backwards college ministry means mission-tailoring

In my occasional series on Backwards College Ministry, I’ve explained a practical principle that has been invaluable in my own college ministry work – and it’s been an interesting point of evaluation as I’ve explored ministries around the country.

Backwards College Ministry, in a nutshell, dictates that purposes determine methods. It’s encompassed in the arrow between “What Success Looks Like” and “How” in the diagram below. (You can read further explanation in the other posts in this series.)

As many of us begin to plan for the Fall or the entire next school year*, I wanted to point us toward what this really requires… if you’re inclined at least to give this “Backwards College Ministry” methodology a try.

It means taking the mission-tailored approach towards every individual activity or long-range Plan. In every case, an activity is purposely, openly, and carefully tailored to the “mission” for that activity. Let all your methods be mission-tailored, and you’ve set the stage for a college ministry that could be more impactful than you would ever imagine.

Remember that great scene in Apollo 13 when Mission Control (along with the astronauts) had to cobble together a way to remove excess carbon dioxide? In Ed Harris’s words, they had to “invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole.” Using only the materials in the spacecraft, they marshaled all ingenuity towards tailoring a solution.

The mission was clear: Lower the CO2 levels. So their solution – their method – was mission-tailored. They simply built something that fit their purposes – no more, no less. Less would mean failure. More would be a waste.

Looking back at your last 5 methods, how many were actually tailored – purposely, openly, carefully – around the purposes they were intended to fulfill?

  • Was that Midnight Pancakes event designed only after you’d determined its key purposes?
  • Was that last talk (including the video you showed and the story you told) built carefully around what you hoped students would know, feel, or do as a result of the talk?
  • Was the curriculum for last semester’s small group chosen very specifically to meet actual needs of actual students?
  • Did you determine the Why for your message series long before you gave it that catchy title or determined its length?

I am completely comfortable with the fact that some may prefer a different methodology. But for those willing to give this a try, I think you might be surprised. Yes, choosing to precede every methods-discussion with a purposes-discussion will seem a little tedious at first. But it will lead to better impact – and greater creativity, too**!

And if you do disagree here, at least we’re thinking about college ministry methodology! That’s something we could use a lot more of.

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*As an advocate of college ministry methods that are driven by needs, I have a hard time seeing any reason to plan more than a semester at a time – except for methods (like a mission trip) where months of planning are actually required. How in the world can I expect to know what my students will most need next February? And if I don’t know the purposes, I can’t plan the methods, can I?

**because necessity is the mother of invention. By establishing “necessities” at the beginning, we’re forced to get creative to accomplish those purposes.

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