As I mentioned Friday, the topic of intra-campus unity came up in my visits with college ministers in the United Kingdom. But that’s not a huge surprise; the topic comes up plenty on this side of the Atlantic, too. So I wanted to repost (with some edits) what is probably my most pointed entry on the topic. Hope it’s valuable… especially if you’re willing to try out last week’s Fridea!
Sadly, there seem to be some real misunderstandings on this topic within the field of collegiate ministry. And it’s one of those areas in which – seemingly – it helps to have a wide-angle lens. Up-close, it’s easy to theorize and philosophize. But look at enough ministries, and one starts to see that intentions and hopes don’t always equal success in this area.
In all my trips, I’ve heard of more cooperation / unity efforts that seem to have failed than those that have gone well. In the former case, sometimes ministries (or at least their ministers) may end up less unified than before the “unity attempt” took place! That’s no good!
Please know: I recognize this is a touchy issue. But I want to keep sharing my “wide-angle lens” point of view on this one, because there are a lot of theories out there. And because unity – unity that actually works – is important!
thoughts for college ministers hoping to build unity… wisely
1. Go slowly. Far better to remain where you are than to be even more disunified in 2 years. There’s no biblical mandate for exactly HOW unity has to look on your campus. So you’ll want to take the time to pray and think things through before launching an initiative (even an initiative that seems “simple”).
2. Understand. Many longtime college ministers have lived through (or at least heard about) cooperative attempts that wasted time (at best) or ended in disaster (at worst). So it’s understandable for college ministers on your campus to be skeptical! They may not be anti-unity; they may simply have been burned before (or know someone who was).
3. Occasional or short-term activities seem to work best. A month-long project may be better than some permanent agreement, especially at first. Monthly prayer meetings may work better than weekly ones. And so on.
4. Remember that everybody has their own agenda – and they should. Your fellow campus ministers have been hired (by an organization or by supporters) to accomplish certain aims and/or do certain things. Structuring unity as a confederation rather than as an “elder board” or a democracy seems to foster unity best.
5. Activities need a leader …for each project, each monthly prayer gathering, each campus-wide event. It’s far easier to unify around a common project/mission under a designated point person – that’s why Veritas Forum and similar outsider groups can help produce unity so well. Of course, some projects may have different leaders for different parts of the project. But the main point is that “real unity” doesn’t have to mean that nobody takes the lead.
6. Sometimes true unity doesn’t look like it. I’ve shared with several before: One of the coolest unity ideas I’ve ever heard are the ministries that have decided to adjust their schedules to hold Large Group on the same night as the other campus ministries! (I’ve heard about this on multiple campuses, actually.) To the untrained eye (like the students’!), this decision looks like competition and disunity. But those college ministries made this move to help their students choose a ministry and go deep in it. It’s actually a unified attempt to shepherd their students, even though every ministry’s weekly attendance will probably go down. That’s some amazing cooperation!
There may be other unity attempts that look “weird,” too. But we shouldn’t let our methodology be driven by students or by others who don’t understand the full picture.
7. Relationship trumps. In places where there is distinct unity (even between a couple of groups), it doesn’t usually seem to be because it was “master planned.” It started from people being buddies! A $3 breakfast or sharing a ride to a conference might go much further than a planned meet-and-greet will!
One more thing…
Building unity among college ministries is HIGHLY contextual – which means how unity works out on one campus will be very different from how we should approach it on another campus. Personally, I would prefer following some “step-by-step approach” or some other “rule” (I like my rules).
And if I felt like the Bible demanded some certain methodology, I’d push for it regardless of the pragmatism. But since I don’t think it does, then pragmatism is part of wisdom here, and observing what has worked (and what has hurt) is important.