all i really needed to know about missional community i learned in college ministry

Last night at the Verge Conference, Alan Hirsch (in a video segment) mentioned that some episodes of God’s people producing truly missional communities have been known as “Jesus Movements.” Of course, that’s how one hears the earliest Church described, and perhaps there have been several other periods designated in that way.

The one I know about is the recent Jesus Movement here in the U.S., in the late 1960s and early 70s.

And lest we forget, that eruption of missional community was a collegiate movement. It was missional, and it was collegiate. And from what I can tell, it doesn’t seem like anybody had to try really hard to make it missional… because it was collegiate. College campuses and the ministry taking place on them have an funny way of being very vulnerable to the outbreak of missional movements.

The title of this post is, of course, a bit hyperbolic. There is much we can continue to learn about what it means to be biblically “missional.” But as a point of encouragement for you who serve college students, and perhaps a helpful thought for anyone else who happens to be visiting today…

College ministry is an enormous local “laboratory” for missional activity – and it has been for decades.

Where else in North American Christianity have individuals had the chance to focus on serving people “on their terms and on their turf” to such a degree, and for so long? Where else in North America do Christians so regularly contextualize our approaches, practice disciplemaking (as our bread-and-butter), observe and foster all sorts of spontaneous / organic ministry, or strive to build sustained, multiplying “movements”?

Even stepping onto a college campus is crossing into another sociological context. And each of these “campus tribes” is different from the next, too. So being “incarnational” isn’t negotiable – at least if college ministers want sustained impact among the Longhorns or Lobos or Nittany Lions or any other campus tribe.

Besides the above activities, God pushes college ministers into other missional endeavors:

  • decentralizing / dispersing leadership and decision-making within their ministries
  • crossing cultures (ethnic, affinity, religious, and geographical cultures)
  • modifying methods (even violently so) between various spheres
  • interacting with cultural systems (in their case, the complex campus hierarchies) in ways that lead to Jesus-influence
  • helping people connect God with all spheres of life (by dealing so often with students’ vocations)
  • celebrating and resourcing zeal (which, of course, collegians never lack)… while also adorning that zeal with wisdom and structure as needed

Certainly, not every description in the above paragraphs applies to every college ministry. As I’ve seen around the country, some ministries are certainly stronger than others at various aspects – and many have a long way to go in this missional pursuit. Yet as a whole, God’s gracious portion for North American Collegiate Ministry has included a heavy dose of missional community-building.

This is yet another way that, as I wrote in Reaching the Campus Tribes, college ministry could be “R&D” for the Church. So in case anybody wants to make use of that research-and-development… this naturally-missiological enterprise has been learning about “missional” since long before “missional” was a cool word to say.

And if you act now, those very same college ministers will throw in a FREE BONUS GIFT: their recent experiences in building missional community among the newly independent Millennials, who will compose much of the Church for the next 70+ years!

College ministers, let’s not excuse ourselves from the table when the topic du jour is missional community. Whether we’ve called it by that name or not, we might just have been learning it all along.


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  1. Other missional aspects that are basic experiences in much college ministry work…

    Leadership development & rapid promotion, locating external and creative sources of funding, a constant focus on bringing others into the community, “ministry of presence” in the places people live and congregate, fluctuation in involvement, regular reinvention…

    What else?

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