cooperation & unity in the college ministry world

This is Part 1 of this discussion; click here for Part 2.

For some reason or another, this Road Trip has already led to several discussions of efforts to build unity between various college ministries on a campus. This is actually a recurring issue in the field of college ministry, and it’s one of those areas in which – seemingly – it helps to have a wide-angle lens. Up-close, it’s easy to theorize and philosophize. But look at enough ministries, and one starts to see that intentions and hopes don’t always equal success in this area.

Sadly, I’ve heard of far more cooperation / unity efforts that seem to have failed than those that have gone well. In the former case, sometimes ministries (or at least their ministers) may end up less unified than before the “unity attempt” took place! That’s no good!

This topic came up in the Campus Ministry Blogference only a few weeks ago. Since it was within the comments there, I wanted to edit and slightly expand the thoughts I wrote. My hope is to help us think about this wisely – and also encourage those who might have struggled in this area.

I’d also love any additional questions / comments on this. I know it’s a touchy issue.

thoughts for college ministers hoping to build unity… wisely

1. Go slowly. Far better to remain here than to be even more disunified in 3 years. There’s no biblical mandate for HOW unity has to look, so take the time to pray and think things through before launching an initiative (even an initiative that seems “simple”).

2. Understand. Many longtime college ministers have lived through (or at least heard about) cooperative attempts that wasted time (at best) or ended in disaster (at worst). So it’s understandable for them to be skeptical.

3. Occasional or short-term activities seem to work best. A month-long project may be better than some permanent agreement. Monthly prayer meetings may work better than weekly ones. And so on.

4. Remember that everybody has their own agenda – and they should. They’ve been hired (by an organization or by supporters) to accomplish certain aims and/or do certain things. Approaching unity as a confederation rather than a republic or a democracy seems to foster unity the best.

5. Activities need a leader. …for each project, each monthly prayer gathering, each campus-wide event. It’s far easier to unify for a common project/mission under a designated point person – that’s why Veritas Forum and similar outsider groups can help produce unity so well. Of course, some projects may have different leaders for different parts of the project. But the main point is that Unity doesn’t require that nobody take the lead.

6. Sometimes true unity doesn’t look like it. I’ve shared with several on this trip: One of the coolest unity ideas I’ve ever heard are those ministries (on multiple campuses) that have decided to adjust their schedules to hold Large Group on the same night! To the untrained eye (like the students’), that looks like competition and disunity. But those ministries do it to help their students choose a ministry and go deep in it. It’s actually a unified attempt to shepherd their students, even though every ministry’s weekly attendance will probably go down. That’s some amazing cooperation!

There may be other unity attempts that look “weird,” too. But we shouldn’t let our methodology be driven by students or others who don’t understand the full picture.

7. Relationship trumps. In places where there is distinct unity (even between a couple of groups), it doesn’t seem to be because it was “master planned.” It started from people being buddies.

Because I don’t believe a certain methodology here is mandated by Scripture, building unity is a question of wisdom, not obedience to any specific methods. And it is HIGHLY contextual – which means how unity works out on one campus will be very different from how we should approach it on another campus.

Remember, my suggestions here are borne from numerous, nationwide conversations (and my own years of college ministry). Personally, I would prefer a “step-by-step approach” or some other “rule” (I like my rules). And if I felt like the Scriptures demanded some certain methodology, I’d push for it regardless of the pragmatism.

But since I don’t think they do, then pragmatism is part of wisdom here, and observing what has worked (and what has hurt) is important.

[Part 2 of these thoughts in tomorrow’s post]

Written from Motel 6, Hays, KS

Road Trip 14 recap, Day 11
new state: Kansas (#4)
yesterday: lots of needed rest, and a fun church visit
today: not exactly sure, except for making my way through Kansas!


[Click to comment or see any comments on this post!]


  1. Hey Benson!

    Some great thoughts here.

    I think a part of the conversation has to be the other side of the coin for point #4 about agendas. I think one of the biggest challenges we face in partnering with other ministries is believing that they are in it for the spiritual well-being of the students, much more so than building their own organizational numbers. If we can overcome this hurdle, and trust that God will lead each student to the ministry best suited for them, than we might really have a better shot at this.

    So much of this is tied to the attitudes and motivations of the leaders in charge. To whom much has been given, much is expected.

  2. I definitely agree – good word. That’s definitely a discussion that’s needed.

    It may be helpful to alter that terminology a little bit (for those thinking newly about this; I think this is probably what you meant). I’d say we want ministries not to be ONLY in it for building their own ministries.

    In a healthy college ministry, the staff should see involvement in their ministry as a very strong avenue of spiritual well-being – but like you said, recognize that it won’t be the very best choice for all students.

    So it’s like saying we want coaches to be focused on winning games, not ONLY on picking the right plays. But we would expect them to see picking the right plays as really important to winning games. I would hope that college ministers would have a bias toward their own ministries – again, not absolutely, but in proper proportion to why they chose to be a part of that ministry in the first place.

    Thanks for the balancing word. Very helpful.

  3. Pingback: ‘Friendly Fire’ on Campus « Faith ON Campus

Comments are closed.