As I chat with college ministers and others who are trying to connect with college campuses, the omnipresent assumption seems to be that starting new college ministries is always beneficial.
National ministries want to be on more campuses, local churches want to be on that campus nearby, and present college ministries want to reach additional segments of campus, too, all while various individuals who feel called to college ministries determine – through some means or another – a campus on which to start a brand-new college ministry. Meanwhile, even outside ministries from time to time decide to establish a new collegiate program, develop some sort of collegiate material, or otherwise join the party on campus.
Is there a new college ministry of some sort on your campus this year? Chances are pretty strong that there is – whether you’ve noticed it or not, whether it’s “staffed” or student-directed.
i’m not grumpy
The tone of the paragraphs above may sound a bit more negative than my usual notes, even if they don’t outright suggest that starting new college ministries is a bad thing. I would never suggest that, in fact; I’m hopeful that many more individual college ministries (and other efforts to impact collegians) will start in the next decade. But as I’ve had the chance to view our field of ministry quite broadly, I’ve come to recognize…
...starting new college ministries should be done thoughtfully, methodically… even hesitantly.
If college campuses are truly like tribes of people (and I obviously believe they are), then there is such a thing as oversaturating the campus with ministry efforts, just like we can oversaturate a mission field far, far away.
Not only that, but it’s also very possible to reach a campus badly. And because a campus system is rather “closed” and oh so “local,” the effects may be far worse than if we start a bad church plant.
Do you remember the little speech in Jurassic Park that Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) gave, questioning the basic assumptions behind the park’s creation? It all came down to this dialogue:
John Hammond, Park Director: “Our scientists have done things which nobody has ever done before.”
Dr. Malcolm: “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
[For more from Dr. Malcolm that applies to college ministry, click here.]
I believe individual ministries – including national college ministries, outside organizations, local churches, and present local college ministries – will have more and more ability to and desire to reach campuses. So right now, right here, I want to remind us to always ask if we should. (And once we decide that, asking how is also vital.)
All of us in college ministry recognize the immense power of what we’re doing here, the dramatic nature of this “hinge moment” in people’s lives… all in the context of a cultural and educational hinge for our nation and the world. But I’m afraid that we’re not awed by this opportunity enough, that we assume that “just doing something” is always better than doing nothing.
That’s true with constructing a jigsaw puzzle. It’s less true with constructing a bomb, doing surgery… or planting a college ministry.
so, development matters
So that’s one reason – it’s only one reason, but it’s a big one – that I care about developing our field as a whole. From my bird’s eye view of our field, I run into groups and people all the time that are starting new collegiate ministry efforts. And while many of them are probably strategic and helpful, some might not be. We need a field where everybody feels the weight of what we’re doing – and the necessity of hesitance.
As we start our ministries, publish our ideas, spread our impact, and otherwise reach the campus tribes, no one should have to look back in 10 years and realize they “were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
[Read the follow-up post, with more from Dr. Malcolm, right here.]
I do recognize that the Drexel Dragon is not a dinosaur, but it’s the closest I’ve got. Also: Did you realize that Jurassic Park came out when some of our students were one year old?!