Why You Shouldn’t Do College Ministry (Part 3)

You shouldn’t do college ministry if:

Crazy ideas make you nervous.

Several years ago a student approached me asking if he could organize a 24-hour prayer vigil for 7 days in our college building. I’m going to reveal my personal lack of faith here, but my first thought was, “Oh no. It’s going to be a crazy student party involving muggings and vandalism and all kinds of destruction.  Who gives the keys the building to a group of students?”

So I suggested he go talk to the facilities staff (little secret about pastors — if they tell you to talk to the building people they are quietly hoping you might never return, that you’ll get lost in the terrifying labyrinth that is church facility policy).

The facilities staff came back to me and asked if it was okay.  I was starting to wonder why we had facilities staff.

So I took a deep breath and said, “Sure! If it’s okay with you, then it’s alright with me.”

We unleashed these crazy students, armed them with a key to the building, and gave them the green light. And do you know what they did?

They organized our church to PRAY! For 7 days there was a constant stream of people going in and out of the building at all hours to pray for our ministry.  Not just students, either. There were youth kids, young adults, old adults, and yes, college students.  Hundreds of people.

And God responded — it was one of the most exciting, fruitful seasons of ministry since I’ve been a college pastor.

Go figure — unleash an army of students to do something crazy, and they might just do something wonderful.  Yes, it might be messy, but it might change your church or even your world.

So if you are a compulsive rule-follower, college ministry might be tough on you. But if you are willing to let a little bit of wacky in the door — well, who knows what God might do through a few devoted and wild-eyed students?

Responding to Brother Jed (Repost)

[NOTE: I first posted this in August 2009.  Today I spotted Brother Jed again on the A&M campus, so I’m reposting it for students who might have missed it the first time around. Hope it’s helpful…I’ll return on Monday to my series on College Ministry]

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Ephesians 2:8-9.

For the past couple of weeks, “Brother Jed” has been preaching to students near the MSC on the Texas A&M campus. Most days he has spoken to crowds of forty or fifty at a time, some of whom listen quietly and others who argue and debate theology with him.

When I heard him last Wednesday, I was struck by some odd comments he was making regarding the nature of mankind, particular man’s sinfulness (or lack thereof). I took it upon myself to visit his website — yes, this open-air preacher has a well-developed website — to learn a bit more about his theology. While scrolling through the FAQ’s, I ran across the following statement: “I consider it an honor to be considered a modern day Pelagius.” Suddenly I understood the theological background of his preaching about sin and salvation. Allow me to explain.

Pelagius (c. 354 – 420 A.D.) was a British monk who came to Rome in 380 A.D. preaching a brand of theology that quickly attracted a following. Most notably, Pelagius denied that mankind was inherently sinful; he instead insisted that humanity was born with the innate capacity in his unredeemed state to please God through acts of righteousness. Consequently, the “grace of God,” according to Pelagius was nothing more than God’s assistance of men and women to earn his approval through good works. In a very real sense, he believed that we could earn our salvation if we tried hard enough.

Needless to say, this casts doubt on the absolute necessity of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for salvation. Most Pelagians believe that the death of Christ was simply an example for us to follow, and not a substitution of God’s Son on our behalf to satisfy the Father’s wrath for our sin. Some, however, hold that the atonement removes our individual acts of sin, but that our works cooperate with the cross of Christ to provide salvation. Christian perfection is possible and expected in their system because we are inherently righteous; sin is generally redefined to mean only voluntary or willful transgressions against the revealed Law.

The problem, of course, with Pelagius’s system is that it is incompatible with numerous passages of Scripture. Romans 5:12-17 makes it clear that we are inherently sinful as a result of the sin of Adam; he represented us in his sin, and because of it we are condemned. Ephesians 2:1-3 states that we are “by nature children of wrath,” not merely as a result of evil deeds but as a consequence of a broken and sinful nature. The ONLY solution is complete reliance on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for eternal life (Ephesians 2:8-9). Good works will never be meritorius, because they cannot overcome our inherent sinfulness (Romans 3:9-20).

Ultimately, the Church rejected the views of Pelagius at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. and embraced the views of Augustine, who held a more biblical position on grace and original sin.

As you walk by and hear Brother Jed this week, I would encourage you not to engage him in debates or arguments about his theology. Instead, use his presence as an opportunity to share with your friends the true message of Jesus Christ: Sinful and depraved men and women have the opportunity for salvation only because of what He has done on our behalf. He transforms broken men and women into conformity with Christ, rather than expecting that we transform ourselves for sake of earning salvation. Hallelujah, what a Savior indeed!

Matt Morton

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Why You Shouldn’t Do College Ministry (Part 2)

You shouldn’t do college ministry if:

You are uncomfortable with making new friends or losing touch with old ones.

I recently read a blog post asking church leaders how they feel when good people leave their church. Many of the comments in response came from pastors who expressed a great deal of angst at the thought of “losing” their solid leaders and faithful attenders to another church or town.

For a college pastor, seeing people leave is par for the course, as is seeing new people constantly arrive. From the moment a person walks in the door, a college minister recognizes that he has four or five years at most to invest in this person’s life. Not unlike youth ministry, each year brings the bittersweet experience of seeing dear friends and ministry partners graduate and depart. It’s simultaneously the best and the worst part of serving college students.

It’s the worst part because of the pain of seeing friends leave, knowing that they won’t be a daily part of your life anymore.

It’s the best part, though, because we know that those friends are going into the world to reflect Jesus in their homes and workplaces and churches.  We are hopeful that in some small measure our ministry has had an impact on the way they view their lives and their walk with the Lord. And we pray that they will transform their communities for Jesus.

It’s the best part of the job because our congregations are literally scattered across the globe making disciples. Not every pastor has the privilege of seeing such a worldwide impact in just a few years. And each year we welcome new students who are eager to change the world for Jesus, and the process begins anew.

Not too long ago another pastor asked me how I cope emotionally with the constant revolving door that is college ministry.  I told him that I remember on important fact: We’re not losing them, we’re launching them.

Why You Shouldn’t Do College Ministry (Part 1)

OK, I admit the title of this post is a bit misleading — obviously I think churches and ministers should strongly consider college ministry for a number of reasons.  However, like any field, people sometimes go into it for the wrong reasons, and that’s what this post and the next few will be about.  Don’t worry, though…after this series I hope to do on one why you should do college ministry.

So you shouldn’t do college ministry…

…if your sense of personal worth depends on how many people are involved in your ministry. Every so often somebody (usually another pastor) will ask me, “How many students come to your college class?”  My answer is always, “That’s a complicated question…” It depends on whether you are asking me how many attend at the beginning of September, in the middle of April, in mid-July, or any other time of year. The level of involvement varies dramatically with the flow of the school year and even from week to week.

If you are a person who dreams of national fame and longs to be introduced with the words, “Billy Bob leads a ministry of 17,000 people in the heart of the most important part of the world at the most important place you’ve ever heard of,” well then college ministry is probably not for you.

Why is there so much fluctuation in attendance? A variety of reasons: Sometimes you lose out to a late-night Saturday football game, sometimes to finals, sometimes to the general busyness that swallows students as the semester goes on.  It’s not just Sunday morning — every year we remind our student leaders that as the year goes on, their numbers will dwindle a bit and it’s not their fault.

So if you measure success by counting heads (and let’s be honest, quite a few  ministries do exactly that), college ministry will be a wild emotional roller coaster and you’ll be in for some rough whiplash.

BUT if you measure success in terms of discipleship matters will be different. One advantage of the natural winnowing process of the school cycle is that it allows us to focus deeply on a few students who really want to pursue Jesus. So we measure success in different terms — are they sharing their faith, are they learning to study the Scripture, are they walking with God 5-10 years after college, are our leaders replacing themselves? If there is a number I’m interested in, it’s actually the number of leaders we have intentionally discipling other students. That number means more to me than how many people who show up to hear me yak for 40 minutes on Sunday.

So success = spiritual reproduction.  Seems like I’ve heard that somewhere before (Mt 28:18-20; 2 Tim 2:2).

Facebook and Narcissism

I rarely post twice in the same week, let alone the same day, but I ran across an article that I just had to share.

It seems an undergraduate student at York University in Canada studied about 100 college students and concluded that there is a strong correlation between using Facebook and being narcissistic. In a nutshell, she administered the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a standard psychological measure of narcissism, and correlated the scores with Facebook activity. Narcissistic students tended to spend more time on Facebook, updated their statuses more frequently, and their pages contained flashier self-promoting photographs.

For those who might be unfamiliar with the terminology, narcissism is a negative character quality in which a person believes he or she is better than other people and worthier of their attention.

So what do you think? Does using Facebook more mean that a person is narcissistic? Do you think Facebook itself promotes narcissism, or is it just a tool that can be used for good or evil?

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Re-Focusing the Blog

It’s a new year so I thought it would be an appropriate time to adjust the direction and focus of this blog.

I’ve been processing over the past few weeks what I can possibly contribute to the vast sea of blogs in cyberspace. Even among Christian bloggers there is an almost infinite variety of topics already being covered.

After some thought I’ve decided to focus this blog more specifically on issues related to college ministry.  The past seven years of my life have been devoted to college ministry, so it seemed a natural fit. That doesn’t mean that I won’t still be writing about some of the topics I’ve expressed passionate opinions about — for example, the importance of Scripture has been one recurring theme.

However, as I talk about these issues I want to relate them directly to the challenges faced by today’s college students. Here are a few types of posts you’ll be seeing:

-Commentary on social, religious, and technological trends related to students

-Ideas for launching or leading college ministry in the local church

-Issues of importance for  students who are seeking to pursue Jesus — the value of Scripture, the importance of discipleship, the significance of overseas missions, and other such things

-Stories of my life as a college pastor

-Discussions about the history of campus ministry

There will be others, I’m sure, but this is just a start.  Hopefully you’ll stick with me as I make this transition and in the long run I’m hoping to provide something useful and encouraging to college students and those who are ministering to them.