Posts Tagged With: campus ministry

A New Ministry Journey – Seeking the Shalom of the University

This summer I’m beginning in a new ministry focus.  Here’s a brief view into the journey on which God is leading me.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  -Jeremiah 29:4-7

IMG_3384God is doing a tremendous work on the universities in Greater Cincinnati, a work similar of that to which he calls the exiles in Babylon. While campuses are not places of exile, at least for most people, the call to seek the peace of the place where we are situated is universal.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, through its Graduate and Faculty Ministries, is helping to “build homes and plant gardens” on these campuses by walking alongside graduate students and faculty in their callings to these places, helping them along their journeys as they seek to live out the life of God’s kingdom on campus and to draw others into His peace. These are the people God is using to transform the universities.  Starting July of this year, I will be joining InterVarsity in this mission.

During the past years serving at UC, I’ve seen how God is working on campus, particularly in the lives of graduate students and faculty. As these individuals delve deeply into research across disciplines and teach undergraduates, they are having a significant impact on the university and beyond. Yet, there is also great need for them to see God’s mercy in their lives and seek opportunities to reach out with this same mercy to others. That is, to continue to seek God’s welfare in this place.

In the context of the campus, we are seeking the welfare of places where people are learning about God’s amazing creation, cultivating and sharing a love for beauty, and speaking mercy into the hurts of the world. It’s also a place where God’s shalom – true peace and welfare – is often absent. This lack of peace is seen through the isolation and alienation that many students and faculty experience, the extreme workloads that can result in stress and broken lives, or the divisive interactions among individuals and departments. Over the past months God’s words to Jeremiah have been an encouragement and model for the lives of graduate students and faculty as they yearn see God’s peace on campus.

  • Students have been remembering the ways God has been faithful over the past months and want desire to share this faithfulness with others;
  • Faculty have been praying for the campus and starting to meet for Bible study and prayer.
  • Both students and faculty have been asking what it looks like to be Christ on campus.

As I begin to work full-time with IVCF this summer, my focus is on planting and building communities of graduate students and faculties at UC and NKU – bringing together people who love God, learning, and the campus  To be able to do so, I’m also building a support team to surround this ministry in prayer and ongoing financial support in monthly increments of $25 to $200. There are also opportunities to partners by supplying meals, mentoring, and hosting events. If you would like to learn more about this work, and partnership in it, please contact me at  You can also check out or Cincinnati Case Brochure PDF. Though I’ve been on campus for several years, this change is a new journey in trusting God and serving him on campus.  I’m excited to see where He takes this work.

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Ministry of Prayer, Poetry, and Parable

Plans.  Posters.  Phone calls.   At this time of the school year in campus ministry it seems that I’m merely working to get things done and reach finals week along with the students.  So, these days I’m trying to get people to events and laying foundations for the next academic year.  Days are full, but at the end I look back and wonder what I have been doing.

What’s the point of it all?  Get a few people to a dinner.  Add to the list of students I’ve seen.  And then when things don’t work out I seek to plan my way to a better outcome.  After a while it seems empty, though this was a job that was supposed to be fulfilling.  You know, connecting with students, providing opportunities for them to connect with God’s Word, and helping local congregations to do the same.

In the effort to get a campus ministry up and running I’ve spent more time coordinating plans than working with people – clearly focusing on the area where I am naturally more comfortable.  Any creativity is pushed aside until another day when I have time.  But will I ever have time?  There are so many ways to schedule in this job with no set schedule.  What will appease funders and churches?  Numbers of activities and people.  But this can’t be all?

poetry magnetic piecesNot long ago a few new words broke into my broken ministry paradigm – Prayer, Poetry, Parable.  Eugene Peterson in his book The Contemplative Pastor seeks to redefine the 21st century job description of a pastor.  To return it to a practice of presence, of being, of breaking from the societal norms.  He does this not only through a set of beliefs, but also in a way of living.


  • “Words are the real work of the world – prayer words with God, parable words with men and women.”
  • “Words making truth, not just conveying it: liturgy and story and song and prayer are the work of pastors who are poets.”

These words were like the opening of a new world.  What if I focused more on prayer – that of my own and of students. To take time to listen to God and walk more closely with him in ministry.  Also, as I think of sharing with students it is easy to get into a rut of trying to explain a set of creedal beliefs.  A few get it, but many look back with blank stares.  So learning from the use of parables and poetry is a way to engage students in God’s story.  But it’s more than that, they are practices of creativity that mirror how God interacts with us fully.

From personal experience, I resonate with Peterson’s observation that “People are uncomfortable with mystery (God) and mess (themselves).”  Because of this he talks about helping people see the God’s “grace operating in their live” while paying “attention to the Word of God right here in this locale”.   In addition to being creative, this is a very peopled and placed and view of ministry – centered on God’s Word.

Though I may not be an ordained pastor, working as a campus minister requires similar break in the ordinary routine.  It can be tempting to step onto campus and fall into step.  To rack up activities, market programs, and speak the language of competition.  But is that what campus needs?  Another voice defending their turf – even if that turf is biblical truth.

Maybe what is needed is another type of voice – one that slows down and speaks differently in prayer, poetry, and parable.   This voice would invite others in to pray, engage them in the practice of poetry, and tell and listen to stories in a new way. Most importantly, it would interact with people in their place now – just as God interacts with us – not expecting them to come to one more event, but walking with them in their journey and drawing these individual pilgrims together naturally.


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The Weight of Mid-Terms

It’s mid-term again – more than half way through the fall semester at the University of Cincinnati.  Really.  With a change from quarters to semesters I had a false sense that we had an endless amount of time.  But now the mid-term is upon us and it’s time to reflect on what I have finished, and what is before me.

This semester I have had more contact with individual students.  Whether it’s at some of the planned activities or in one-on-one conversations, there is a longer list of connections than in past years.  Yet, as I look at this list I am also anxious about how to strengthen these relationships – especially mentoring/discipling relationships that help individuals draw closer to Christ.  My MO is often just let come what may and then respond.  But there is also something to be said about planning to meet and study scripture with students.  By this time I had wanted to have 4 small groups going.  Well one is.  But I haven’t done much with the others.  Perhaps a 4 week study to get things going for 2 groups?

I have also put off setting up the registered student organization – and the deadline is November 15.  Okay, so this week we’ll get the frame build and then ask students to fill it in the next week.  Nothing like a deadline.  As part of this task I also want to invite students to lead, even in small ways.  To take on ownership of small parts of the groups.

And then there are the larger events ahead – pumpkin carving, an international meal, giving a paper at the SAMLA, attending new staff training, and then all the Christmas stuff.  It’s piling up.  A month ago I thought I had all the time in the world to finish everything.  Now everything is upon me and time – well it’s quite limited.

It’s difficult to write out of a place of giving and grace when I feel so tied up and always behind.  I want to talk of others, make connections with community, go on pilgrimage, and stop this uber-individualism, but I don’t feel I can.  There’s so much I need to do and for which I am responsible to other people.

Often I don’t get to the new things because the backlog of the old keeps weighing on me.  I have to finish the previous work before getting to the new.  At least that’s what my adult self seems to be saying.  After I finish the work, then I can play.  It seems like I will never get to the new, even if that new is just planning for next semester.

Then I see a sunrise as I drive in to work.  A brilliant red blaze.  This is a new morning.  I can grasp Christ, even if my world doesn’t seem to be falling into place.  Perhaps after seeing, really seeing, enough sunrises, I will turn around and get on with the new and leave behind some of the heavy tasks.  I also know that finals are ahead when all this hurrying will be over for a semester.  There will be time to breathe more freely.  Maybe even to see the life that existed in the midst of mid-terms.


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Occupation Isolation in Campus Ministry

Recently someone shared with me the concept of occupation isolation.  In American society, we usually receive affirmation about our occupational identity outside of ourselves.  This could be through an understood job title like doctor, teacher, pastor; a shared corporate culture such as at Google, University of Cincinnati, or Fidelity; or people seeking out your skills such as a carpenter, a computer specialist, or editor.

However, some jobs just do not fit into categories that people understand or can affirm.  Campus ministry is often one of these jobs – a ministry that takes place between two large institutions – the church and the academy.  One could say this ministry exists in a liminal space on the threshold of the two groups with which it’s associated.

In my case I am serving outside of the usual model in my church body – which is a pastor leading a church or Bible study near campus.  Furthermore, without formal education in ministry, I am not considered a rostered church worker.  Even though a group of churches pays my salary, I don’t fit into any category of minister within the larger church body.  So, I spend a lot of time explaining to people what I do within the church.

On the other hand, I am seeking to connect with the university – especially within the departments where I have experience and/or am serving servants – English departments, graduate school, international students.  In this arena it can even be more difficult to explain my position that exists between the church and the academy.  This recently hit home when a paper of mine was accepted for a literature conference this fall.  I’ll be giving a paper on pilgrimage as used in the novel Little Women and am excited about this opportunity.  However, when I see my name in the midst of other presenters who have university affiliations, I again feel outside of a group.

Except for a few times that students really connect with what I’m doing or supporters send words of encouragement, I feel that I am alone in manufacturing my job.  Yes, hopefully within God’s call, but still rather alone in the eyes of the world.  When someone comes to an event at which I describe how I spend my time in ministry and then asks me what I do for a living, I cringe inside.  I wonder if I should find a job where others know what I’m doing.

Reflecting on the idea of occupation isolation highlights how much our identity within a community matters within our lives.  I like to think I’m above this need, but I’m not.  Wanting to be known and accepted is not necessarily a bad thing, we were made to live with and among other people.  Knowing that isolation is a concern in a job such as campus ministry, I’m now more actively seeking community and ways to define this work – instead of wondering what is wrong with me.

One last thing, there is an element of freedom in having the opportunity to define this ministry outside of normal structures.  In this liminal space there is the possibility of reaching others who are on the margins where God is at work in the places in-between.

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The Serious Matter of Play

Play.  How does it to connect to following Jesus or to graduate school?  Both are serious matters, right?  We don’t want to mess up with either, so play should be the last thing on our minds.  Or should it?

UC Christian Grads started their series of monthly table talks with a conversation on this topic.  Not because I play well and have a lot of wisdom to share, but because I’m pretty bad at it.  I’m often putting off seeing a movie, contacting friends, or just taking time to rest and read because work needs to be finished.  It turns out that several people around the table also admitted to not often including play in their lives – or feeling guilty because of it.

Our jumping off point of discussion was David Naugle’s short essay on “A Serious Theology of Play” along with Marilyn Chandler McIntyre’s chapter on play in the book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies.  Both writers explore how play is a natural part of life.  We see it in God’s act of creation, in the actions of children, the practices of Sabbath and festivals, and even Jesus’ lifestyle.

Throughout the conversation we attempted to define what play is – does it have to be separate from work, does it need to include a purpose?   Or, maybe play is play because there is no end goal?  We also mentioned how play can be and is abused in society as it becomes a cathartic event following pressured work patterns.  Anything is acceptable as long as that steam is let off.  Of course, students mentioned how difficult it is to play in the world of the academy – though some did see part of their work as play.  In the end, everyone affirmed that play and some type of rest is a vital part of life’s rhythm.  Though, because it can be difficult to practice, several students  affirmed that it’s necessity to plan time for play and rest.

Looking back on it, this conversation was its own form of play.  Sitting around, enjoying a meal, and relishing community, it was an evening to rest after a week of work.  It was also a place at which participants could trust one another and throw out ideas without the fear of needing to be right.

As we closed we shared what we were looking forward to this weekend and then read Psalm 98 together – providing yet more images of play within creation.  Without formal prompting many in the group even planned a time of play for the following day – frisbee golf and walking in a local park.

Naugle ends his essay stating

“If God is a God of play, and if human play is, indeed, rooted in divine play, then we, as humans, ought to develop our abilities at play and cultivate a spirit of playfulness. This is both our gift and our responsibility in a often-serious world. Whatever forms of “play” you may pursue—whether it be music, reading, sports, furniture restoration, gardening, photography, or drag racing—do it heartily unto the Lord, as a reflection of a rarely recognized aspect of the divine nature. Your life will be an answer to H. L. Mencken’s stereotypical puritan who worries about people having fun, and your example will testify to the Friedrich Nietzsches of the world that, indeed, there is—and that you know—a God who dances.”

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that UCCG danced that evening, recognizing and sharing in the life of a God who does the same – and it was a real joy.

Where and how do you play?  Is it part of following Christ?


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Praying on the Journey

What does praying look like on the journey?  At various meetings, with students and other campus ministers, I hear the common refrain of needing and wanting to pray more – and of desiring prayer to be more than yet another task to check off that daily list.

Personally, at times I use prayer as a crutch to get through the day.  Or, more often, I forget about it.  I will get around to it when work is done and I have time.  When I talk with students about prayer I point to the ideal in the Bible, in books – but also share my own failings in this area.  That used to be where I left it.

Then last year, in my own desire for more consistent prayer, I asked three graduate students to join me each week for 30 minutes to gather on campus, look at God’s Word, and pray.  Nothing over-planned, just time out of our regular schedules to spend time with God.

I’ll admit that I”m not always into praying when noon on Tuesdays comes around.  I could be finishing a work project or reading.  But the time is set aside, so I go, never knowing what to expect.  I’m surprised at how long this has continued – even through the summer.

This week we spent time looking at Paul’s two verses of greeting to the Ephesians.  We noticed the number of times Jesus Christ was mentioned in this one sentence, the encouragement he gave the Ephesians by calling them faithful, and the extension of God’s grace and peace to this young church.  This grace is that of God.  Yet, through the very act of sending the letter Paul is also expressing a grace.

Wow.  In the midst of UC’s food court God’s Word was coming alive – and this led into prayer as we each longed for God’s grace to work through us in the relationships we have at work, with friends, and with God.

In this group, God’s Word meets us where we are each day, in the midst of life.  We take time to pray for ourselves and the needs we have.  But we also take time to pray outside, to pray for the campus, and even to be quiet.

I’m now wondering how we can increase the space for prayer.  Do we invite more people, start more groups?  Perhaps make prayer a more natural part of gatherings – not something only a ‘qualified’ leader can guide.  Or that only people comfortable praying in a group can do.

What I don’t want to do is turn this into another program, but instead build a community of pray-ers steeped in God’s Word in the world.  It’s time to pray . . .


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A New Year, a New Anxiety

Last year a week after the term began I was anxious because not many new students had attended welcome week activities.  A few here and there, but not the level that brought the possibility of building the groups with new participants.  I was deflated and kept wondering how to draw in people.

My strategic planning hat was on and I have to admit my focus was not so much on Christ or the students, as it was on having large enough groups so that it looked like my work was succeeding.  “I” was definitely too much of the focus.

Now, a year later, I am anxious again.  This time not because of too few students, but because of the many new students that I met last week – and their excitement in ministry. Part of me wants to celebrate and can’t wait to share these attendance numbers with others.  But then I stop.  Too much of me once again.

Prayers for missional students – students who may be interested in seeing God’s mission come to life on campus – and for students looking for community have been going up all summer.  Now it looks like God has provided.  Now what do I do?  In some ways getting students to an initial event is the easy part – as long as the information gets out.  Building relationships and involving them in the community is more difficult.

I’m going to have to step back from seeking to control and find ways to invite students in so that together we are in God’s ministry together.  Over the next weeks I think I’ll be spending time in one-on-one conversations, meeting students at coffee shops, and praying.  No longer can I just stand and observe how an event is going, how people are connecting, and how to do better next time.  I’ve got to go deeper.  It’s time to see where God is going with this.


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Holy Exhaustion

Days of new activities, students, planning can take a toll.  Starting with a midnight pancake breakfast and ending over a week later with a tour of Cincinnati – and with open houses, dinners, and meetings in between – outreaching to students in campus ministry is exhausting.  All I want to do is crawl in bed or curl up with a book.  But I must keep going during these first weeks so that students are aware of the ministry.

This isn’t easy when so many other things are vying for their attention – moving into dorms, finding their way to classes, buying books, wondering how their professors will grade, landing a job, preparing to teach, hanging out with friends.  Why would campus ministry be in the picture at all?  It’s difficult enough to juggle what is required to get that degree.  So, it appears the exhaustion is not only on my part.

Maybe there’s a way to connect with this mutual feeling.  How do we deal with this overload of activity?  Jesus promises that all who labor and are heavy laden will find rest in him (Matthew 11:28).   Exhaustion may bring us to that place where we can’t do anything but rely on God. But what does this look like today?

Campus ministry doesn’t have to be more club to join or responsibility to add to an already full schedule.  (Though, I will admit, many times it can feel like it and it’s tempting to call students to such a practice.)  No, such ministry can provide a way to see everything in our lives as a response to God’s grace.

Instead of fighting with the rest of the world to succeed, we can rest with our identity in Jesus. Whether students gather in small groups to pray, for worship, or even over a meal, together we can encourage one another to step out of the practices that are wearing us down and take up others that bring life.  More importantly, we can together look to the cross, the place where God wiped out everything that separates us from him.

Taking time to gather as Christians on campus doesn’t have to be just one more thing.  No, if done well, it points to the One who puts everything else in perspective and ultimately relieves our exhaustion.

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Don’t Let Your Heart Be Troubled

Moments of this campus ministry journey include intense times of planning and executing activities during which I must be ‘on’ for five or more hours – talking with students, leading discussions, giving tours of the house, helping volunteers.  All this while also seeing how I might help students connect with God’s story.  During these times it’s easy to focus on food and games, trying to keeping everyone happy.  Or, to think about how the event is not living up to my expectations.

At 6:30pm this past Tuesday I was discouraged because there was not a line outside of the door ready for our annual international meal.  Some students were inside, but many of these were returning from last year.  The rush of new students didn’t appear.  I was reluctant to begin and almost wanted to apologize.  I had people bring all this food for what?

Then a handful of new students walked in – we prayed and headed to the kitchen to fill our plates.  Several times throughout the evening students came in the front door.  There may not have been a long line to start, but it turns out that these small forays worked better.  I was able to focus on each group for awhile instead of being overwhelmed with a large mass of students at once.  Hmm . . . maybe my expectations needed some rearranging?

Once I was more comfortable with the number of people, I started to be concerned when I realized that I hadn’t really prepared anything to catalyze community.  We had good food and people, but how would individuals connect?  I tried to keep the conversation going in the dining room.  However, the energy that comes when people start building a community didn’t seem to happen.  Fearful that people would start getting up to leave, I started to panic.  I couldn’t force them to stay and interact.

But there might be something that would help.  So, when people started moving to the front room I pulled out Jenga, the block stacking game.  I didn’t know if it would work, but slowly people gathered, started coming together, and laughing.  Don’t get me wrong – we didn’t end up with life-long friends talking about the deep mysteries of God that evening.  Yet, a sense of community started and hopefully several of these students will continue on their journeys us in the coming weeks.

Both of these moments were reminders of not letting my heart be troubled – John 14:1, 27 – in the liminal moments of this ministry.  Not an easy thing to do, but these words of Jesus to his disciples could be my mantra during the coming year.  Also, as I look to build community within the group I need to remember that it won’t just happen.  On this journey, there will be moments during which I’ll need to facilitate interaction and not just expect it.  God even had his ways – a burning bush, a ladder with angels, questions.

Could get interesting . . .

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(not) connecting with God’s Word

So the vision for Concordia Campus Ministries is connecting with God’s Word in the world.  Great and catchy phrase.  However, even before school began I was ignoring it.  Instead I was connecting with my planning and task lists.  One more call to make, meal host to find, student to contact.  Then there were the rooms to clean, posters to make, and website to set up.  And each day the list grew.  This was my connection to ministry.  Once I completed it, then I could get to the God thing.

As I waited to get responses from e-mails I became quite tense.  Don’t they, doesn’t God know that I need this response to effectively plan.  In reality much of this work related to my my looking good in ministry, having success, being ready.  But what about God?  Two weeks ago as I was worrying about not getting responses back from some students, a visiting scholar I hadn’t seen for months walked in with a couple new to the area.  I wasn’t ready.  But God was.  I almost didn’t know what to do because my mind was so focused on all this other work.  However, I sat down and talked with them – and again realized that the priorities I actually focus on often leave out true connections with God.

I just finished reading Hunter’s Horn by Harriet Arnow.  In this story set in eastern Kentucky during the 1940s, a man focuses so much on catching a fox – the King Devil – that he loses sight of other priorities.  His daughter has only a ragged dress to wear and he has no money to send her to high school.  He sells the family’s meat one winter so he could purchase pedigreed hounds.  I want to yell at this character, pointing out his narrow vision.  Yet, I quickly see how I can get caught in a similar hunt.

At times I am chasing after accolades in ministry – praise from others and numbers at events.  I wonder what people will think and how they will respond.  As I do this I become blinded to opportunities where God is at work.  Looking back all I can do now is ask for forgiveness and repent.  Turn and look to God.  Perhaps these failings – and subsequent turnings – are the real connection with God’s Word.  The real thing I can share with students.  Seeing my worthlessness and turning to the one who is worthy.

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