I’ve had three conversations with college ministers in the last week that, in some way or another, touched on a single theme: The “Best Practice” of what I’ll call “contextual deference.” This is the recognition that sometimes our work isn’t needed on a particular campus, because of the presence of other ministries there already.

  • The collegiate missions mobilizer told me they’d looked at Texas A&M, but realized their work might not be needed in a place with plenty of mobilization already.
  • My friend who’s thinking about our field as a whole shared his burden for reaching “unreached” campuses – a perfect application, once again, of international missions terminology to our field.
  • The regional supervisor of Cru clearly DIDN’T feel that having a Destino movement (their Latino / Hispanic chapter) on a campus necessarily meant they should also plant a Cru movement on that campus – especially if other ministries are already there.

Within big national organizations and even within big individual churches, this sort of campus deference doesn’t seem to be the norm. But I know international missions organizations have had to work through this issue, and we will, too.

Contextual deference doesn’t mean we never minister where others are ministering. There’s room for multiple campus ministries. But it does mean we take into consideration what God’s already doing before (and while) we plant a collegiate ministry. We avoid any sort of “manifest destiny” approach, where we assume every campus, every local campus, or even “that one big campus in town” needs our presence.

It may not.

And what God’s already doing there may be best supported by not joining in.