things I learned about everybody when i explored 10 chi alpha ministries

And… we’re back! (A sinus infection took me out a day longer than planned…)

I started writing this blog right before my yearlong road trip to explore college ministry around the United States. But in the official reckoning, that trek was actually Road Trip #7. Six college ministry-exploring trips preceded it, taken while I was still serving within college ministry in a (sometimes) more traditional way. (You can read about those early trips here.) And since the yearlong trip, I’ve actually had the chance to take eight more substantial, college ministry-exploring road trips since (the last, not exactly coincidentally, came right before I started dating my wife).

This week I want to reflect on one trip, Trip #13. That trip actually serves as runner-up to the yearlong exploration, in both length and distance. Chi Alpha on CampusThis was my only “commissioned” trip of the bunch, as I was hired by Chi Alpha Campus Ministries to visit ten of their ministries scattered throughout the country and write articles to help tell Chi Alpha’s national “story.” (Those became a book, Chi Alpha on Campus.)

Instead of flying to the chapters, I requested to make a road trip out of it – enabling me to do a lot more exploring than just XA chapters. But I did get the in-depth low-down on those ten XA locales, all in a pretty brief time period, and with the added benefit of looking for “the story” in a way that was perhaps different than many of my other explorations.

So I thought it might be worth reflecting on what I learned in that unique “bundle” of visits – things that are useful to all of us in the field.

You Can’t Beat Breadth

Because this post is already getting long (by way of breathless intro), I wanted to point out something that’s hard to realize… but bad when we don’t.

When seeking to learn the field of college ministry, I can name few ingredients that matter more than breadth of exposure. It was fascinating to see the many manifestations of Chi Alpha ministry in the sites I visited, and to learn from giant ministries as well as small ones.

It was great to learn from different kinds of leaders, too – and that’s a facet I probably haven’t touched on enough here through the years. But the “wisdom of many counselors” is a beautiful thing in the world of college ministry; learning just from one or two ministries you’ve heard lots about just doesn’t beat learning from a spectrum of fellow college ministers.

It’s likely that my visits to even ten chapters of a single brand of ministry is more exposure than most college ministers have had with ministries inside their own organizations or denominations – let alone looking outside those circles, where we can get stretched all the more. But nobody really seems to push this, so I don’t blame a college ministry for not visiting other sites. Instead, this is my version of “pushing this,” of encouraging collegiate ministers to be avid explorers of others’ college ministries… several of them, as you can.

No ministry is “same enough” in the world of college ministry. Our contexts are too different. There are few – or no – “Best Practices.” Instead, you’re a missionary in an underdeveloped field. So learn from those who have seen a lot, and become someone who explores what you can.

Hopefully I can add a little more “seasoning” in this direction this week, from my visits to ten ministries of a particular brand.

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