responding to the stream

Yesterday’s post considered how well we recognize and connect with the “pulse” of our campuses. Are you noticing the many opportunities within each semester? Are you taking advantage of those opportunities?

A big key here is, of course, knowing your campus well enough to see what’s taking place. But it’s possible to “know the times” and still not be able to respond to the opportunities presented to us… because our ministry structures don’t offer space for changes.

Some ways this works out (in my mind, at least!):

1. Things that have worked well in the past must still be reevaluated for the present. Once a campus ministry is developed, it’s very easy for its leaders to discover effective, efficient practices… and then stick with them month after month or year after year.

Learning from our successes is great, and traditions can be very valuable. But we run the risk of falling into what so annoys us about some churches: Traditionalism. Traditionalism doesn’t only look like stained glass or 1950s methods; traditionalism can look like taking the same mission trip each year or throwing the same fun event during New Student Orientation each August. If you started from scratch, would you really choose to do this method in this way again?

2. If your full calendar is set a year in advance, your ministry probably isn’t responding to the campus like it should be. Do we need to plan mission trips months or years beforehand? Sure! Does God sometimes reveal our message themes and small group topics well in advance? Of course.

But when it comes to your own children, how many of you consistently map out their exact discipleship routes, fun activities, and “teachable moments” a year in advance? If you did, would that be best for them? The same goes for our students (and the students not yet touched by our ministries).

If we’re loving our campuses well, it should be impossible to determine exactly how we’re going to reach those campuses over the course of a school year. Yes, some planning is valuable and important. But if you’re always deciding in July what students will need to learn next March, then you’re probably “doing college ministry” more than you’re reaching college students.

3. Your activities shouldn’t only be determined by those already in your college ministry. Remember, we’re not only responding to our students’ growth and other changes. The whole campus is our mission field, so in some part the whole campus should inform our agenda. More on this in the next post.

4. Requiring flexibility and leaving space for change will force you to know (and respond to) your campus. If you’ve already decided that a large part of your calendar a couple of months (or a couple of weeks) from now will be determined by the needs of the moment… then you’re going to be more attuned to the needs of the moment. That’s just the way it works!

[The follow-up post can be found right here!]

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2 Comments

  1. what up benny, its been a while since I posted, but I wanted you to help clarify.

    When talking about planning in college ministry, (any ministry) you said its usually when someone is “doing college ministry” more than you’re reaching college students. You did use the caveat “probably” but regardless it seems to diminish the role of a sovereign God in the process even if it is 12 months out.

    You asked the question, “Can God sometimes reveal our message themes and small group topics well in advance? “Of Course” was your answer.

    I would say God more than “sometimes” comes through. I bank my faith on this that the sovereign God is always working for my good and those around me. He is the same God working in me today when I am planning series, activities, and trips as much as he is the day before an event, or even while I am preaching. If your point is “setting in stone” the hope is the person who is that meticulous at planning can be more flexible at adjusting than the person who has to figure something out last minute.

    What I hear you saying is close to stepping up to give a sermon and expect the spirit to come up with a sermon on the spot? That might be taking it a little far, but it seems like you are rocking the boat a little yourself :)

    look forward to hearing back from you my man

    -db

  2. I guess I understand what you’re saying, but this post never infers (or comes close to suggesting) that we should be ministering on-the-spot without planning. Personally, I’m very naturally attuned to planning (I’m an INTJ), and I hate the legalism that avoids planning because it’s supposedly not spiritual enough. Nothing about those two posts encouraged planning on-the-spot, so I’d encourage you to check them out again when you can.

    I just stated that a planning a year in advance is probably too long. In fact, planning a year in advance (for college ministry specifically, which is the ONLY ministry I’m addressing here) presents the same argument as planning-on-the-spot: “God will just come through, even though this might be unwise by normal standards.” Both groups make this same argument, while looking down on those on the other end of the spectrum. And I think both groups are wrong.

    My point from yesterday and today is clear: A major way God will show shepherds how to shepherd is by revealing the specific needs of their sheep. This doesn’t question His sovereignty at all but suggests how He often leads disciplers. (By “Can God sometimes reveal…,” I pretty obviously meant “Does He,” not “Does He have the ability to….” But I’ve changed it above, just the same.)

    By being God’s “co-laborers” or “fellow-workers,” He very graciously allows us to be part of the discipleship process: By observing the needs of our students, the “streams” of our campuses, and other details, we discover the methods and themes to use. Not in every case, of course. But in many. And anyone in touch with a campus knows that these are amazing places of near-constant flux and change. Add to that the way our college ministries (should) grow and change over the course of a school year, and there’s just very little way of knowing what God will want to do several months from now.

    So either He shows us our methods blindly (which He’s certainly capable of), or He reveals needs and methods over the course of the discipleship process.

    And I think most college ministers that plan a year in advance are actually doing what I’m suggesting… they’re just doing it way too early. We plan events and themes based on the needs our students have exhibited recently, their felt needs of the present, or the present zeitgeist of the campus. But that means the sheep’s bleatings in July are being used to determine how we do ministry several months later. We recognize the need to “know the times,” but then we stop the clock (and stop new planning) once the school year starts.

    (Sadly, I fear our timing for these decisions is often more for convenience’ sake than anything else. We have lots of reasons for planning early, so we just move forward and ask God to work through it. And happily, He’s really good at “getting straight licks from crooked sticks” – sovereign, indeed.)

    David, I would challenge you to give this a try! For instance, you might reexamine your next planned teaching series. Ask God if this still best serves the needs of this very moment. Bring your student leaders and any adult volunteers into this discussion, too. Ask, If we were planning this month NOW, what would we do?

    And it might also be helpful to ask yourself: Why exactly did I choose the planning length I’ve established? Does it fully accord with the idea of being a shepherd, and being God’s fellow laborer? Does it fully accord with the character of my campus and my ministry? And would I be comfortable if a parent told me they used that same schedule to plan for interacting with their own child and helping them grow?

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