Yesterday, I reflected on what it might look like to do college ministry different. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m ripping off Apple by using an adjective when you “should” use an adverb (my views on grammar are somewhat philosophically radical).
After answering why and how, it’s time for what. As in, “what should the end goal of a college ministry be?”
The short answer is that we are shooting for helping produce mature disciples of Christ who are competent Christian adults. I think this target is actually more or less the same whether the college ministry is in a local church or in a parachurch ministry. The difference would be what part of the end goal you are helping produce.
For instance, SHIFT states its mission this way:
SHIFT’s Mission is to see college students
1. respond and be transformed by the Gospel;
2. engage in Biblical community through worshipping and serving with a local church in the area;
3. share the Gospel with others in a way that’s relevant to their culture; and
4. lead others to do the same.
Just to unpack this a bit, here’s what I see as required by this mission. In general, a student coming through SHIFT should:
- Respond in faith the gospel
- Join a local church
- Be involved in serving in the local church
- Show signs of growing in their faith (the “transformed” component above)
- Become equipped in sharing their faith
- Develop cultural awareness in several dimensions (pop culture, politics, prevailing philosophies, sports, etc.) in order to speak to the signs of the times
- Become a leader of others (peers, but preferably those a stage of life below, so college students able to lead high schoolers, young professionals able to lead college students).
Notice that I inserted the local church connection between “respond in faith” and “being transformed.” That’s because I think the primary arena of Christian discipleship is the local church and that’s where transformation more readily takes place as students are in multi-generational community, hearing the Word preached, and partaking in the Lord’s Supper. Then as they grow, they start to serve in the church and are well on their way to the other phases.
I might go so far as to say I don’t want students involved in a college ministry that aren’t willing to be part of a local church. I also wouldn’t want students who know tips and tricks in evangelism and apologetics, but aren’t developing the virtues in 1 Timothy 3. And I wouldn’t want students who are growing but not living out their faith in away that can connect with others, Christian and not.
In short, the mission all works together. It specifies an end goal, but it also divides the labor between the local church and SHIFT in a way that I think is helpful. It also puts a burden on us to work to facilitate the local church connections to properly outsource what we need to outsource (and vice versa).
When it comes to the actual end goal, we would like to produce more Christian leaders. This is also how SHIFT will grow and develop more moving forward. And it is the one point that probably needs more sub-points unpacking just what a leader entails.
In a sense, in order to lead others, you have to lead yourself well. You have to be going somewhere and know where that is. Otherwise, no one will be interested in following you. This entails a range of competencies, although one shouldn’t think that it necessitates a person who has everything together and no struggles or weaknesses.
While we often tend to cast the qualities of leadership in Christian categories, I think a good bit of actual leadership involves competencies that aren’t distinctly Christian. This is perhaps why it is helpful to read business and leadership books alongside theology books if you want to be a solid Christian leader.
Recently, I saw this as I was reading Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult a few weekends ago. According to his subtitle, he sees a crisis in our culture because of a lack of self-reliance. Now, you can tell in reading his book that he’s not thinking of self reliance in a strictly non-Christian sense. What he means is that young adults are often not able to take care of things themselves that a competent adult could. There is a kind of lapse in development that by its nature prohibits leadership development.
His solution to the problem covers a lot of ground and revolves around 5 themes he unpacks through the course of the book. He takes three chapters to set some context before spending a chapter each on these goals for young adults (8-10):
- Overcome peer culture and wrestle with other life stages
- Learn to work hard (he says suffering in our work is actually a character building virtue)
- Resist consumption (he says consumption is not the key to happiness, production is)
- Travel to experience the difference between “need” and “want”
- Become truly literate
Going off that last point, it probably goes without saying that leaders are readers, and Christian leaders are first and foremost Bible readers. But, most solid Christian leaders I know are also general readers and so end up being biblically as well as culturally literate. As a result, a big part of what we’d like to do with SHIFT is see an increase in both of those types of literacy.
As I mentioned yesterday, one way of doing this is through Bible studies aimed at developing biblical literacy. Another way may involve book clubs and the beginnings of a study center. Regarding the traveling component, that’s something we’d like to see happen through the student’s local churches as they take advantage of time during the summer to go on mission trips.
For the first three, I think that we will work to help students develop those areas through either monthly or bi-monthly large meetings. We are still thinking through the logistics of that at the moment, so hopefully I’ll have more to share later. But, when we do have larger gatherings (remember we’re staying de-centralized), we want them to be focused on developing cultural and leadership competencies, and so are focused on “adulting” rather than being something that could be confused for a church service.
It is also through these type of events that we can reach non-Christians. While we would want students to invite their non-Christian friends (that they are hopefully making in classes and around campus) to church, we’d also like to be a venue that they can invite them to something “secular” (which isn’t actually, but would be perceived that way).
I realize that’s vague, and so as you might guess, that means we need another post to unpack further. But, the main point is that we are hoping to help students grow into competent Christian adults, and that entails doing college ministry different, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.