campuses as teeming topsoil

Yesterday, I blogged a bit from Under the Unpredictable Plant. The glory of everyday work was on my mind (it was the topic at church and my young adult small group).

But while I’m hyping that book, I wanted to quote from another section. As with the rest of the book, Peterson explicitly writes to senior pastors… but what he says is clearly applicable for us as campus ministers. (I’ve found the book to be one of the top five most impactful books for me in my understanding of and practice of college ministry.)

Why do pastors [again, read that as “college ministers”] so often treat congregations [or campuses] with the impatience and violence of developers building a shopping mall instead of the patient devotion of a farmer cultivating a field? The shopping mall will be abandoned in disrepair in fifty years; the field will be healthy and productive for another thousand if its mysteries are respected by a skilled farmer.

Pastors are assigned by the church to care for congregations, not exploit them, to gently cultivate parishes that are plantings of the Lord, not brashly develop religious shopping malls.

…[T]he congregation [campus!] is topsoil – seething with energy and organisms that have incredible capacities for assimilating death and participating in resurrection. The only biblical stance is awe. When we see what is before us, really before us, pastors take off their shoes before the shekinah of the congregation.

Every parish is different, even more than each soul is different, for the parish is a compound of souls. What works in that place can not be imposed on this place – this is unique, this place, this people. If I am dismissive of the uniqueness of the parish, or unwilling to acknowledge it, I will impose my routines on it for a few seasons, harvest a few souls, then move on to another parish to try my luck there, and in my belligerent folly I will miss the beauty and holiness and sheer divine life that was all the time there…

Ever wonder why I blabber so much about contextualization in campus ministry?


[Click to ask questions, comment, or see any comments on this post!]


  1. Seth

    There are ways where it’s similar to a difference between art and engineering. The engineer would want to get something to be precise, to nail down it’s function, to tweak whatever design flaws and get it on the road to maximum efficiency. The artist may not be so concerned about the efficiency factor, but looks at what is there- what is in it- and tries to bring out what is seen. Letting a field rest does not seem efficient, but it is healthy.

    This also reminds me of Seth Godin’s Lynchpin book and in part of it he talks about the importance of making your art and shipping it. It’s got to come out of you and it takes a thoughtful interaction to get it out. Strip malls rarely remind me of thoughtful interaction with an environment.

    But strip malls feel like progress more than cultivated fields do.

  2. Good stuff, Seth. Thanks for that. My guess is that in the end we’d want to end up somewhere between function-only engineer and form-only artist, and I like that metaphor (and I like thinking about that spectrum). Thanks!

Leave a Reply