I’ve visited probably 350 college campuses, and I still love it. I make time to explore when I’m in another town; I even sneak away (or bring my wife) when we’re on vacation.
But why does it matter? What good is it for me – and you – to visit college campuses and connect with ministers on those mission fields? I jotted the bulk of these notes down over six years ago, but they’re as true now as they were then.
- We see the broad differences between contexts. If anyone believes they have “the model” for college ministry, they should spend more time on more campuses. Soon enough, we realize that these individual campus tribes have striking differences – whether they’re across the country from each other, across the state, or across the street.
- We are confronted with the need for wisdom. This exposure and humbling should bring us to our knees to beg for God’s specific brilliance for any particular tribe He’s called us to. There are few Best Practices in college ministry, which means there aren’t a whole lot of automatic wisdoms. Our knees are needed.
- We have the opportunity to support our fellow collegiate missionaries. By simply viewing the mission field that another brother or sister serves, I’m honoring the work they do. Further, as I talk with ministers and ask about their work, I let them know that their field is not forgotten. Stanford University matters. Richland College matters. Emporia State matters. So as the opportunity arises, we walk upon the field that others rejoice and weep over.
- We better understand the actual needs. Until you and I have been “on location,” we have a much harder time knowing what is truly needed. Many collegiate ministry “experts” I’ve run into through my years struggle because of this very point – their experience isn’t broad enough to recognize what’s needed by different kinds of ministers on different kinds of campuses. (And they’re all different kinds of campuses – see point #1.)
- Our hearts are stirred. For whatever reason, God has rigged many (or most? or all?) of us to respond to immersion. Being among the campus tribes – even several of those tribes – does something to our hearts. Climb to the top of the bell tower and see the campus before you. Stand among the disoriented pre-freshmen at New Student Orientation. Watch the drama of a Friday night on Fraternity Row. Campus visits call us to the missionary task more deeply than before, even as we return to our own contexts and our own students.
- Our hearts are awed. In the same way, we are hopefully reminded of the awesomeness and beauty of our task. Sometimes it takes a trip to another campus to remember just how wonderful it is to work at such amazing places.
- We get to practice. Finally, visiting campuses gives someone the chance to “practice” for their own campus. As you observe a new campus and (if you have opportunity) connect with ministers, you’re sharpening your skills of observation and exegesis for your own campus. Further, there may be no better way to catalyze your own brainstorming than to learn what’s happening elsewhere. By “discovering” a new campus, you’re aiding your ability to discover your own.