Discerning Priorities of Campus Ministry at Your University/College

10 Oct
These comments are in response to questions asked in the workshop I facilitated at the recent NCMA conference in Georgia.  While presenting “Seeing the Forest Before Identifying the Trees: University Ministry as a context for Campus Ministry”, I suggested an approach to discerning what are the particular concerns of the college/university culture that might be addressed.  The process I am suggesting is in addition to other resources available in books/articles, which I hope includes Sharon Park’s, “Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Young Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith” and Eric H. F. Law’s “Holy Currencies: 6 Blessing for Sustainable Missional Ministries”.                                   .
This approach entails interviewing faculty, administration along with the Ministers, Priest, Pastors, Rabbis that are staff for your partner congregations. The results of interviews would then be shared with your board, leadership team and/or a group you especially organized to give you feedback.  It is important to have several conversations with students who are diverse in academic interest, age and classification, as well. All responses in interviews need to be kept confidential. These interviews may take several months or a semester and can be done when beginning a ministry or as a way to keep “updated”.
The questions I am suggesting can be amended, but need to be asked of each individual you interview.  It is important that the interviews be held on the “turf” of the person you are asking. It has been my experience that a forty-five minute limit can be difficult to keep.  It may be the first time you have met with an individual and so getting acquainted entails sharing with him/her who you are and why you are doing an interview.  This is in addition to the initial setting of an appointment.  What I discovered is that the time together is shared in the university “grapevine” within the department and/or friends.  Emphasize that the conversation is confidential as to particular responses, but will be shared along with other response so you can get a perspective that is more accurate than you making assumptions.
The questions that I am putting forth come from my experience in the 60’s/70’s while being on site review teams that spent two days on a campus for purposes of support/evaluation of a ministry.  They were made possible by having  higher education staff employed by denominations who regularly visited campus ministry sites. Some of you reading this may remember Clyde Robinson, Abbey Abendroth and others.
Again, amend these questions as you see fit, add some if you feel something is lacking, but be consistent in asking same questions:
1. What are the crucial issues or problems to be dealt with, the opportunities to be taken, the accomplishments to be celebrated in your particular university? (You might add a follow-up to this of as to how is the university dealing with any/all the matter described?).
2. Where in the university do you find serious conversation about the purpose of higher education?
3. Describe and evaluate the support services provided by the university (personal  and career counseling, health services, support groups for gender/racial ethnic groups, etc.) Are additional services needed?  Are there reasons the institution is not providing them?
4. Describe the life of the typical student as much as possible.  What do you think are their apparent values, life styles, living patterns, social configurations, study habits, etc.
5. How would you describe what is needed to nurture ,encourage, enhance, etc., students to be “engaged” learners and not focus on just grades and faculty expectations?
6. How would describe the morale of faculty/administrators and their relationship with each other?
7. What keeps you excited/motivated about your position as faculty/administrator”
8. (If time allows.) How do you perceive  (insert the name of the ministry you staff)?
How do you identify who to interview?  Administrators are best done by position, i.e. Provost, Dean, Head of Department, etc.  Faculty can be identified (besides ones on your board) by asking students and looking at faculty who have received teaching awards – also, if you have a particular interest and want to become acquainted with faculty in a particular department, it would be worthwhile to set appointments with those faculty.
When interviewing those on staff with partner congregations, the questions could include the following:
1. What has been your experience with the ministry?
2. How is the best way to communicate with the faith community you staff?
3. What do you expect of the ministry?
4. (Add appropriate questions as you see fit.)
The question may arise, “What about the students?”  This is where your understanding of faith development comes in along with what you glean as you share the results of your interviews with students. It is also important to ask of yourself what you think is the purpose of higher education, given the context of today’s culture and the history of the university? Above all, the process I am suggesting is a way to practice one of the most important aspects of ministry – listening to what is said and not said and carefully listening to yourself.
ThadThad Holcombe is a retired Campus Minister who has most recently served at the  Ecumenical Campus Ministry at the University of Kansas.  Thad, though modest (editors comments being made here) served for 49 years in campus ministry up until his retirement this past July.  His experience, gentleness, and wisdom led many to call for a recognition of him and a lifetime achievement award in his name has been created by the National Campus Ministry Association.  The Holcombe award will celebrate the ministry of only the most influential members of this field.  Thad continues to live in Lawrence today.

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