learning other ministries, top-to-bottom

As you know, I spent a few years traveling the country, sitting down with college ministers of various stripes to hear about their ministries. That generally consisted of hour- or hour-and-a-half-long interviews, filling tablet after tablet of hand-written notes. I asked about everything I could – both the “mundane” and those aspects that seemed unique to a particular ministry.

And as I said a lot back then, I was amazed at the power of one sit-down to push my understanding of college ministry forward.

The last few days, I’ve been reminded of the value of that sort of experience. As I came out (early) for a conference in California, I made time to meet with a few churches out here, this time to ask about their work in outreach. I again asked top-to-bottom sort of questions, getting the best feel I could for how the ministry actually functions. Then I simply “follow the story” as I notice unique aspects or potential “holes.”

This is different from asking questions along two other lines:

  • Asking just for overviews of the ministry, or getting their “elevator pitch” they might tell anybody
  • Asking only about elements that I’m presently interested in, working on, or befuddled about

And just as I experienced time and time again with college ministers, I was confronted with all sorts of differences that will make me think better about my own programs, methods, and approaches. In the things I know we won’t change, I still improve as a thinker. But I also ran into elements that certainly will affect the ways I go forward.

…not because these ministries are necessarily radically more impactful than ours, though they might be. But too often we only seek to really know “famous” ministries. And the funny thing is, we may find fewer ways to assimilate their ideas than we might at another ministry, a ministry that’s knocking it out of the park in their own context but has more similarities to our own.

Sure, there’s some wisdom involved in who you pick to learn about, unless you have the chance to interview dozens or hundreds!

But my point today is that there’s great value in hearing about everything from other college ministries. Even other college ministries on your campus, ones you think you know something about. One or two good “interviews” have the potential to push your thinking further than you’d ever imagine – but only if you really get into the nitty-gritty, asking questions until you’re surprised or intrigued by something!

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