Inspiration and connections with college ministry came from some unexpected sources yesterday, as I’m at the unique Acton University gathering in Grand Rapids. So here are a couple of notes, a little heady – but that’s this week’s environment.

1. There’s something – maybe plenty – for the field of college ministry to glean from the growing understanding of how we best serve the poor. Hearing speakers expound some basic helping-without-hurting principles today didn’t sound so different from the comparisons I’ve made between good campus ministry and good international missions: Contextualize based on the neighborhood; don’t just focus on the “darkness of the city” or how you’re “bringing Jesus to it”; proclaim good news but do a lot of “good works” alongside as you integrate with the neighborhood.

But that makes me wonder what other connections might be made:

  • How can we serve campuses and students by starting with their “assets” instead of their “needs”? (If you need notes on this, just Google “Asset Based Community Development.”)
  • Are there ways in which some college ministries focus too much on “relief,” rather than “development”? How does this apply to spiritual impact? Does it apply?
  • How can we help other Christians (our overseers and our supporters, especially) understand the long-term nature of our work? One speaker (Justin Beene) emphasized the need for community development workers to plan on working for fifteen years when they enter a neighborhood. That’s how long it could very possibly take for their community development efforts to be “worth it” – to their ministry but also to the neighborhood. Are college ministers willing to take a similar “long view,” and are those who are sending them to the campus willing, too?

2. The extremely academic tilt of this conference has been exciting. It’s not what I’d want every conference to be, but it’s reminded me that this sort of scholastic approach should have a place in college ministry, too… and yet in an under-served field, this aspect is quite neglected, too.