s own distinctives – both methodological and theological.
  • Supporters and overseers expect ministers to practice ministry according to these sorts of distinctives, too.
  • We all know college ministry is time-consuming and difficult. Collaboration – to any degree – always takes time and energy, while always producing messiness. It makes a lot of sense to focus on what we’re best at.
  • In some cases, past cooperative attempts might not have produced hoped-for results, might have been championed by ineffective people, or might never have had well-defined purposes to begin with.

Between the poles and other questions

My guess is that most college ministries in the country believe in being somewhere on the cooperative of the spectrum, but that most function pretty far to the right side of the spectrum (even by default). Hmmm…

Remember, every aspect of a college ministry has been chosen, even if we don’t realize it.

Thoughts to ponder (on your own, or in the comments):

  1. What’s your stance? Are either of the poles necessarily wrong? Is being “somewhere in the middle” necessarily right?
  2. Are there any good keys for choosing cooperation vs. independence?
  3. How could a ministry functioning on one side of the spectrum possibly move toward the other side?
  4. What are some Best Practices for more cooperative college ministry styles? What about for more independent college ministry styles?

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