two scary ideas for a midsummer monday

It was really exciting to see the enthusiastic response I got when I shared the Backwards College Ministry methodology at the CMU Workshop. At its heart, the principle is simply to let our methods serve our purposes – not the other way around.

Wanna know two of the scariest areas where Backwards College Ministry can come into play? Our planning and our standard forms.

planning like purposes matter

If having distinct and very timely purposes really matters – for what we teach, the events we hold, the discussions we facilitate, and everything else in our ministries – then even how (and when) we plan will look different.

We won’t plan before we know the purposes we’re aiming for.

Our plans will be adjusted/tweaked/trashed based less on spur-of-the-moment “creativity” and more on what better fits our purposes.

We won’t start or end our planning with what our students want. Yes, it matters. But only in the middle. Purposes matter a whole lot more; what students want helps us narrow down the methods that will best help us accomplish our purposes.

We probably won’t plan much of our college ministry activity more than a semester (or less) in advance. Our ministry changes too quickly. The campus climate changes too quickly – not, perhaps, in giant, radical ways, but certainly in small, subtle trends that still matter. Our students don’t run their lives on a yearlong calendar. What students need to learn / do / discuss / hear in the spring is rarely foreseeable in July. …So why are we trying to plan so far in advance?

Yes, some things – a mission trip, a guest speaker, a campus-wide event – may need foresight beyond a few months’ time. So when long-range planning fits a purpose, then long-range planning is best.

But planning – even planning – isn’t a virtue in-and-of-itself. Putting a message topic on the schedule for next February may feel good, but it’s likely keeping you from actually accomplishing as much as you could in the lives of your students or in your ministry as a whole. We tend to reason this out rather circularly: “It’s wiser to plan it out because… it’s wiser to plan.” Phooey!

(Yep, I just used “phooey.” I think that’s a first for this blog.)

choosing our forms like purposes matter

This week at the Workshop, I changed my general speaking style. Usually I’m purposely more “polished,” with lots of pictures-via-PowerPoint and a direct, point-by-point approach.

But as I pondered the topic I was asked to teach, I felt it called for a different teaching style. A lot of writing on the board, no prompts via PowerPoint, a lot of back-and-forth with the audience. It was tough sometimes. It didn’t “feel” as good (and probably didn’t sound as good, either). But I think it accomplished its specific purposes better.

Do you have a “set form” for teaching in your campus ministry?


What about leading a small group? Or throwing a party? Or kicking off the year? Or recruiting? Obviously, we may not be utterly altering our personality (and what the group is used to) for each and every activity. But if the form isn’t decided after the purposes are decided, then we’ve already lowered our effectiveness.

And yes, I just noted that even recruiting may have different purposes at different times.

I know in my life, planning and standard forms can be idols, “addictions,” crutches, dependencies, comfy little blankets that smother purposes more than I realize.

Just some bold statements to think about, mull over, or even disagree with on a Monday in the middle of the summer!


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