Monthly Archives: July 2011

Campus Ministry Part 7 – Redefinition of Success

The sixth principle is a redefinition of success.  Far too often numbers become the standard by which we determine a successful ministry.  This is not say that numbers are not important because the Bible tells us differently.  If numbers were unimportant, then the Bible would not have mentioned the number of people converted at Pentecost. According to Acts, after Peter preached, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”[1] If numbers were unimportant, the scriptures would not make a special point of telling them to us.  However, numbers cannot be the sole determiner of what is a successful ministry.  Many churches are full of people but how many of them are truly committed to the cause of Christ and His Gospel.  We all need to be reminded that large numbers in a ministry does not mean that a ministry is doing what it should be doing.  If the deeper life of discipleship is our goal, then we must find a different way for determining whether we have been faithful to our call to call others to discipleship.

Let me suggest another way for us to determine success.  In his book The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons indicates via N.T Wright something of the nature of the church that should help us see more clearly what a successful ministry should look like. Wright states when speaking of the church,

“It’s a place of welcome and laughter, of healing and hope, of friends and family and justice and new life.  It’s where the homeless drop in for a bowl of soup and the elderly stop by for a chat.  It’s where one group is working to help drug addicts and another is campaigning for global justice.  It’s where you’ll find people learning to pray, coming to faith, struggling with temptations, finding new purpose, and getting in touch with a new power to carry that purpose out.  It’s where people bring their own small faith and discover; in getting together with others to worship the one true God, that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”[2]

Nowhere does Wright suggest that a large number of people need to be assembled together for this to occur.  The question for us to answer is not one that asks if we have a hundred or a thousand people showing up.  The questions for us to ask is does our ministry in our particular context look like this.  Working with college students is a bit different than working with an entire congregation so some of these elements are not going to come into play here.  However the principles at work are true in both places.  Do our ministries reflect these elements?  If not, we need to take a hard look at what we do and why we do it.  If we are in it for the numbers then we have made a serious miscalculation about what success means.  If we are in ministry to see lives changed we will be less focused on the size of our gatherings and more interested in whether are gatherings promote welcome, healing, hope, etc.  If we have three hundred people, that’s fine.  Let us celebrate those three hundred people that God has faithfully provided for us. If we have thirty people then terrific.  Let us celebrate those thirty people that God has provided for us with as much vigor and excitement as we celebrate the three hundred.

This is how redefining success might look on your campus.  Campus ministries can be a bit competitive and often have overlap among students.  Instead of feeding into the competition for large numbers of students, campus ministries should find ways to increase partnership between their ministries to more effectively reach out to the larger campus population.  Campus ministers should work to provide events and gatherings that promote authentic community, hope, healing, and redemption.  Our events should look much like Wrights description of the church.  If lives are being changed at these events then success has been had.  Many times gathering are planned to attract large numbers, but offer little in the way of anything meaningful or discipleship oriented.  If a lot of people are gathered in a big room, it doesn’t mean that transformation or disciple making has occurred.  Numbers look good to those who are measuring, but I am increasingly convinced that most people are measuring with the wrong stick.  Therefore, it is important for us to being using the correct stick.  To measure our success based on the depth of faith of those we do have instead of sulking when our numbers don’t match those of other ministries or ministry organizations.

[1] Acts 2:41 NIV 2010

[2] Gabe Lyons The Next Christians Page 162

Campus Ministry Part 6 – Invitation to the Story

The fifth principle is to invite students to join the Christian story.  In his essay entitled “A Story-Formed Community: Reflections on Watership Down” Stanley Hauerwas discusses the importance of narrative guiding the Christian Community.  Hauerwas uses the Watership Down story as a backdrop for his discussion on the importance of knowing and being a part of the Christian narrative to developing disciples.  He states in his conclusion to the essay that,

“Without trying to claim a strong continuity between rabbits and us, I think at least the suggestion that we, no less than rabbits, depend on narratives to guide us has been made.  And this is particularly important to Christians because they also claim their lives are formed by the story of a prince.  Like El-ahrairah, our prince was defenseless against those who would rule the world with violence.  He had a power, however, that the world knew not.  For he insisted that we could form our lives together by trusting in truth, land love to banish the fears that create enmity and discord.  To be sure, we have often been unfaithful to his story, but that is no reason to think it is an unrealistic demand.  Rather, it means we must challenge ourselves to be the kind of community where such a story can be told and manifested by a people formed in accordance with it – for if  you believe that Jesus is the messiah of Israel, then ‘everything else follows, doesn’t it?’”[1]

Huaerwas makes a weighty point.  As followers of Christ we are part of God’s redemptive story.  That story has helped to shape our faith and our witness to others. Our faith communities were built upon the backs of those who came before us and will survive after our contributions to the story because of our commitment to be part of the story, or in other words because of our commitment to discipleship.  For the student who is already committed themselves to the faith story, it is important to remind them of the story that they are a part of to help them see the connection between their faith and the notion that the redemptive story is much bigger than the individual.  In seeing the bigger picture of the Christian narrative it will help them see their place in it more clearly.  For the non-Christian, an invitation to the community established in the Christian narrative will help them clearly see the connection between authentic community and Christ as its author.  Students are crying out for authentic community and in order for that to occur, Jesus must be at its center.

Unfortunately their need for authentic community tends to result in finding acceptance in all of the wrong places and in all the wrong ways.  At West Virginia University, a number of students attempt to find love and acceptance in the party scene instead of in Jesus. This translates into students who party all weekend and have little or no connection to the church community and as a result are not connected to or versed in the Christian narrative. Without that connection, disciplining becomes very difficult.   We must invite students to hear the story and become a part of that story. As faithful disciples, the story must be made manifest in our own lives because for many we are the introduction to the story.  If we are called to make disciples then invitation to the story is essential.  After all, is that not what Jesus did when he called his disciples? He invited them into God’s redemptive story for the Human race. He showed them their place in the narrative and empowered them to continue the story with the Holy Spirit.  As ministers on college campuses it is incumbent upon us to share the Gospel story with students and help them see their place in it.  It is also part of our responsibility to challenge those who are already aware of their place in the story to share that story with others.

Here is how this principle might work itself out on campus.  Challenge students to familiarize themselves with their history.  This can take place in a number of different ways.  Have them research the history of the church they belong to.  Help them to see their connection to the body of Christ by seeing who came before them and laid the groundwork for the community they are connected into. If the students do not belong to a church, help them to further see the bigger story by challenging them to read and study the earlier church fathers.  Provide the students with opportunities to explore their connections to the body of Christ around the world through mission trips and speakers who have been missionaries.  It is important to the discipleship process to figure out how ones gifts, talents, and resources can be put to work for building up the community.  Opportunities to help students explore these areas will be invaluable to them during their college experience but more importantly to their faith development.  All of this means that successfulness will be necessarily harder to measure.  It is difficult to ascertain where someone is at on their journey and it is even more difficult to see where God is at work. If we are interested in connecting people into the story and introduce them to the Gospel and what it means to part of an authentic community then success must be measured in ways that go beyond simple numbers.  This leads me to the final principle.

[1] Stanley Huaerwas The Story Formed Community: Reflections on Watership Down From the Huaerwas Reader edited by John Berkman and Michael Cartwright. Page 198

Campus Ministry Part 5 – Challenging Worldviews

The fourth principle is challenging worldviews.  In their book The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness, Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby remind us of the importance of a Christian Worldview. They state that

“A Christian worldview provides a fundamental orientation to the nature of the world, to our own human nature, and to what is expected of us.  It also ought to help us understand our place in history.”[1]

They go on to explain the implications of a Christian worldview in the university and the value of wrestling with issues of calling, vocation, faithfulness, materialism, and the like.  Opitz and Melleby go on to say that

“The challenge is huge.  If you imagine that more than four years of mind renewal and life transformation will be required, you are absolutely right.  But every Christian must wrestle with these issues and college provides a great setting for the wrestling. “[2]

There are any number of worldviews represented on a campus especially on the larger campuses where there are a number of international students. Whether they realize it or not each student walks onto campus with a particular way of seeing the world.  Often times that worldview is inconsistent or takes them down a path that they will one day look back on and regret.  Because many of the students who are entering their freshman year of college are pre-Christian or are walking away from their faith in the first year, it is essential to challenge their world view. When Jesus made his call to his first disciples along the Sea of Galilee, it looked like this,

“As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.’[3]

Jesus called and the disciples where forever changed.  They left what they had to follow after him.  They were no longer just fisherman.  Their calling, vocation, and relationships were all affected by answering the call to Christ.  This is what makes discipleship so difficult for people.  It means that what they know and what they are comfortable with are all subject to Christ. In following Christ there is the assurance that all must be put aside to follow after Him.  This means a fundamental shift in how we view the world.  For the Christian it means that their worldview must be constantly shaped and reshaped by Jesus.  Our selfish wants and desires must be set aside to follow him.

This is an obstacle for those who aren’t Christian.  It is difficult to understand this kind of love and devotion and so to follow after Christ is foolishness to them.  These barriers must be broken down to help students engage in discipleship.  The Holy Spirit must be at work in their lives for worldview transformation to occur, but we can partner with the Holy Spirit in this process by faithfully asking questions that will show inconsistency and cracks in the current worldview of students.  This is important on a number of different levels.  This is important for the pre-Christians who may come to follow after Jesus.  For this following to occur, the student must see the truth of their condition as mired in sin and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation.  A worldview shift must occur if they are going to recognize this.  Worldview shifts are also important to the faithful follower as well.  Paul reminds us in Romans, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”[4]  Paul was reminding his brothers and sister in Christ that transformation is not a onetime event but a lifelong process of sanctification conforming to Christ, and that this transformation occurs by renewing our mind, or in other words changing how we look at God, ourselves, and the world around us.

Challenging worldview is essential in developing disciples.  This is how it might practically work itself out on a campus.  Events that challenge how people look at the world can be a great tool in challenging students to look at the world around them differently.  One successful event sponsored by the Christian and Missionary Church of Morgantown helped facilitate a change in perspective for some students at West Virginia University.  A missionary was tapped to share his experiences in Cambodia battling the child sex slave trade.  His story coupled with the story of one of his successes named Nu helped challenge those listening with difficult material that many have never dealt with before. Actually experiencing the story of someone who lived through the sex trade and came out of it with their faith in Jesus intact and stronger helped these students to see the world in a different way.  They were challenged by what they heard and decided to be intentional in daily prayer for those like Nu who had to endure the horrific life a child sex slave.

We can solely rely on events like this to challenge worldview but they can be a great tool in conjunction with earning the right in relationships to ask the students difficult questions that help them to see their need for Christ or their need to go deeper in their faith.  A ministry may not have the resources to provide these kinds of opportunities, but I am willing to wager that a creative person can find ways to use the principal in their own particular context to challenge worldviews.  When the worldview is challenged for inconsistencies and holes, the students begin to see their true place in the human story which leads us to my next principle.

[1] Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness Page49

[2] Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness Page 50

[3] Mark 1:16-18 NIV 2010

[4] Romans 12:2 NIV 2010

Campus Ministry Part 4 – Relationship Building

Building upon the second principle of go, the third principle is relationship building. It is not enough just to be where students are at.  The next step is building relationships with the students.  Relationship building is essential to any ministry endeavor.  We all intuitively know this though our lifestyles tend to contradict this.  It is no secret that human beings were created to be in community.  In the second creation account found in Genesis 2:18 it states, “18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”[1] This is the first instance where God found something that was not good in creation.  From very early on we see the necessity of being in community.  We all have that longing to know and be known by others.  This is especially true of college students who are entering into a new phase of life.  Students (as is true of all of us) are looking to make authentic relationship connections.  Nobody wants to feel alone, so upon arrival on campus the search for community begins.  Often, sacrifices are made in order to fit into a particular group.  Sadly, this might mean that ethics and morals are set aside so that relationship connections are preserved.

This third principle might work itself out on you campus in this way. One of the common interests of some of our students is the board game RISK.  After engaging some of these students in conversation about their interests I have been able to organize a regular game of RISK with the students in my office to build relationships with the students.  This time offers us an opportunity to discuss our lives in a non-threatening environment where guards are down because everyone is having fun.  Students have all kinds of different interests and are more than willing to share those interests with you.  As they share their interests they begin to share a part of their lives.  This is how relationships are built.  The shared experiences over common interests allow for the opportunity to develop trust and beings to fulfill the need for meaningful community. When a minister can do this well you earn the right to speak truth into a student’s life that you may not have had if you had not worked to develop the relationship.  If we do not work to achieve this type of community students will seek it out in some other form. For many students, holding on to their friends becomes more important than holding on to their belief system. This is where our next principle comes into play.

[1] From the NIV 2010

Campus Ministry Part 3 – GO

The second principle is for us as campus ministers to go.  Go is pivotal to living out the Great Commission.  For a long time it was assumed that if you opened the church doors people would just walk right on through the doors and be part of the congregation.  Church growth and discipleship creation was as easy as keeping your doors open.  Church attendance was part of the DNA of our culture.  People just showed up.  This isn’t really the case anymore.  It is certainly true that people may show up from time to time without invitation, the majority of folks aren’t just showing up any longer.  The truth is the church was never meant to be stagnant, docile, or stationary.  It was meant to be on the move as is suggested by the word ”go” Matthew 28:18.

It is certainly easier to wait for others to come to us, but Jesus understood that it was necessary to go into the world to make disciples.  This is not just true for churches.  It is also true for campus ministries.  If a campus minister opens the door and expects that students are just going to walk through the doors, that campus minister is going to deal with a lot of disappointment.  A campus minister must go where the students are.  This is going to look different on each campus.  Go to where students are.  On some campuses it might be the student union, or the recreation center.  On other campuses, it might mean spending time at the local coffee shop or book store.  The key element here is that you go and spend time where the students are at.

There is no magic formula or model that will work in all places and at all times.  It is up to each campus minister to evaluate where students are spending their time and decide where they should go to.  Asking God to guide you is indispensable in this process.  Allow Him to reveal where you should be and how you might be most effective with the time you have.  I can’t stress the value of this enough.  If you find that you are spending time with students in a particular place and God is leading you elsewhere, you might find that you are being counterproductive. It is the responsibility of the campus minister to figure out where God is at work and go there.   Ultimately, the rule of thumb is to go where God is leading.

Here is how this might work itself out practically on your campus. One of the places that I found to go and spend time at is our local bookstore.  I was actually surprised at this development when I went on a personal trip to pick up a book. There are a number of students who spend time studying or browsing through books or magazines.  Others just go sip some coffee and chat with friends.  A number of students also work at the bookstore so when I am purchasing a book or am looking for something that I can’t find, I get the opportunity to interact with them as well.  I have had several opportunities to strike up conversations with students about books, calendars, journals, and bad coffee. I stressed a few sentences ago that this is how it might work on your campus.  For you, it may not be a bookstore.  You might find that the cafeteria on campus might work better as a place to spark new relationships.  You may also find that the basketball court or swimming pool might be the best place to interact with students. The point is to go. When you frequent a place, you get to see some of the same folks over and over again and before you know it, you have begun to establish relationships.  This leads us into principle number three.

Building upon the second principle of go, the third principle is relationship building. It is not enough just to be where students are at.  The next step is building relationships with the students.  Relationship building is essential to any ministry endeavor.  We all intuitively know this though our lifestyles tend to contradict this.  It is no secret that human beings were created to be in community.  In the second creation account found in Genesis 2:18 it states, “18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”[1] This is the first instance where God found something that was not good in creation.  From very early on we see the necessity of being in community.  We all have that longing to know and be known by others.  This is especially true of college students who are entering into a new phase of life.  Students (as is true of all of us) are looking to make authentic relationship connections.  Nobody wants to feel alone, so upon arrival on campus the search for community begins.  Often, sacrifices are made in order to fit into a particular group.  Sadly, this might mean that ethics and morals are set aside so that relationship connections are preserved.

[1] From the NIV 2010

Campus Ministry Part 2 – Prayer

The first principle is prayer.  Paul states in Colossians 4:2, Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Prayer was an essential part of Paul’s ministry as we see in book of Acts, and in the letters he authored, we see his commitment to be in prayer for others.  Here are just a few examples of his commitment to prayer:

  Acts 20:36 NIV

“When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.”


  Philippians 1:4 NIV

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy”


  Colossians 4:4 NIV

Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.


In all sorts of different situations and circumstances Paul found it important to be in prayer with


and for others.  In fact he reminds us in his first letter to the church at Thessalonica that we should “pray continually”[1]. As a missionary, Paul understood the value and importance of prayer.  To be a minister on a college campus is a great deal like being a missionary.  A missionary generally goes into a foreign culture to share the Gospel.  In many ways that is what happens in campus ministry.  The university setting is unique in and of itself and each university has its own unique individualized culture.    A campus minister must learn the culture of the campus as any missionary in the mission field would and figure out how best to share the Gospel with those people who are native to that environment.  College ministry is truly a missional endeavor.  The great missionary Paul was committed to prayer and we need to follow in his example of prayer if those of us who work with students are going to have success in disciple making.

If we believe that prayer makes a difference, that it changes things, then Paul’s words to the Thessalonians should be adhered to without abandon.  Martin Luther King Jr. also  reminds us of how we should think about prayer when he said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.”[2] We should pray as often as we can for campuses, students, faculty, staff, and other ministers as if it is as important to us our next breath.  We must pray for the Christian to hold fast to their faith in an arena were temptation is never far away.  Prayers should be said for the non-Christian to find the good news of Jesus Christ.  It should be prayed for that faculty and staff would make decisions that will help affect students in positive ways.  Campus Ministers should pray for one another out of a spirit of cooperation and unity.  After all, it is more important that disciples are made, not that one program or organization has more students than another.  The prayer request list could go on and on, but I think the point is made.  Prayer is essential to campus transformation.  It should always be our first movement in any circumstance.

This is how a commitment to prayer might work itself out on a campus.  On any given campus there is typically a number of campus ministries at work. Organize a weekly prayer meeting between campus ministers.  Be in prayer for all of the things listed above, but because we are specifically addressing discipleship, agree to spend significant time praying for clarity about how God wants to make disciples on that campus.  Pray that God would raise up disciples who would be willing to disciple others.  Pray for discernment about how principles of discipleship might work themselves out on that particular campus.  A meeting like this serves to help show students that as ministers we are much more interested in being united in sharing the Gospel than we are in being separated by organizational lines or theological differences.  It also demonstrates our commitment to prayer as an effective and useful tool in personal and communal transformation. I recognize that not every campus is going to have multiple ministries.  This is where context comes into play.  In a case like this, perhaps you can find other churches or ministers in your community who may not be on the frontlines of campus ministry, but who never the less have a concern for college students and would be willing to partner with you in prayer for them.

[1] 1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV 2010

[2] Martin Luther King. (n.d.). Retrieved December 20, 2010, from Web site:

Campus Ministry

The Mountainlair is the Student Union building...

Image via Wikipedia

This is the start of a series on campus ministry and how we might do it better.  Be forewarned. It is not about copying models.  It is about effective principles of discipleship on the campus. I hope this helps.

Matthew 28: 19 states “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”[1].  This is a simple command given by Jesus before ascends to be at the right hand of the Father.  Yet, one of the disturbing things that I am seeing in my work as a campus minister is less commitment to discipleship and the making of disciples.  In 2010, West Virginia University (WVU), the campus that I work on, was ranked in the annual list by The Princeton Review as the number four party school in the nation.  [2]  West Virginia University has approximately 29,000 students enrolled for the 2010-2011 school year.  Our ministry connects with approximately 150 of those students throughout the school year in our various programs.  The question that I am asking myself as a campus minister is this, how do I facilitate a ministry environment that emphasizes the creation and multiplication of disciples where so many students are less than enthusiastic about faith and spirituality?

In the book UnChristian, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons present their audience with difficult truths.  Their research points toward a disturbing trend among young adults whom they define as Busters and Mosaics in terms of generational identities.  Kinnaman and Lyons have identified that:

“Fewer than one out of ten young adults mention faith as their top priority, despite the fact that the vast majority of Busters and Mosaics attended a church during their high School years. Most young people who were involved in a church as a teenager disengage from the church life and often from Christianity at some point during early adulthood, creating a deficit of young talent, energy, and leadership in many congregations.”[3]

There are a number of factors involved in creating this issue. Part of the responsibility falls on our culture, but our culture is not entirely to blame.  A great deal of responsibility lies at the feet of the church.  There are a number of fingers to point across the board. Blame might be placed on youth ministries who focus on fun and entertainment over giving future young adults a theological framework that will help them live out their faith in college and beyond.  Blame could also be placed on Children’s ministries for the same thing.  Blame could also be placed on the Church for not engaging college students and young adults in a meaningful and significant way.  However, placing blame doesn’t create disciples.  We have a problem and a solution is needed for that problem.  It is my assertion that in order to counteract this trend, churches and campus ministers must be more thoughtful and intentional about creating and sustaining college age and young adult disciples.

It was my initial intention to evaluate the various models of discipleship used by different campus ministry organizations and churches. As I began to have conversations about discipleship with other campus ministers something interesting caught my attention. They were all struggling with discipleship as well.  They themselves were beginning to look beyond the programming models that they have been using and have been evaluating the principles behind those models.  They were struggling with the fast pace of cultural change on the campus. The models of ministry they were using even two or three years ago were outdated.  Communication is a prime example of this rapid cultural change.  Communicating with students has changed immensely with technology.  Students at West Virginia University are less incline to communicate over email like they did a few years ago.  Now, most communication happens over social media sites like Facebook and through text messages on smart phones that can do more than my old laptop.  This will be an issue that continues to evolve as technology evolves.  No one model of communication is going to work for very long because of the rapid changes that occur from year to year as technology changes. So then, I began to realize that models of discipleship are ever changing, however, the principles of discipleship are much more stable.

With this in mind, instead of focusing on models of ministry that might help to create a deeper commitment to discipleship, it is my intention to set out a number of principles that can be applied in different contexts.  Models of ministry might well be effective at one college or university but could fail at others because the contexts are different. However, if a number of principles could be nailed down, those principles could be taken into a number of contexts and applied to a variety of models in order to be able to develop disciples.  Cultures shift and campuses change every year with a new incoming freshman class.  In the ever changing landscape of campus ministry and discipleship development, principles that can be adapted and applied to fit changing contexts are going to be far more valuable than models of ministry that create disciples that will soon be outdated. Unfortunately this leaves us with more work to do.  Instead of taking a program that someone else has done successfully implemented and applying it to our campus, the successful campus minister or church program will look beyond the model and see the principals at work behind the model and apply them while using the gifts and resources that are unique to the new context.  I have created what I think is a solid (but far from exhaustive) list of principles that will be useful in creating and multiplying disciples on a college campus.

[1] From the NIV 2010

[2] Information comes via the Washington Post article by Jenna Johnson on August 2nd 2010

[3] Kinnemon and Lyons, UnChristian Page 23