Every time I go to a conference I hear stories about a crazy large radical ministry God is using to reach college students. Ministry leaders get up and share what they do to reach college students and leave everyone around them inspired. The things that God has done on these college campuses is genuinely a miracle! The practices these ministries have are phenomenal! Hoping to be helpful, these large ministries share their practices and strategies with smaller church leaders, but many times the practical steps that large and crazy ministries do are not the steps that the typical church needs to practice.
Led by The Spirit
If we are not careful, we can hear about what other ministries are doing and decide to “copy and paste” their habits and activities into our own ministry, without first sitting and letting the Holy Spirit lead us in our particular context. We want to see a giant movement of God on our campus so we decide to look and act just like other college ministries. We try to duplicate these ministries, but in doing so we have completely misunderstood how they made decisions in the first place. We must remind ourselves that the goal is to be led by the Spirit, not to follow the newest/coolest ideas.
Everything that a college ministries does must be contextualized. There is no one silver bullet for college ministry. What works at the campus of (insert any college here) will not necessarily work on every campus across the state. Yet, we want this to be the case. We would prefer it if we could use a specific guaranteed success formula on every campus. However, there are no silver bullets for college ministry.
We have to do the hard work of sitting with God and listening to Him. We have to learn how to contextualize our ministries. Our goal isn’t to replicate the practices and events of large ministries, but to be Spirit led. In my particular context, I am reminded of this truth time and time again.
Here are a few of the questions that I use to contextualize our church’s college ministry:
- What type of culture is dominant on our college campus?
- Where do students spend the majority of their time?
- What struggles are unique to our college culture?
- Where has God already given my student leaders favor in our community? Where is God already moving in our community?
- What is the spiritual background of the average student at our university?
- What majors are the most prevalent on our campus?
- Are our students more interested in their grades or in building friendships?
- What has worked for us in the past? Why do we think this will or will not be helpful in the future?
- What type of culture does the rest of our church have? How do college students fit into our church’s rhythm of life?
- How has our entire church contextualized it’s practices and actions? How can our college ministry follow this contextualization?
Ministries Need Identity
The easy thing is to do exactly what other college ministries are doing. The easy thing is to “copy and paste” what other people are doing. This takes no creativity. This doesn’t require you to sit and listen to the Holy Spirit as He guides you. This is the easy thing to do. The hard thing is to do your research, to be inspired by what others do, and sit before the Lord and ask Him what direction He wants you to go.
I would rather join a ministry that is Spirit led, than one that is cookie cutter and lacks identity. When you don’t contextualize, you aren’t able to gain identity. Our ministries need identity. This helps our students understand their place and the job they have within our ministries. When we contextualize we are naturally able to discover the identity of our ministries.
I want to be very clear. We need to listen to the practices and habits of our fellow college leaders. We need to learn. We need to grow as leaders. We need to attend college leadership conferences (have you registered for Roundup??). As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. The thing we have to remember is that our goal isn’t to become another ministry. Our goal is to be the unique ministry that God has ordained for us to become. We have to be spirit led and we have to contextualize.
My fellow college leaders, we must do the hard work and let the Lord lead us.