Have you Called Your Colleague Today?

7 Mar

The giant redwood trees of northern California are the tallest in the world.  They’re like gargantuan silos, adorned with branches and leaves.  It’s reasonable to assume they would require an incredibly deep root system.  But, surprisingly, their roots are submerged less than twelve feet below the surface.  What allows them to live for up to 2,000 years is a root system that spreads sideways 50-80 feet in all directions, intertwining with the root systems of other redwoods.  They say you never see a healthy, mature redwood tree standing in isolation.  That’s because they require the company of other redwood trees in order to survive and thrive.

It occurs to me that campus ministers and redwoods have a lot in common.  At first glance, both resemble silos.  Campus ministry is, in many respects, a “stand-alone” ministry.  As campus ministers we labor, largely independently and with significant freedom to shape our individual ministries to match our strengths.  Yet the reality is that, like the giant redwoods, we need the company of others campus ministers in order to survive and thrive over the long haul.

The “silo effect”—becoming so preoccupied with the pursuit of our personal or institutional mission that we isolate ourselves—is a very real danger for campus ministers.  This kind of disengagement is unhealthy for campus ministry as a “profession,” it is unhealthy for our ministries and it is unhealthy for us as ministers.  One way to overcome our isolation is to get involved in mutually supportive, mentoring relationships with other campus ministers.

If you need help getting connected to a prospective mentor, the NCMA offers a mentoring program that matches mentors and mentees.  It’s a fine service, but you don’t have to wait for the coordinator of the NCMA mentoring program to get you connected.  Just pick up the phone, dial the number of a fellow campus minister, introduce yourself if necessary, and then lead with the question: “How’s it going?”  I wouldn’t have lasted six months in campus ministry if Thad Holcombe hadn’t done that for me nearly fifteen years ago.

Sometimes I’m haunted by the faces of the many campus ministers I’ve met through the years—good persons, one and all—who have come and gone already.  I realize that we labor in a time of transition, and that there are no guarantees of what the morrow will bring.  But I am persuaded by my own experience of the indispensable power of mentoring in a field like campus ministry.  Like the giant redwoods, we survive by the mutual support and encouragement and strength we receive through networking.

United, we stand.  Siloed, we fall.


David Jones will begin his 16th year as campus pastor of the ECM (Ecumenical Campus Ministry) at Kansas State University on April Fool’s Day, 2012—which he contends should be the official start day for all who serve in campus ministry.  For almost 27 years he has been married to Linda, with whom he has two children: Nathan (22) and Lindsey (20).  When not hanging out with students, he enjoys staying physically active via yoga, running, walking Bear (his dog), swimming and gardening.  He earned his Ph.D. in Church History from Vanderbilt University, a M.Div. from Saint Paul School of Theology and a B.A. in psychology and religion from Augustana College (S.D.).


2 Responses to “Have you Called Your Colleague Today?”

  1. Thad Holcombe March 7, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Thanks David….what was even better was that I gained as much or more from our conversations and meetings together, which we still do. And I think it probably helped being in the same state. Although KSU and KU are different, we had some common ground.
    Thad with ECM@KU

  2. paul walley March 20, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    Hey, David, good stuff. We need one another and intentional connecting is a great way to do it (which we probably need to improve on ~ I know that I do). Thanks for sharing this! Nothing like one-on-one sharing. We both come out stronger for whatever is ahead for us.

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