Begin Again

22 Aug

I envy people who take August vacations.  By the time it’s August, my mind is speeding up and the calendar is filling up.  Students are just a breath away and the roller coaster of the fall semester begins again.

Yet there is comfort in August’s return to routine and ritual.  The summer ghost town vanishes, new faces become familiar ones in a matter of weeks, and the new faces from last year are emerging leaders now.  These are the things I can count on from August.  If I don’t watch it, I can also count on being swamped and overwhelmed and carried away by too many demands.

With practice, there are things that get easier.  Students take on more responsibilities, Board members live into their roles, and the communal recognition of our routines and procedures helps us not reinvent the wheel every semester.  There are some constants about what we hope to accomplish in campus ministry (provide hospitality, reach out to the wider community, challenge students to explore faith in new ways and follow where God leads).  But it’s easy to assume that the goals of the ministry are the same as our personal goals.

That’s why August is the perfect time to ask myself a few questions.  It’s the perfect yearly reminder to reflect on where I hope to go this year and how I hope to get there.  Campus ministry is not a machine that runs on the lifeblood of campus ministers.  It’s a community ministry that flourishes when led by a spiritual leader who remembers her own spirituality.  If we aren’t tending to ourselves – and allowing God to tend us – our frenzied efforts eventually burn out and fall flat.

Students see that.  They also notice when you take time for friends and family and other parts of life that feed you.  They are paying attention and looking for someone who knows how to do the hard work of being a spiritual grown-up.

If you are caught up in what everyone else needs but haven’t yet taken time to hear where God is calling you next, here is a non-exhaustive list of questions to get you started.

  • What designs does God have on you this year?
  • What are the nudgings of the Spirit you’ve been trying to understand?
  • What scares you?  What territory do you need to explore?
  • What would you like to learn?
  • How would you like to improve upon existing skills and talents?
  • Where do you need to make changes or commitments regarding exercise, rest, food, Sabbath, rejuvenation, days off?
  • Who else in life needs your attention?  How are you faring as a friend, sibling, spouse, parent, child?
  • What do you need more of in your personal relationships?
  • Besides your specific ministry context, how are you living out your wider calling as a pastor in the church?
  • When do you say I wonder?  What’s your next step when you do?  God’s waiting in new places and gets our attention with seemingly small questions like this.  Do you follow the trail?

Lying on the beach right now sounds lovely.  But I can’t think of a more challenging and fulfilling place to be than campus ministry – a place where beginning again and going deeper are as natural as asking questions with God in August.

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Deborah LewisDeborah loves hiking, cooking, reading, and a good strong cup of coffee. She believes that a rainy day is one of God’s great gifts and that When Harry Met Sally can never be seen or quoted too many times.  She is an ordained elder in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves as director of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Virginia.  She has been in campus ministry for 12 years and shares the journey with her husband and stepson.  You can find pictures of her pottery and links to other writing at www.deborahlewis.net.

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