In my role as the coordinator for Campus Mission, it has been exciting to partner with EveryCampus as a way to engage local churches with the mission of reaching out to college & university campuses.
The idea is pretty simple! Cru and InterVarsity campus ministries have collaborated to create the EveryCampus initiative whose goal is to see a Gospel community developed on every campus in the United States. Currently, about half of all campuses have such a ministry.
Campus Mission has become one of the partnering organizations and at two denominational gatherings (with the Church of the Nazarene) we have shared this mission and invited pastors, churches, and leaders to get involved.
Check out the EveryCampus website to find out how you or your church can help us reach this goal. They also have great resources for launching new ministries on a college campus.
Each year about this time I spend a couple of days at a monastery (the Abbey of Gethsemani) and “do” what I call my annual prayer retreat. Typically, I take a few books along for the quiet time in my “cell.” The first one I got to this year was a re-read of Falling Upward by Richie Rohr (that’s what his close friends call him. ha!)
So the gist of Rohr’s book is talking about how to navigate the transition from the first part of life to the second. Often, this transition is instigated by some sort of “falling” down in life. He seems to imply that most people go through this transition (if at all) between the ages of 35-55. So at the ripe old age of 48, I’m right on track since I would suggest that my “falling up” began about 5 or 6 years ago.
The basic premise is that you spend the first half of life establishing identity and building a certain “container” for life. Then for whatever reason, the container cracks…life takes an unexpected turn…some sort of crisis unfolds…etc. In the second half of life, ideally, you go a little bit deeper into some soul-full territory. You realize the limitations of superficial structures and either-or (dualistic) thinking. Rohr loves the language of unitive consciousness…moving from either/or thinking to both/and or “yes” thinking.
I’m finding a parallel journey in campus ministry from the first half to the second half, although in this case it’s the first and second halves of a school year.
In the first half of a year with students, I’m establishing identity and connection…building a sort of container for our relationship. Now in the second half (spring semester) it’s time to go a little deeper. I want to use the foundation of relationship which we’ve established in the first part of the year as a platform for launching towards something more.
So my hope in the 2nd semester of each school year is to see these relationships go a little deeper in several directions. I will challenge students to plunge a little deeper into the God-waters…moving out of “kiddie pool” spirituality into the depths of trust and exploration. I will also challenge them to deepen their relationships with others. Perhaps it’s time to be a little more vulnerable, or to care a little more for those closest to them. It could be in a small group, in a class, with a roommate, or any significant relationship they have developed. And of course, I want to deepen my relationship with the student if that’s what is most beneficial for the student. Although in some cases, I will encourage a deeper mentoring connection with someone else if I’m not necessarily the best person to fill that role in their lives.
The goal is always transformation and growth. The second half of this school year is about to begin. Here’s to seeing a few students go from spiritual immaturity to maturity over the next few months!
Ironically, as I was reading Falling Upward at the monastery and enjoying some Pneuma Coffee in a cool Star Wars mug I had just gotten for Christmas from my daughter, this happened…
Recently, I sat down with a college student who wanted to “dive in” to the spiritual waters of discipleship in a deeper way. This is a student I’ve been alongside of as a spiritual mentor for a couple of years now and it’s always encouraging to know that a college student wants to put some emphasis on developing their faith as well as their academic and vocational life.
What can be a bit frustrating at times in college ministry is that a student you’ve spent time with demonstrates a lack of understanding when it comes to basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. With this particular student, biblical intimidation seems to be the main obstacle. Some have a fear of reading the Bible for themselves because they don’t believe they have the tools for interpreting the Bible or the ability to “get anything out it.”
So I took this student through a simple exercise of reading a brief passage (James 1:1-8) and demonstrating some simple ways of asking questions about the passage, journaling, asking practical questions, and then writing out a prayer in response to the passage…inviting God to bring wisdom as they try to apply biblical principles to their lives. In about 15-20 minutes, we had a great experience together in God’s word and the student walked away encouraged about the simplicity of the process.
This “discipleship conversation” was a great reminder to me of the benefits of sitting down with a student and simply reading the Bible together. As I reflect on that conversation, I thought it might be good to outline the process here which may help others:
Pick an appropriate passage. There are parts of the Bible that lend themselves to easy understanding and simple application. I have found the short letter of James in the New Testament to be a great place to start.
Read through the passage and make notes of key words or topics. Try to put the author’s intention in your own words. Before we get to “what this passage means to me” we need to have a good idea of the author’s intention.
Ask questions of the text. Who is the author speaking to? What do you think the historical context of the original audience was? What is the main principle or teaching in the passage that might apply to our own lives? Is there something going on in your own life that the Holy Spirit might be calling your attention to? What would it look like to incorporate this biblical principle in your own life?
Step #4 Pray. Sometimes it’s good to write out a simple prayer. From this passage in James, a prayer might look like this: Lord, help me to see the trials in my life as opportunities to grow and mature in my faith and not just opportunities to complain or stress out.
Take Action. What is one simple thing I can do this week to apply this teaching to my life? When a trial or difficult circumstance pops up, I want to immediately respond with a simple prayer: Lord, help me see my life and this obstacle as an opportunity to grow closer to You.
In the same way that physical exercise and good nutrition can lead to physical health and growth, spiritual exercises need to be a consistent part of our lives if we want to be spiritually healthy and fit.
This is the book I’m digging into currently. Richard Rohr has been a favorite author and speaker for me for a few years now. This particular work is his attempt to help us reframe our ideas about Jesus & the Christ. What’s the difference? Isn’t “Christ” Jesus’ last name? Or is there more to it than that?
Well, I’m not done reading the book yet, but I’ll share just enough here to tease you into exploring the book or at least the idea for yourself. Jesus is actually the 2nd incarnation, the archetypal human showing us the way to wholeness and fullness. Christ is the cosmic principle, pattern, and source of all creation. Jesus is sometimes co-opted by particular groups to exclude those who don’t believe a certain theology. Christ is the universal acknowledgement that all of creation is anointed and part of the incarnation.
So far, I would say my most practical take-a-way is that there’s something “bigger” about Jesus Christ than simply having a personal relationship so be saved from eternal punishment.
Check it out if you’re interested. I might serve up a follow-up post once I finish the book.
In exactly 23 days (from the time this post drops), about 45,000 students (28k undergrad) will swarm the University of Cincinnati campus once again.
That includes about 7,000 first-year students (aka freshmen).
Campus ministers typically coach one another about how critical the first few weeks of a new semester are. In fact, one author I remember reading early on famously stated that you have about 3 days from the time a new student begins classes to capture their attention (with your organization) and invite them to be part of your community. Otherwise, chances are slim that you’ll EVER connect with them. Wow, no pressure, eh?!
As a more “mature” campus minister (i.e. old) with my own 3 kids to parent and a coffee roasting business to manage and a non-profit coffee shop to help run, the pressure of Welcome Weekend and a new semester can be intimidating but here are my three main strategies as I prepare to launch my 11th year of ministry at UC (after about 15 years of youth ministry in the local church which means I’m starting my 26th year of full-time ministry…again, that tells you I’m old!)
The 3 strategies could be summed up with 3 words: People, Product & Process. Yeah, I may have stolen that from Marcus Lemonis.
#1. PEOPLE: I’m building a team of student leaders and equipping others to invest relationally with college students. Also, a focus on people in campus ministry means working hard early each semester to connect with as many students as possible and invite them to events and conversations.
#2. The “product” we are inviting students to “consume” (engage would be a better word) is community and belonging steeped in Christian hospitality. Basically, we want to help students connect deeply with some Christian community during their time at UC.
#3. PROCESS: In our specific context (a non-profit coffee house called The 86 Coffee Bar), our process is built on our core leadership (staff) as well as a “congregational” element of student volunteers who help run The 86 daily. Every semester we have 40-60 students who volunteer in the cafe and those students are the ones I am most immediately responsible to in terms of ministry or pastoral care. Our process also includes leveraging our relationships with other campus ministries and their leaders to create a bit of a hub or network of campus ministries who are part of our cafe community.
So for anyone launching a new year of university ministry, these three principles could be a great guide: People, Product (or Purpose), & Process. Evaluate your people resources as well as the people you want to reach. Know your purpose (the “product” you are providing for students) and then develop a Process which is efficient and sustainable. Blessings on your outreach to college & university students!