this-is-missions monday: contextualization and its practical effects

This past week, I got to speak on College Ministry as Missions for a statewide group representing a truly broad spectrum of Christian college ministry. But my talk was titled, “College Ministry as Missions (Practically Speaking),” with the goal of jumping from the theoretical themes of “collegiate missiology” to practical ways to live those out on campus.

In Reaching the Campus Tribes, page 43 and 44, I discuss the theory of contextualization:

The contextual and cultural differences between college campuses should always affect how we present Christ and seek to establish ministry. We should reach them uniquely, much like we would reach various international tribes. That doesn’t mean there aren’t similarities between some campus tribes, just as we find parallels between foreign mission fields; those comparisons allow for shared wisdom. …

The key principle here is that each campus should be approached and studied in ways that acknowledge its individuality. Instead of demanding students fit the ministry tactics we prefer to use (or the methods we are already familiar with), we must reach them in ways specific to their tribe. Understanding college ministry as missions means that contextualization is key.

Of course, there are plenty of practical steps that proceed from a recognition that context is key in how we practice collegiate ministry. It affects everything we do (or should), including a lot of how we start ministries. I’ve already written about that in my “This is Missions Monday” series, right here.

But another practical facet of the Context issue – an aspect I addressed this week – is how we as college ministers connect to that context on a day-to-day basis. Because our campuses are unique places, one-of-a-kind ecosystems of education and culture and energy, fantastic places worth discovering and rediscovering, our reaction to them should be profound.

As I asked the gathered campus ministers this week…

Are you loving your context like a missionary would?

Have you gotten to know it – deeply, thoroughly, both academically and experientially?

And as you’ve come to know your campus through the months or years, have you come to love your campus – becoming a fan, investing your life, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep?

I’ll address more on this issue this week. But how are you doing so far? Are you doing this thing like a missionary?


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