Launching My 11th Year of Campus Ministry

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!

Life in the Valley

f7748880-b6d9-4ce7-9c46-cab5faa2acc4Valleys can be quite beautiful. I remember hiking in the Sawtooths in Idaho a few years ago with a friend and there were steep striking valleys with trout-filled streams funneling through epic slopes on either side.

While in Ecuador nearly 20 years ago I remember hiking through the picturesque foothills around one of the tallest active volcanos in the world, Cotapaxi. In that case, hiking through the valley was a a437a16d-a4ac-4e97-bb29-543966461914beautiful approach to a difficult and strenuous climb.

But currently, the valley we are experiencing is one of death, sorrow, and mourning. The Psalmist refers to the valley of the shadow of death in the 23rd psalm which could be a metaphor for any sort of pain, adversity, gloom, or doom. Debbie and I are experiencing this valley due to what she has often referred to as “stupid cancer!” Both my older brother and my mother-in-law were diagnosed with some aggressive cancers back in July. My older brother, Bill, died December 10, 2018. My amazing mother-in-law, Alice, just died a few days ago…January 9, 2019.

That is a lot of loss to experience in such a brief time. And if you factor in the unexpected death of Deb’s older sister in February 2015 at the age of 44, it just compounds the grief. Perhaps you have gone through a similar “valley” of death’s shadow. Perhaps you have been spared the experience of deep loss so far in your journey. Chances are, we all pass through this valley sooner or later.

Even before my brother slipped across the veil of death, Psalm 23 was being reimagined for me. Several times I prayed the Psalm over my brother as he slept or rested or just suffered in silence. Now, what was once a churchy sounding irrelevant passage of scripture (it never seemed very relevant since I had no personal experience with  sheep-herding) has become a heart-felt meaningful piece of biblical poetry. It has become almost a daily part of my prayer liturgy (I owe some of that influence to Dallas Willard as well). And I occasionally play this old version by Keith Green which was sung at my brother’s funeral.

Exiting this valley of sorrow and grief will not be a quick, easy process. We just celebrated my mother-in-law’s life yesterday (some call that a funeral). So today is the first day of what some might call our “new normal” and it is tough to figure out life without her, honestly. But we are learning to trust the Good Shepherd…and continue anchoring ourselves to that “hopiest of hopes” I mentioned last time. The encouragement received from so many friends, along with the family that we cling even more tightly to these days, is certainly a big part of what gets us through.

a1a12086-d715-42c4-a679-c047f3569706Cancer, death, and grief is a crappy way to start a new year.

We are hoping for much better days ahead. It’s just painful to move forward without these crucial loved ones.

Above all we are clinging to the Hope (elpida) of the resurrection and a future reunion with those we love in the new Creation.