Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tales of a College Ministry Ex-Pat Part 2

I remember pulling out of my parent's driveway and saying goodbye to my mom the day I was finally going to move into the house I'd be sharing with my staff partner Ginny, two students, and a host of rats and possums (but that's another story for another day). I couldn't wait to start the next chapter of my life. I loved the time with my parents but I was ready to start a life of my own.

 We lived in a small college town where I really didn't know anyone. I was on a staff team with Ginny who had been on staff for three years and was planning to leave at the end of the year. Matt and Rob were my other two very handsome staff partners, and they were rookies like me. If Ginny hadn't been there that first year I wouldn't have survived. She had an established ministry target, and she took me under her wing and helped me make friends on campus and in Birmingham. She was a seasoned veteran and she always reeled in the crazy zeal of the rest of us. Right off, Ginny welcomed me as a friend-- not as competition. I think that's a pretty rare quality to find in another female: especially in a work environment.

Without realizing it, I had a rather glamorous view of what being on staff would be like. I thought it'd be just like being in college without all those pesky classes (I was of course forgetting how much I loved those classes). That first year it was more like being a freshman at a new high school-- except I had to go sit in the cafeteria all day and relive those uncomfortable moments of sitting down with people I didn't know over and over again. Raising support was the perfect training ground for a job like this. I learned to push through the awkwardness day by day by day. Needless to say, I was intimidated, but despite my initial discomfort, I met some amazing students from all over campus. 

I don't know if it was the job or just the fact that we were single, young, and living in a small town with nothing better to do but, Matt, Rob and I worked ALL the time. It was like a badge of honor to come to a morning staff meeting and talk about how late you stayed up the night before and what great spiritual conversations you got into. During those years I learned to operate on very little sleep. Work- life balance was something that took me a long time to get down. I stopped answering phone calls unless it was a student, my boss, or my mom and dad. I was so overwhelmed by the number of relationships in my life that I totally shut down outside of work. All of my close friends from high school and college ended up confronting me at some point during those years for not putting any effort into our friendships, but I honestly didn't have the energy. I'd spend entire weekends alone so I could store up the energy to be around people around the clock during the week. This should have been a huge sign to me, regardless of what the tests said, that I'm an introvert.

My job was to meet students, share my faith as much as possible, and help believers grow in their faith. I made so many mistakes. With the pressure to constantly share your faith comes the danger of throwing up the gospel on people without truly caring about them or really hearing them. As a campus minister you want a good story to tell your staff partners or just want to feel like you're really doing your job. But evangelism is more than just what you say and more than just getting someone to pray a prayer. I look back and I can see the faces of girls that I unloaded on, and in those cases, I regret ever saying anything at all. In some cases I wish I would have been more comfortable with the process and less quick to bring people to a "point of decision". That point of decision moment was more for me than anyone else. I did it so that I could see the progress we were making on campus and again feel like I was doing my job. Part of it was about glory; knowing I had something to do with them becoming a Christian.

  At the same time, there were some amazing moments when girls invited me into their hallowed places and told me things they had never shared with anyone else. There were times when the gospel rang out amidst their pain so clearly, and they believed. There were so many girls from all over campus that I loved; sorority girls, independents, the volleyball team, the soccer team, and art students. I felt like, more than anything, I learned to be a counselor and a listener. Getting to know all of these different students on such a deep level made me question everything...especially our methods.

I've got to stop for tonight but I'll be back again with a third installment in it you'll find a discussion of ministry methods, what I gained and what I'd change. If you missed my first post check out Tales of a College Ministry Ex-Pat Part 1


  1. Loving this, Renee. Honest, perceptive, insightful, and balanced.

    So glad to hear both sides of the story: the tendency to succumb to performance pressure and turn people into projects; but then the amazing moments where you realize God has given you favor with someone who's hurting and they open the door for you to speak truth into their life. I'm afraid many "College Ministry Ex-pats" never get past the former to realize the glory of the latter.

    Also appreciate how you seem to have been able to work through all this with some objectivity - you're not playing the blame game, but honestly articulating where the problem was yours and where it was the ministry culture's. Good stuff.

    Can't wait to hear your take on ministry methods!

    1. Thank you Michael! Its been good for my soul to be able to finally articulate some of these thoughts. I heard you guys are in Portland now and I'm excited to see what the Lord does through your lives and the life of your new church. Good to hear from you brother.

  2. Hanging on to your every word old friend. Kelly T told me about your posts and I am thankful she did.

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    2. I love you Heather! Thank you for the encouragement...I'd love to hear your story and thoughts on this subject too! Mills is a doll!