So far this week I’ve typed up three areas of spiritual growth I wish I’d gained during college. Today, I turn to an aspect of college ministry methodology – an area that wasn’t likely to come up, but that would have helped me if it had.
And it’s an area that many haven’t learned yet, both inside and outside the field of collegiate ministry.
I graduated early from Texas A&M because I believed God was calling me to impact college students out in Abilene, a small city in West Texas that boasts three Christian colleges, among other schools.
I had come (as I discussed on Monday) from the strongest collegiate ministry culture in the U.S. Ours was a campus where, among other things, commitments from Christian students to large ministry undertakings weren’t uncommon. It was simply normal to offer dozens of hours a month to help impact the lives of students around us, and we were held to that commitment by both our leaders and the norms.
When I got to Abilene, I expected to be able to call student leaders there to similar commitments. After all, I knew students could rise to great challenges and be held to high standards; I’d seen it.
And Abilene students could, too. But those leaders I was able to gather still weren’t quite accustomed to this, so I (and they) went through some major growing pains.
That wasn’t the only problem with not realizing that every campus is a whole new world. For instance, I had to come to realize that while freshman ministry worked great at Texas A&M, a huge school that actually plays up the pride in each individual class, students at much smaller campuses didn’t necessarily think about their “freshman status” after a semester or so. Weekly chapels, smaller campuses, different sorts of struggles, less – or a different sort of – school pride, a sense that “everybody’s Christian,” fewer campus-based ministries but a large representation of church-based ones… I could keep writing. I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve forgotten.
The point is, reaching Abilene students wasn’t the same as reaching College Station students. Eventually, I got that. And it stuck with me, all the way until I took a giant road trip that identified this truth 181 times over.
Denominational leaders, church leaders, and, yes, college ministers themselves have to recognize the wild, unpredictable diversity of college campuses. The unpredictability is a major point – it means until you arrive on a campus and “exegete” that campus, you can’t assume that your “brand” of ministry is best… or even that your approach or “pillars” or “non-negotiable” are actually needed from a new college ministry. A recognition of the uniqueness of each campus provides us not only with humility but with a felt need to explore, exegete, and contextualize.