Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tales of a College Ministry Ex-pat Part 3

If you missed my first two posts check out Part 1 and Part 2.

 My three and a half years on staff were some of the hardest of my life. It felt like dying, but I gained so much. I learned quite a bit about myself. I'm an introvert. Who would have thought? Certainly not me. On one hand, I am not shy. I can be loud and crazy. I love being around people. But on the other hand, I love good deep conversation. I can talk your ear off if we have something interesting to talk about, but I'm not good at small talk. I can write more clearly than I speak. I like a crowd but only if I'm not obligated to mingle and small talk with everyone-- like if I'm out shopping at Christmas time. I love a party, but my kind of party consists of about five of my closest friends. Spending time alone re-energizes me.

As a result of my time on staff, I'm over trying to force myself to be the life of the party (unless its a dance party). I don't feel the pressure to meet every single person I don't know in a big social environment. Instead, I prefer to get in one good conversation with someone new. If this is something you can relate to check out this article: 23 Signs You're Secretly An Introvert. It seems like extroverts are the ones who are celebrated in campus ministry, but I'd argue that any good ministry needs both types of people. Extroverts are quick to get out and meet everybody on campus.  Introverts might meet fewer people in the same time span but the people they know they know on a deep level. Extroverts are great for the breadth of the ministry, and introverts are great for the depth of the ministry.

Self motivation is an essential skill to cultivate if you're going to be a competent worker in any field. My time on campus gave me plenty of opportunity to flex my muscles in this area. There's no one to stand over you every second of the day telling you what you should be doing. Aside from staff meetings, we were responsible for filling our calendars and hitting our goals for the week.

 I cannot say enough about the people I met. It was worth the pain and tears to have known the people I know. My Montevallo staff team was like family and all the people in our Birmingham team like extended family. The relationships I formed on campus, all my sweet roommates, and the girls I was able to spend time with left an indelible imprint on my life.  The iron sharpening iron on our team was intense. Matt, Rob and I definitely threw each other into the fire and did some pounding. I won't even tell you about all the girls who befriended me in the hopes of getting to know the two of them (it was ridiculous). Brian Phillips, our area director, was an incredible boss. He did his best to try and understand me and encouraged me to make ministry at Montevallo my own rather than doing everything by the book.

I came on staff feeling like I could win the world for Christ by myself and I left realizing my desperate need for the church. During staff training sessions, we learned about the ministry methods and philosophies we were supposed to model our personal campus ministries after. Staff members are encouraged to start their time on campus going broad by getting to know tons of different students in different areas. Then as we progressed we were supposed to find an area on campus where we connected with a good number of students, and then we'd spend most of our time there. This was our ministry target. We were encouraged to target areas and students who were influencers. Influencers are students who are popular and have a big influence in their social circles.

 I can see how that makes sense from a business perspective, but it was hard for me to reconcile it from a Biblical perspective. I felt like I was always coming up against verses that talk about caring for the orphan, the widow, the needy. On campus this translated itself into carving out time to spend with the lonely, the socially awkward, and the disabled. If we are truly trying to model what the Christian life ought to look like, we HAVE to love these people. These are the people Jesus loves. He could have come as a king, but He came as a baby. Spending time with them may not be as lucrative to our ministry success, but it is not wasted time.

 I also learned that our ministry calls itself the evangelistic arm of the church.  In my mind, this is a pretty hefty claim that comes with some serious implications. To say that one ministry is the evangelistic arm of the church implies that the rest of the church isn't doing evangelism the right way. I must admit that during my time on staff I didn't feel very connected to the church at all. My first two years, we were attending a church in Birmingham, AL which was about 30 miles away. We later transferred to a church that was much closer, but I never felt truly invested in either place. I regret not making more of an effort in this area. We took students to church, but our major push was for attendance at campus meetings-- not church services. I think our ministry and every college ministry needs to seriously consider how they can better help the church and help connect students to the church. Mere church attendance is not enough.

Why is it so important? Well, there is ordinarily no salvation outside of the church (WCF 25.2- the creedal statement of the church our ministry claims to be an arm of), and campus ministers are certainly not ordained to baptize new believers. Besides that, I think that students need a bigger picture of what a faithful Christian life looks like. They tend to idolize their campus staff and think, "Man, they are really knocking it out of the park." Very few working adults outside of the ministry have the time to meet people and share the gospel 24/7. Students need to learn that God is glorified in the regular ordinary tasks of living, working, and taking care of their family. Micah 6:8 says, "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

 It seems to me that campus ministers ought to be serving as liasons between the students and the church: connecting and fostering love between the two. This requires that we are well acquainted with church members and well acquainted with students. If we are not doing this, we are not an arm of the church at all. What does this look like?

- Getting students into the homes of different church members, if invitations are not given, ask
- Connecting church members with students that have similar interests
- Getting students around the children and the elderly

 Model care for all of these groups, and the students will learn to love them as well.  Instead of thinking that the sum of the Christian life is verbally sharing the gospel with others, students need to get their hands dirty serving the body of Christ. John 13:35 says, "By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you love one another."

When we think and talk about ministering to students, we need to take a step back. There is a danger here in saying we are looking after a student's best interests when we are unknowingly looking after our own. I heard staff people talk in frustration about students who were involved in the ministry and how they studied too much, "They are making an idol out of their grades." No! We must never forget that we are dealing with STUDENTS. They have been called to the campus primarily to learn. They are paying for classes, and it glorifies God when they do all that they can to succeed. Helping them to love and serve those other students in their classes, dorms, and activities is a good thing but not when it cuts into their primary focus. They should primarily be focused on their schoolwork. We need bright and creative believers in every field. Do not dull a student's passion for the work they have been called to. It's not their job to hang out with people all the time...its ours.

We also need to think about their best interests when it comes to summer beach projects and the like. I think it's great for a freshman or a sophomore to go down to the beach and work at McDonald's or whatever other odd ball job they can find, live in community with other believers, and learn more about their faith. I don't think that it's good for a junior or senior unless they are planning to go into full-time ministry for the rest of their lives. What juniors and seniors need is job experience in their field: internships. In most fields, you are behind the ball if you graduate without an internship under your belt. This could translate into two different projects. Maybe a beach project for the underclassmen and a city project for the upperclassmen. Or it could be as easy as getting them connected with another believer in your church that could offer them an internship and help mentor them. Let's get creative.

I'm going to have to stop here...I have a few more things I still want to say, so look out for my final post in this series. Enjoy!