collegiate ministry tensions not to be resolved

The theme of this year’s Catalyst Conference was “The Tension is Good.” And while certainly not every speaker aimed directly for the heart of the theme (because that would have been annoying), it was woven throughout – and capped off by some excellent practical instruction by Andy Stanley.

The crux of that Catalyst finale was the idea that not all tensions should be ultimately resolved. Some tensions are meant only to be managed, left purposely “tensioned” because they represent not good vs. evil or even good vs. best, but good vs. good. Successful ministry will mean doing what wisely needs to be done this time… while leaving “unresolved” the tensions that will continue to instruct our future plans. (I’d encourage you to get the recording if you can.)

In the final gathering of our College Ministers Cohort (an update on how that went is here), a few dozen of us looked at several Catalyst-introduced ideas through the lens of our calling as college ministers. So we often found ourselves recognizing “tensions to manage” in college ministry.

Today, I simply wanted to list the tensions I heard during our time. But what’s important not to miss – indeed, the radical idea hiding within this simple list – is that these particular tensions are not to be resolved (at least in my view). In some way or another, we are each likely to face a give-and-take, back-and-forth, on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand tug for as long as we minister to college students.

Of course, if you disagree – if you feel that there is a definite way to lean for any of these – I’d love to hear about it. And if you have other tensions to add, please do that, too. I’m just listing the ones we talked about that morning, but there are plenty more in the messy practice of campus ministry.

(An extra thanks to Steve Lutz, who explicitly articulated several of these during our time on Saturday.)

1. College ministry involvement AND “significant involvement” in a local church. Applies for both campus-based and church-based ministries. As I noted Saturday, we haven’t done a good job of recognizing what everybody else believes “significant involvement” means… or done much of the hard work of ecclesiology to figure out what we each think it means, either.

2. Being “on mission” AND impacting those already present.

3. Discipling students for their “now” AND discipling for their “later.” Right now, we seem to skew heavily toward the former.

4. Discipling the immature or unchurched AND discipling the churched / mature. Besides evangelistic outreaches, it’s rare to see either group addressed individually. Not that there’s a clear line, either.

5. Students’ “spiritual” / ministry life AND their classroom life. Clearly, college ministry is famous for skewing toward the former.

6. At Christian colleges: Discipling students via college ministry principles AND appreciating how Christian faculty impact them. You think there’s ministry diversity on your campus? There’s probably no setting with more “styles” or different attempts at discipleship than the Christian college campus… And yet some office often is charged with being the “point people” for this impact.

7. Cooperating with other college ministries AND getting our own ministry goals accomplished. While I hear more complaints about ministries skewing toward the latter, it’s very possible to lean too heavily the other way, too…

8. Autonomy of students AND adult / staff direction.

9. Practicing social justice / compassion ministry AND helping students understand these things biblically. If we don’t do the latter, we’re happily creating legalists.


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  1. Pingback: Catalyst and College Ministry: The Tensions are Good (Part 3) | the SENTinel

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