We have officially entered into a new year, and with this new year comes another semester of college ministry. And with a new semester comes a time of planning and preparation. A time for visionaries to get excited about ministry and type A’s to get out their planners and calendars. A season of vision casting and strategy development, adaptation, or implementation.
The larger Church culture (and especially college ministries) have always loved our strategies, pipelines, pathways, and tools. And 2020 was a year that caused all of us to rethink the “how” of ministry. It caused each of us to get out of our comfort zones and try new things. To find a new way of doing ministry that is successful because the “normal” way wasn’t an option.
And one thing that I believe the pandemic has revealed even more to us is our love for methodology. We all can get caught up in the latest strategy for ministry, the latest leadership development, the latest pipeline or pathway, or the latest discipleship tool. And as I reflected on 2020, I recognized my own tendency to run towards what Jeff Vanderstelt calls “Methodolatry”.
Methodolatry is where we put too much of our time, effort, energy, and even hope into our methods of ministry. We want to know what works so we can implement it into our own ministries, usually with good and healthy motive. And I’m not here trying to lobby for anti-methodology. I’m seeking to help all of us (myself included) fight the tendency to put methodology over the influence that our personal lives and walks with Jesus have on our students. Because our methods will change, but the call to reflect Jesus in our lives and ministries never does.
I’m reminded of a couple of discipleship nuggets of wisdom when reflecting on this topic:
“You reproduce what you honor and value.”
“More is caught than taught.”
The truth that these statements are revealing is this: you will multiply what you live out in front of your students, whether it be good or bad.
Now, I know this is something you’ve all probably heard a million times, but in a church culture that eats methodology for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I want to be a Churchman and Collegiate leader whose first and foremost longing is to as Paul states in Philippians, “live a life worthy of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:27). And to live that life in front of my students, for them to catch and multiply to those they will influence.
So, I echo the haunting question of Bryant Wright, “What kind of shadow do you cast”? Because all of us are casting a shadow with our lives. And these shadows cast an apologetic to whoever falls under them for something. This question reveals the tremendous impact that we have as collegiate ministers. The position we have has an incredible opportunity for influencing the lives of those whom the Lord has graciously entrusted to us.
Now, all of us probably have some sort of mission or vision statement that marks what we want to see happen in our students, or what we want to develop and send out from our ministries. And with that probably comes some core values that we have to create culture. And maybe even some specific language we use to catalyze that culture.
And from that statement and values comes our methodology. It impacts what we teach, the words we say, how we disciple, how we equip, and how we “do” ministry. Maybe we do some sort of series on our values as a ministry. Maybe we do a training on a specific tool or doctrine that encompasses our vision. All are great things, but again I ask:
What kind of shadow do you cast?
There’s a multitude of questions that can come from this first question. A myriad of implications as well. But all I have for you are some questions to ponder yourself and the implications they play in the discipleship of your students because believe it or not, your inner life is impacting those under your leadership just as much, if not more than your strategies and tools.
I. Does your shadow cast an attitude of grace and mercy?
College students today already carry an enormous weight from sin done to them or by them. Do students feel like you’re a person who eagerly invites them to come to you with their struggles and sin? Do you live out what you say you believe about Jesus, that He was a friend of sinners? That Jesus isn’t repulsed by their sin, but eagerly enters into the messes of their lives with grace, compassion, and mercy? What an opportunity we have to emulate our King.
II. Does your shadow cast a deep humility in relationships?
How counter-cultural this is in our ever-increasing individualistic world. Cultivating an others-centeredness in our relationships might be the most difficult and yet lead to the greatest impact among our students. This will allow us to fail in front of our students. This will help students catch an attitude of servant leadership and only help your ministry embody a welcoming culture.
III. Does your shadow cast a deep trust in and love for truth?
This is a main thing for me because of our current culture. We live in an age that is skeptical of pretty much all truth claims. In a world that is “fluid” in its belief regarding authority and truth, I want to live out a deep trust in the Bible as the all-sufficient, authoritative, transformative Word of God to us. The world is only going further and further away from this reality, we must be leaders who are first and foremost students of scripture and the truth it sufficiently claims.
IV. Does your shadow cast a posture of patience?
We live in a culture of instant gratification that doesn’t really know how to wait. I am a person who always wants quick results or quick entertainment. But that couldn’t be further from the heart of Jesus. We all can become impatient with the slowness of discipleship and ministry in general, but how counter-cultural it would be to foster a posture of patience in our students? We must be leaders who embody patience and long-suffering in our lives. That our waiting is never meaningless, and our God grows us most in the midst of our waiting.
V. Does your shadow cast a heart of faithfulness?
One of my favorite attributes of God is His steadfastness. Over and over scripture communicates a God who is faithful to His people and purposes. And a fruit of knowing this God should be a heart of faithfulness in us. I want one characteristic to drive my life, marriage, parenting, and ministry – faithfulness. Our students grew up in homes and maybe even families that lacked this trait. We get a chance to show them what genuine faithfulness and commitment looks like.
VI. Does your shadow cast a heart of compassion for the lost and commitment to God’s mission?
You can tell your students statistics all day about the brokenness of the world or the number of unreached people groups, but if you’re not living out compassion driven evangelism in front of them, along with inviting them into it, then they’re not going to catch a vision for missions and reaching the lost. Jesus’ disciples saw Jesus weep for the lost, have compassion on the sheep without their shepherd. We too must have our students see us broken over the lost world, yet eager to participate in God’s global mission.
Now, you can come up with your own responses and implications to the first question. But at the end of the day, we should be a people who cast a large shadow for Jesus in a world that loves to cast a big shadow of the self, pleasure, and sin. Because in an ever-changing culture with ever-changing strategy and methodology, our commitment to emulate Jesus as His follows is the same.
I believe if we’re all seeking to embody these inner-life qualities in our lives, they only enhance and catalyze the methods we have in place. So, for the final time I ask:
What kind of shadow do you cast?