Be Wary of Structures

“By all means, when planting a campus ministry chapter, don’t develop structures too quickly.”

I heard these words at a workshop on building campus ministry groups.  I thought about the worship service, meals, and Bible studies I’ve already put in motion and had an urge to tell him that structures are comfortable.  They give me something to do, a way for others to know that progress is occurring.  Seeing a full schedule of events gives a sense of accomplishment.  Yet, if I’m honest, an uncertainty behind this schedule gnaws at me, affirming truth in the statement.  Do students really want to attend these activities?  Are events helping students engage with God’s story?

In my rush to build a campus ministry through structures, I have left out developing student leaders or even simply encouraging individuals in their unique faith walks.  It seemed like such hard work and just wasn’t happening.  Since I knew how to plan events, that was the direction I headed.  I was eager to ‘write’ the narrative of this work – a campus ministry with a full complement of activities.  As I shared this story, churches and individuals supporting me would see that things were happening.

However, even though there have been some moments of ‘glory’ – students filling two tables for a dinner, a group serving a Christmas meal in the inner city – for the most part I find myself unsure of how this ministry is going.  Yes, I have a schedule I can hand out to people, but there isn’t a growing student support of this work.  It’s not sustainable in the current form of staff-centered planning, minimal advertising, and waiting for a few bites from students.  I thought putting events on the calendar would fill the void of not having a core group of missional students involved.  Where would I even find missional Lutherans?  And grad students, they’re too busy.  And international students, they are in a new country.  Only I could step in and get it done.

But the it that I was prioritizing, structures, has been taking too much time from the it that I should be  encouraging – students growing their relationships with Jesus, more intentionally living within their faith, and actively reaching out to the campus.  I’ve been erecting the walls before the foundation was secure.  All is not lost, though.   Even though students may not be excited about taking part in activities, they may be curious about being part of a movement, this journey with Jesus.  Instead of forcing a structure to make this happen, I will start walking with students more and listening to what they would build and how God is working in them.

As in any good pilgrimage, within the unstructured time there will be great opportunities for transformation.  So it’s time to get a little messy, a little less organized, and not have a fully planned schedule.

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