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The Inevitability of Change….

7 Sep

The Inevitability of Change…

J. Cody Nielsen

People ask me what my secret is?  They say, how are you running a successful campus ministry?  I say to myself am I really running a successful campus ministry?  But let’s just say for a moment that ok, I am.

It seems that so often in the last few years, I’ve come across friends and colleagues who have asked me what my secret is.  Many of them are struggling clergy who just can’t seem to get people to their churches, especially young adults.  We know this story right?  One of the things that seems to be present in their work is the preformatted ways their church’s operate: Worship is on Sunday mornings, and that’s the most important bench mark they use, then there’s Bible study on this day, a craft group here and here.  And when asked, they remark that most of these things have been the same for well…forever.  The thought of changing them is the classic “I need to accumulate some chips before we make changes.”  So we return to the principle question.

The secret of campus ministry, the reason I believe it honestly has the ability to be the “laboratory from which the future church comes” as one famous founder of the Wesley Foundation movement remarked, is due largely to the necessity of change the we have in our work with students. Chaplain, campus minister, local church outreach, no matter how you are packaging your work with students, must remain extremely fluid.  One semester, that program you have been dreaming up for years turns into a major success, but by spring it is floundering.  You have to let it go, have to move forward with new ideas and plans.  In a way, this is why I am so interested in what everyone else is doing and why I’m so interested in the NCMA’s crowdsourcing resource.  But that’s another blog.

dandelionHigher Education work is the most transient of all ministries.  But it is also the one that has the ability to have the most success with a population that is changing faster than anything we’ve ever imagined.  So how do keep up with the heartbeat of your student needs? I figure out what they themselves are passionate about helping to lead.  Any student who is passionate about a program or a group or a project will be much more engaged.  And in a community where I claim to always want to find a new place for people, I have to practice what I preach.  But with every student idea, there is a requirement that I or one of my other staff support them from beginning to end.  So I always have a “stake in the ground” and keep my pulse on what is happening.  But these students that are passionate, they are leading.

My secret, as I say to my colleagues, is that I rarely say no to new ideas.  But what that translates to is that I also know how to say no to old ideas, to remaining static, and to doing things the way they always have been done. Our work is evolutionary and thus revolutionary in a sense because we have to understand the inevitability of change.   Perhaps as you explore the continuing field of higher education ministry you will find similar experiences.