On occasional Mondays this year, I’ve been looking back at my book, Reaching the Campus Tribes. College ministry is an awful lot like foreign missions, that book proclaims – and today I look at one of the more interesting similarities.

There’s another aspect to foreign missions that doesn’t get as much press – but it’s worth thinking about when we’re comparing that vocation with the field of College Ministry.

Missionaries serving in certain areas of the world can offer Christians in other nations a “preview,” as it were, of what their societies might look like in the future. And they can offer practical ways to impact this climate for the cause of Christ. (For instance, those serving in Western Europe for the last several decades have wisdom for those whose cultures are sliding toward an increased secularism.)

College Ministry can play this same role – with a much quicker return, in fact – if only other ministers will pay attention. I write about this in my book, calling it “R&D for the Church”:

Many Christian leaders work hard to “know the times” and discern how we can best prepare for future influence. Fortunately, we have highly accessible laboratories to aid in this pursuit. … Both the future of society and the future of Christian ministry are on display each year at thousands of locations around our nation – college campuses.

Well-developed college ministry can truly be “R&D” for the Church.

R&D, shorthand for “research and development,” describes an organization’s investment in its future activities and products. R&D in any industry seeks to gain new understanding, or to better develop the understanding already attained. So organizations’ future effectiveness and significance often depends on R&D.

For Christendom, college ministry is one of the best possible “focus groups” for our future, because there is no better opportunity to gauge where both our faith and the culture are heading. We all recognize that the college campus is on the cutting edge of many aspects of society; it is college ministries that live out Christ’s Kingdom at that cutting edge.

If we make college ministry a priority, we stand to be always at the front of the curve in our ministry efforts. With our support and attention, college ministers will be ready and able to tell us of the battles and beauties ahead for the Church at large, just as international missionaries often inform us of changes approaching from the rest of the world. Further, college ministers can also share ministry methods they have found useful for surfing these new waves.

… Ultimately, the attention Christians give college students and college ministry reflects our determination to be ready for our future – just as a company’s R&D investment helps indicate its preparedness for the days ahead.

But here’s the problem: So far, very few ministries, churches, or Christian leaders seem to recognize this. Very few seem to lean on ministers who are already toiling in fields that are the future. Anyone who serves faithfully, diligently, and as a learner on campus has set themselves up to be on the “cutting edge” of many areas of Christian ministry.

As conferences look for speakers, they should be looking for some college ministers (among others, of course). When publishers think about delving into ministry topics new and old, they shouldn’t forget to ask college ministers. When churches need consultation on a host of areas, or parachurch ministries need to understand the world they’ll face over the next decade, there are numerous collegiate ministers who have much to offer.

So maybe we’ve got to offer it, because they’re not asking.

Yet.

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