Stop Working So Hard

9 Jan

There’s a trend I’ve noticed in campus ministry over the few years I’ve been doing it. We’re territorial. We operate from places of scarcity rather than abundance. For many of us, resources are actually scarce, but the opportunities to minister to college students are not. Yet we worry about having our own program, conference, meeting, mission, etc. Maybe this is also a problem of how our fruitfulness is measured. We always have to plan something that’s our own to prove that we’re worthy of continued support and are doing good ministry. We’re working too hard so that we look successful within an atmosphere that is requiring something different from us.


I know that on my campus, most students are heavily involved in an array of clubs and societies and groups. They probably do something within their field of study, something that’s a fun hobby or interest or sport, a service organization or four, something else to build and diversify the resume, and then with the time that’s left over they’ll be involved in campus ministry. Some of them are even involved in multiple campus ministries!


So with this profile of the typical student, I really can’t expect that each program I plan will be well attended or have a broad reach, even with students who are already committed. Faced with this reality, how can I do ministry that is meaningful and engages students with a variety of spiritual needs? And how can I do it in a way that doesn’t completely wear me out?


This is where our territoriality has to go. Students aren’t expecting one group to monopolize their entire extracurricular experience. Nor should we expect that we can ever really do that. So we need to work together as campus ministers to share or expertise and resources. And we need to partner with those non-religious groups that are already impacting students lives and vocations.


I believe that one of the most vital roles a campus ministry plays is to help students understand their faith vocationally and missionally. Integration, meaning-making, a spirituality of wisdom….whatever you want to call it,  something really important that we can do is to help our students begin to construct a Christian identity that informs their whole lives. A powerful way to do this is to be in partnership with other groups so that our students understand how their faith is connected to the things they’re already doing. You’re an engineer? How does engineering express what you believe about God and the world? A teacher? How will you treat students in ways that are consistent with what you believe? International relations? How are the politics of a global society in union or conflict with your faith-based ethics?


So this is where we need to stop working so hard.  If our goal is to help students develop a faith that matters in the rest of their lives and shapes them into who they are becoming, then creating ministry opportunities that are more integrated with what our students do on campus should be a priority. Working with other ministries should also become the norm rather than the rare exception. This changes the work we do on campus. We can start to share our gifts as leaders rather than struggling to organize something that we’re not equipped to do. Instead we should be the voices who are asking “why” in the lives of our students as they do the things they’re already doing. Then, when they’re ready, we can be available to teach, nurture, and usher them into a contemplative stance towards their doing.


Laura Patterson is the director of the United Methodist Campus Ministry at Washington University in St. Louis


One Response to “Stop Working So Hard”

  1. Nancy January 9, 2014 at 9:09 am #


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