a whole tree to learn from

When I claim (as I often do!) that college ministry is a missiological endeavor, I really mean it. This is no metaphor. I honestly believe that the best approach in ministry to college students is a missiological one.

I even mean it all the way to the point of believing that some of our best opportunities for vocational development will come from adapting international missions thought and training. I mean it enough that my own book was much-patterned – in content, audience, even propagation – after William Carey’s own missiological call to arms, An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.

Yet as we progress in our individual campus works, we often seem to be either reinventing the wheel or – worse yet – missing opportunities to gain wisdom from centuries’ worth of those who have practiced in the missiological professions.

As one example:

One of the best-known books on foreign missions work and thought is Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, a reader with dozens and dozens of articles written by a broad range of missiological thinkers past and present. I picked up my Fourth Edition from the US Center for World Mission during (when else?) a road trip last year.

Thumbing through the Perspectives topics, one sees – if indeed we look through the lenses of our calling – page after page, article after article devoted to the very things we do. I smell the weighty pages (which, since the book was only released last year, still smell like the fancy, expensive Upper Deck baseball cards I bought as a kid). And I defer to the weight in these pages, defer to these men and women who have a perspective I need to learn from. I defer by many of the blogs I don’t write – because I know much ground has been covered by others. On these matters I shall share Newbigin before newbie, J. Hudson Taylor over B. Hines, tinkerer.

Indeed, simply the stated purposes of this impressive compilation beckon even us, the college ministers, to the role of faithful missiologist… with all the feet-sitting and shoulder-standing that should require:

Today’s aspiring missionaries need to understand first the biblical mandate, but also history and culture and strategy. Understanding missions history and the challenges of crossing cultural boundaries may help to save us from fear on the one hand, and unnecessary mistakes on the other. … This book is based on a belief that missionaries have a calling to think as well as to love and give and speak! (from the First Edition foreword by Leighton Ford)

[B]y drawing together the key thinking of all these marvelous people a given person can peruse these pages and leapfrog over a lot of wandering and blind alleys, avoiding or shortening the search for sound perspective.
Many older people, looking back on useless detours, regret that they did not do more reflection earlier. Can you avoid that tragic surprise? (from the Introduction, by Ralph D. Winter)

This post is not a push to go buy Perspectives and read it through college ministers’ lenses (though what a glorious undertaking that might be!). There are numerous missions resources, numerous past and present thinkers, important debates and arguments worth attending to.

So let’s attend to them.

Yes, we participate in our own branch of missiology – collegiate missiology – with its own peculiarities. But it’s only a branch (and a newish and narrow one at that), springing from an entire tree and its multitude of counselors, who have an awful lot of wisdom to offer.

As local churches and individual campus ministries consider steps to take or methods to use… and yet as entire denominations and national campus ministry organizations attempt to better and further reach the campus tribes… how often are we asking, What have the missionaries found to be true?


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