This post, first written quite a while back (and edited here), seems timely for the summer. Hope it encourages.
In Chapter 3 of Reaching the Campus Tribes, I discuss the major difficulties facing American campus ministry. After pointing out the lack of attention college ministry receives from broader Christendom (pages 18 – 27), I turn my attention to another major issue:
The Collegiate Attention Gap is certainly not the only difficulty facing American college ministry. Another concern is the lack of long-term, established college ministries that are making a permanent impact on their mission fields. …
Many college ministries lack longevity. Even though longevity seems to be a major factor in strengthening college ministry impact, many ministries aren’t established long enough for students to see those benefits. Many of the college ministries I encountered during my trip had only been recently planted, had recent leader turnover, or had otherwise been “restarted” in the past few years. A one- to three-year lifespan seems to be the reality for most new college ministry endeavors.
There will certainly be times when leaders are replaced or a college ministry’s vision needs to be recast. But changes – even major changes – don’t have to break a college ministry’s momentum, if the ministry has been “built to last” in the first place. Yet this sort of strategic development appears to be pretty rare.
There’s more to this story, too.
Two items I encountered within the same week or so highlighted something for me.
First, I heard the story of a business that, like dozens of others, is thriving now but had nearly disbanded at one point in its history. Meanwhile, I was talking to a former college minister who made an interesting comment: Christians in his circle, he said, found it strange if someone was still serving college students after a decade.
These two observations highlighted a bigger issue about longevity. In the latter case, I was sad that anyone would see college ministry as a usually-temporary endeavor, a calling that only belongs to the young. Instead, as I told my friend, our field needs far MORE “lifers,” men and women who spend decades in the trenches of campus missions. The former example – of businesses working through difficult years to, over time, emerge as powerfully impactful leaders in their field – is part of the reason we need more lifers.
Yes, I realize that ministry isn’t a “business.” And more importantly, I don’t think that college minister longevity is the same thing as college ministry longevity. Ministries may change leaders occasionally – but successfully keep their vision and progress over time.
But there’s something amazing that can happen when one person pursues the mission at his or her campus over years and years. Like that business I heard about, they have the chance others don’t have to build inroads, develop subtle understandings of their context, and pursue long-range plans (something sadly in short supply within campus ministry).
All that to say… We need you to keep going. Our field will be better for it. Your campus will be better for it. Lots and lots of students will be helped by your years of service. I know it might be tough this year, or next year. It might seem like a good time to stop this ministry, or stop this version of this ministry, or move on to something else. (And yes, there are lots of times God calls us to change a ministry or move on to another; I’m not discounting that. But if you’re not called to leave…)
The point: We need you to keep going. Your longevity matters.