Posts Tagged With: campus ministry

Leaving the ‘snare of preparation’

It’s time again – this time four weeks earlier than the past three years.  It’s time to get ready for a new semester of campus ministry at UC.  Days are filled with planning events, preparing publicity, and hand wringing.  If I can just get one more thing done, then I can get to the really important work of preparing Bible studies, catching up with students, connecting with God’s Word in the world.

After four years of this, I wonder why this preparation is so dry and such a trial.  Something is not right.  I talk about story and pilgrimage and I imagine it should be so easy to bring these ideas into ministry.  Sometimes it happens.  But most of the time I seem to be waiting for the right time to arrive so that I can do it.  Once everything else is in order, once enough posters are hung and students are involved in activities. To some extent preparation is necessary for pilgrimage – before heading out, good medieval pilgrims got their household in order so that it would work well while they were gone and would be ready in case of a person’s death.

However, pilgrimage is really focused on the journey.  If one stays in preparation mode, the pilgrimage does not begin.  Jane Addams uses Tolstoy’s evocative phrase, the “snare of preparation”, to describe her experience and frustration with the practice of taking so much time to prepare that one never really lives life.  Thus, she determines to get going “however ill-prepared” she might be.

Similarly, the journey to a story starts in the midst of everything else.  Within the ministry I’m involved with at UC there is a story we’re heading towards – students connecting to God’s Word in the world and being formed by God, as well as the university during these years of their lives.  Will this be a living ministry or one of preparing?  The preparation will probably never be complete.  In reality I’m already in the midst of the journey to some extent.  The question should be how am I living and connecting with students in the liminal places – those places in between where we came from and where we are going – in the midst of this ministry.

Often I am waiting and not seeing myself in the story in front of me.  Instead, I want to be in exotic places – a cathedral in Assisi or the moors of Haworth and talk about people’s experiences in these places.  Maybe someday I’ll lead groups to these and other sites.  However, now I’m leading another type of group and in a different place.  Not all students are heading to the same story, except perhaps a degree or finished research of some type.  Some are aware of God’s story, others aren’t.  Some are ready to see how God’s Word relates to the world, others are leaving it behind.  Where does ministry, where does God fit into their lives?  What about connecting with God’s Word in the midst of it all?  How is that possible?  I wish I had more answers than I do.  I could continue to wait for plans to come together, but that’s not how people work.  Where are the students now?  Where are we going?  Though I’ve reflected on these questions in my head, and at time with others, nothing has ever really come together and I feel that I continue to just pass the time in preparation.

So, it’s time to take a different path of reflection in connecting with God’s Word and exploring how to integrate pilgrimage and ministry.  It’s time to stop preparing and to get going.  To process this work within community, I will take time to share my field notes on this blog.  Over the next year this will be a place to return and explore unfinished work, questions, and even celebrate moments of connection.  It will be messy.  I won’t have time to outline or edit.  I’ll even be ill-prepared.  Even so, I will finally be awash in content moving towards a story – connecting with God’s Word in the world of the campus.

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Ministry Outside the Boundaries

Lately I feel myself being frustrated with how ministry is not following the plans I have laid.  It is not fitting into the map I or others have created.  University advertising during last year’s Welcome Week at UC seemed to be nearly absent and new students didn’t show up at our planned events.  Now, a year later, I’m struggling to address this lapse and figure out ways to bring many more new students in this year.  The offerings at the church I attend won’t cover a full salary for a pastor – or at least the salary suggested by the denomination.  So once again the congregation starts the same old dance of focusing on raising money for this salary in lieu of other activities.

But are the real problems in either of these situations the ones I and others are seeing?  Are the goals we set those that should have our focus?  In the case of the campus ministry – a large influx of students at the beginning of the year – and for the church – a full-time minister paid at a level a denomination recommends.   At some level we believe that if only we can get to this point then things will be all right.  We’ll have it under control.

That’s the problem.  We’ll have it under control.  These goals are human-based.  But I’m nearly positive that God does not work that way.  Instead, look at Gideon in chapter seven of Judges.  He had a large army, Israel would handily defeat the Midianites 32,000 men.  However, God kept paring it down until only 300 men were left.  This would be God’s battle – and Gideon’s trust would have to be in God.  Even though it was difficult, this time the battle was won.  But what about the prophets who continue to trust God even when battles weren’t won?  Jeremiah lived in the midst of Jerusalem’s fall.  There was no victory here, no happy ending reached.  But he continued to proclaim God’s word.  This is a very different way of engaging in the world and with God than I am naturally inclined to do.

In my own battles, I’m finding myself longing for the final story and uncomfortable with the transitional moments.  I look for shortcuts to get to the end I envision – the thriving campus ministry and the fully salaried pastor.  Instead of quickly jumping to the end, maybe God is forcing me to work in the uncomfortable space in-between – a place where my trust must rest in him and not in results.  On campus, a single advertisement can’t replace the more difficult, yet transformational work of stepping out and challenging students on their discipleship journey or building relationships within the administration.  At church, maybe the focus should not be on having a budget that pays staff to do ministry, but a budget that supports more ministry by the members.  Neither of these new ways are comfortable or even always measurable.  But one thing, it does leave room for God to work, to change up plans and hearts.

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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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Time Out

Why do we think that we are so important that life won’t go on without us at the helm?  Or maybe it’s just me.  It happens every academic quarter.  I intend to take time to care for myself, to go on retreat, to find space for deeper reflection, but the calendar fills up quickly.  Someone asks for a meeting – I see the day is clear so I put it on the schedule.  Students come up with an idea to visit a museum and I fill in another previously free day.  The opportunity to attend a training workshop arises – and yes, what had been an empty calendar is now completely full.  On the surface it looks good.  I’m getting work done and make needed connections with people.  But it’s not long before this gets out of hand.  My days have little time during which I can reflect as I go from task to task.

Right now I’m tired.  My body and head are weary.  Yet I want to do more, especially connect with people and develop sustainable ministries.  Will a full calendar really make that happen?   I fear having blank spaces.  If one activity doesn’t work out, then I have something to fall back on the next day.  A worship time may not draw many students one week, but a Bible study might, or a dinner, or a field trip.  Eventually it’s numbers that I’m looking at instead of relationships with people. With such a frenetic pace, it’s difficult to engage more deeply in any of the activities.

As I hurry between scheduled events in this full calendar, God is more of a talisman – something that I look to to encourage me in my rush.  Instead, I would rather that he be the grid and the cells of the calendar – providing the very essence of life in a marvelous world of creation.  The end result may not efficient or well planned, but it would be more real and relating.  In such a structure I can step back, wait, talk to students about their lives, encourage them in their callings, and allow God to work.  This is much different than rushing to build a structured week of activities that I hope will attract students.  Though out of the deeper conversations a structure may come.  As it does it will be done within a community instead of the need of one person to be in control.

It is time to allow for this space in my calendar.  To rest and live between events.  To leave one weekend a month unplanned, to not schedule activities back-to-back, to make time to think and plan.  Trusting not so much in my ability to schedule, but in God’s very real presence in the stories that are between the events and the divine appointments throughout a day.

Categories: Campus Ministry, Journey Living | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Accidental Disciple-maker

“Make disciples of all nations” is the overarching mission that Jesus has given to his followers.  As a campus minister this is one of my core goals, but it’s not happening.

These past years in campus ministry I’ve been frustrated at not having started up a lasting and sustainable small group in which students are growing in discipleship.  Student leaders have seemed non-existent.  And discipling students? Forget about it.  I pictured myself meeting with students and having intense conversations about the Bible and spiritual disciplines. I set up meetings over coffee, start asking questions about their lives, and never get to connecting their stories with the Bible or their faith journeys.  I tell myself that I’m not an expert in discipleship and really haven’t done the greatest job in my own life.  So, I’ve been holding back from going deeper until I have a foundation of a full discipleship curriculum.  Then, I reason, I can make disciples.

At one of these coffee conversations, a student and I were talking about the need many graduate students have for support during their grad school careers – especially as their individual research and writing begins.  She described how developing an original proposal, conducting the research, and then writing it up is daunting.  Somewhere during this conversation I suggested starting a support group.  I didn’t know what it would look like, but both of us thought it was doable and needed.

Over the past year we’ve continued to meet to discuss our vision for the group and her journey through qualifying exams.  In these conversations, I don’t feel that I’m forcing an  agenda or need to spout out a list of spiritual disciplines.  Instead, we are two individual followers of Christ listening to one another and dreaming up ways to reach out on campus – be it through a writing group.  Writing is the center of this group – from how to begin the process to receiving comments from fellow students.  We will write and support – and include prayer.

Reflecting on these conversations it hit me – this is discipleship.  It happened without my planning for it.  It’s walking with another in their faith journey – encouraging and challenging at times.  It’s also developing a group that is based on the interests of students.  Where I can help is bringing in some questions that help students think about faith in relation to their lives, specifically their research.  It doesn’t have to be a loaded curriculum of the ten must-have discipleship practices.  Instead it meets individual students in their stories.

This is a conversation I would like to repeat.  Spending time listening to students’ dreams, their stories, and finding ways together to grow in faith and reach out on campus.  When I come with an agenda, it seems forced and rarely turns out.  But when I question and listen, God does work.  Now to open my eyes to more of these divine accidents.

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Story of a Pilgrim

I have been on a journey through life, punctuated by intense sojourns to places of significant stories.  These moments put faith and life into relief, helping me to grasp that which is often hidden deeply within.  Over the past twenty years I have spent time exploring how faith weaves into life, through involvement in a small Lutheran church, participation with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, as well as through job stints as an economic analyst, strategic planner at a zoo’s education department, site director of an AmeriCorps program, and now a campus minister.  Each of these opportunities helped me to see through different perspectives how the Word of God infiltrates the world today.  During this same time I was also exploring another type of journey, that of literary pilgrimage – a journey to a place of literary significance.  These interactions of place, literature, and pilgrim provided additional insight into literature, as well as provided a journey into faith – whether the site was Walden Pond; Assisi, Italy; or Haworth, England.

Now I’m taking these works beyond my comfortable confines and sharing them with others.  Through posting words on this blog, engaging with students in campus ministry, and talking with people throughout the community, I want to learn more about this practice of sacred journey.  What stories do we carry with us?  How do specific places and journeys change our lives?  How is it possible to redeem pilgrimage – walk those paths of stories that can help us see our stories more clearly within God’s larger narrative?

At least once a week I plan to share observations of journeys I’ve taken, thoughts of pilgrimage, adventures in daily life, reflections on readings, integrating pilgrimage into ministry, and much more.  However, this isn’t only a place for me to wax eloquent, but a place to create a community of pilgrims sharing our journeys together and learning from one another.  A place to share stories as a way to create and cultivate culture.  I hope you are ready to take up your walking staff.

Categories: Literary Pilgrimages | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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