Archive | February, 2013

Nonsensical ministry

28 Feb

Working with college students is a bit non-sensical.   It doesn’t always make sense.  Not just because they don’t always make sense or that their stage in life is confusing.   Mostly it doesn’t always make sense because this stage of life is supposed to be about leaving home and wandering.    This is a time in their lives when they need to do the work of checking adolescent beliefs at the door so that they can begin to truly discover who they are.  We’ve spent decades helping inform this for them, and now it’s time for us to let them go out into the world to practice in new ways and places their own authentic selves.  They need to do this so that they can begin to trust themselves as God created them.  So that they can more fully recognize their unique call as they consider their God-given vocation in God’s world.
Too many of our ministries focus on trying to make the students stay.   We put alot of energy into getting them hooked and nurturing their journey, without encouraging them to truly be on a journey.  I don’t think we mean to.  It’s just that we’re often trying to prove our existence, which means having students join and make up our ministry.  We forget that the real work is in launching them.
I’m not saying that we need to be out of work.  Rather we need to embrace a whole new paradigm for how we do ministry with students who need us to equip them to wander.  We need less to “accompany them on a journey.”  We need more to provide them places to stop and rest.   If you’re a hiker, you know what a cairn is.   It is a pile of rocks that is placed alongside a trail, often at an intersection, sometimes at a place where hospitality is offered or danger should be assessed.   A cairn helps the hiker to pay attention to where they are and how they’re moving from this spot.

I love the image of a cairn as a metaphor for how to faithfully provide presence and ministry for the college age folks in our midst here at PSU.   One of our ministries is actually called, “Wandering Well.”   It is not a group or a regular meeting.  It is a series of gatherings throughout the year that young adults (college folks included) are invited to come and check in with one another.  The conversation and prayer together is always focused on their wanderings.  We encourage them to recognize how well they’re doing it by asking questions that enable them to recognize their intention and how it feels in their soul when they are in these places.  Do they feel at home with themselves and recognize God there?   Yes, the wandering will be uncomfortable.  That’s part of the work, stretching ourselves and moving more fully into God’s reality.
Tommy Brown has some really great things to say about how college has become just another scripted stage in the young adult’s life.  And, though we can’t necessarily change the college experience, I can’t help but wonder if our ministries might be a place to help the students move into some unscripted territory.  In this way we could prepare them for the reality that is to come, encouraging them to be more faithful into adulthood.  (you can check out Tommy’s book, Unscripted:  Engaging Life After College at )
This work is fluid for us, pastors of presence.  We have to be there without requiring the students to continually be with us.  We have to show up, provide them opportunities to do the same (authentically).  And, we must allow and encourage them to show up fully elsewhere in the world.  Which means we can’t hold them.
Doesn’t Jesus say something about that?
What are the ways that your ministry could adapt to be more about wandering well and less about holding them tight?
Diana MalcomDiana is the advisor for Westminster Presbyterian Fellowship on the Penn State Campus, working with the State College Presbyterian Church where she also works (plays) with middle-schoolers.  She enjoys walking, reading, family & friends, and considering how to live life well/more sustainably (including growing lots of her own foods and caring for egg-laying chickens Patty, Dumpling, Little and Nugget).