knowing the condition of our flocks (backwards college ministry, part 3)

Last week, I began an occasional series on Backwards College Ministry, one of the principles that has most affected the way I construct my own ministry work (within collegiate ministry or otherwise). My hope is that it might at the very least provide some solid philosophood to chew on… especially as many of us begin thinking about what next school year should look like.

So far, two posts have noted that:

  • Backwards College Ministry means our Starting Point for planning is the outcomes we’re aiming for, rather than the methods we’re aiming with.
  • So in Backwards College Ministry, outcomes are used to determine our methods, not the other way around.

You can catch up by clicking here, and be sure to read the comments – they’ve been really helpful, as people have fleshed this out AND asked some great questions.

Today, a quick – but vital – next point:

Backwards College Ministry is meant for the short-term, too.

While the focus of the last post was on the grand scheme of things, the principle of Backwards College Ministry is meant for any span of time and any method.

So let’s use the upcoming Fall Semester (or Quarter) as an example. In Backwards College Ministry, the FIRST question to ask about Fall Semester 2010 would NEVER be…

…What do we want to teach about on Tuesday nights?

…What service and fellowship events should we put on the calendar?

…How can we change our small groups to make them better?

…What do our students want to do?

Those are questions worth asking soon, but not FIRST. Questions about methods are never the first question in Backwards College Ministry. Instead, the first question – and more than that, the driving question – is…

…What outcomes are we called to aim for this semester?

Yes, some of our outcomes may be exactly the same semester to semester. But surely not all? Surely there are some new priorities, based on new ways God seems to be moving, or based on concerns that have arisen lately?

The metaphor of a shepherd is pretty handy here, because it implies an approach that never, ever simply “does its thing” while relying on “organic” growth. Nor does the smart shepherd focus only on the far-off goals. Yes, wise shepherds certainly recognize that much is out of their control – the grass grows and the sheep sheep without the shepherds’ involvement. And yes, happy and healthy and hefty sheep are the Big Goal, and that doesn’t change.

But those shepherds still take up that rod and that staff on a day to day basis. They observe this field and that field, and they pick one. They pay attention to the condition of their flocks. They seek to know what’s needed today, and they respond to today’s needs.

In Backwards College Ministry, we know the condition of our flocks and respond to what they need most, first, now. When the outcomes for this semester (or this mission trip, this social event, this message) are discerned, only then do we starting deciding the “How” that can help get us there.


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