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?
Not 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.