tozer and “fair [college ministry] gifts”

On Sunday, my pastor included a great Tozer quote in his sermon. As I’m liable to do, I looked at his principle through College Ministry Lenses. So for its application to us, I’ve added a few “adjustments” in brackets below:

Any man with fair pulpit [or stage-speaking or small-group teaching] gifts can get on with the average congregation [or college ministry] if he just feeds them and lets them alone. Give them plenty of objective truth and never hint that they are wrong and should be set right and they will be content. On the other hand, the man who preaches truth and applies it to the lives of his hearers will feel the nails and the thorns. He will lead a hard life, but a glorious one. May God raise up many such prophets. The Church [and every college campus] needs them badly. (from Of God and Men)

It’s an easy enough thing to go semester after semester teaching really true things – even really true and really relevant things – but never actually inspire conviction in our hearers. We may load multiple series with the very items our students will scrawl lots of notes about and quote in their Facebook statuses… and leave them excited but convictionless. We may offer intense book studies or proudly announce Our Deep Inductive Bible Studies for small groups… and get lots of positive feedback but little actual life-change in real, actual college students.

Because many of them are Christians, our ministry’s members may grow in wisdom and stature over their four years of school. But it won’t be because we aided them. In fact, we might just nudge them toward legalism or gnosticism or personality-worship in the process of all our fantastic, objective teaching.

“Tough verses,” whole books of the Bible, spiritual gifts, evangelism, eschatology, community, justice, dating wisdom, service, apologetics, and plenty of other topics are incredibly easy to teach in ways that don’t actually impact, that don’t actually call out our students’ needs for mind- and life-adjustment. Or these issues – and even the remotest of topics – can be taught in ways that actually impact.

We are all tempted toward evaluating students’ enjoyment of our teachings as a sure sign of success. Indeed, “Give them plenty of objective truth and never hint that they are wrong and should be set right, and they will be content.”


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  1. Joshua

    Thanks for posting this. This hit my like a brick in the guts. I thought because I was preaching on the tough verses that I was doing good. But the truth is, I wasn’t challenging people to conform to what the word says. I was dancing around the issue of whether the verse actually applied to them or not, and throwing out a dozen leads hoping they’d come to the conclusion on their own.

  2. Thanks for the testimony, Joshua. I really appreciate you sharing that. Sorry for the gut-shot, but don’t blame me, blame Tozer. :)

    I like the way you put it, because I bet there are lots of us who do that very same thing: “throw out a dozen leads hoping they’ll come to the conclusion on their own.” I’ve definitely done the same.

  3. Pingback: another 10 reads for assessing your college ministry « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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