...And not one of them includes students. What?! If these seven relationships falter, your ministry may not survive, but if these relationships are alive and well ministry will more than likely follow suit!
Starting student ministry in a new place often leads me to rethink, retry, and reevaluate plans and processes I have done in the past. I have just landed in the UK to start a student ministry out of a local church. Last term, I was asked by a fellow campus minister, “What are your primary responsibilities?” and I was struck and surprised by what I said. I told him that at this moment I was settling my family and marriage, strengthening trust between me and the church staff, networking and learning from other student workers in the city, and shepherding and settling my staff team. I could of even mentioned spending time with God and prayer, but even with those five big roles and responsibilities students were nowhere to be found in response – not even in my top five. What?!I am learning through my response that I am in this for the long haul. I am not running a sprint, but in this thing till the end. As Donald Trump says, “I’m in it to win it.” Therefore, I have found that if I am not investing and aware of these seven relationships my ministry will be short-lived, shallow, and impotent. If we neglect the following five relationships our ministries will come to a grinding halt. Maybe not today, or tomorrow, but soon. These relationships are oxygen and the life-blood to our evangelistic and discipleship engines. Student ministry cannot live long without them. You might need a relational “oil change” to revive your missional engine reaching the lost.
I previously thought these relationships were hindrances to reaching the lost – costing me too much time and limiting my impact. I have no come to find that these 5 relationships are helps to reaching the lost and liberating, not limiting. If anyone is serious about reaching the lost, they will reach out to these five relationships often and sincerely.
Supervisors (churches, boards, ministries/charities)
Each of us, more than likely, is a person under authority from someone somewhere. Whether that be the board of directors, church elders, mission agency, 501c3… If you aren’t, why are you not? Shouldn’t you be? But, more often than not, we are connected and under the authority of like-minded men and women that we consult, submit to, and work under. Therefore, how quick can ministry be threatened, bandwidth taken, plans stalled, questioning delay plans, scepticism persist, and power plays abound when we are not operating in full disclosure, vulnerability, openness, and integrity with those we serve under. Lack of trust and assuming the best will kill your ability to pull off events, ask for money, ask for exceptions to policies, and just be a normal functioning Christian within the body of Christ. Don’t hurt the evangelization of the college campuses because you have neglected relationships with those whom God has put over you to care and shepherd you. God, in his infinite wisdom has decided this and these present methods, policies, and processes implemented for you and your team by present God-give leadership are the best way for reaching the lost.
I put out Hebrews 13:17 for us all, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work. Let them do this with joy and not with complaint, for this would be no advantage to you.”
Wife and Family
When Sara and I are not doing well, then I am not doing well. When we are struggling, my ministry struggles. When we are unhealthy, my mind is distracted and filled on our heaviness rather than being free to be engaged in the moment. When marriage is neglected, heavy, argumentative, and stale then I carry this over into my evangelism, discipleship and shepherding. As much as I would like it to be, life is not compartmentalized, but fluid. My wife and family cannot get my seconds or be side dishes but my primary area of discipleship, care, love, and attention. This is not only good for me, but one of the greatest priorities of all to model. Its no longer, “I can’t do this…[because of my wife or the kids]” but more importantly, “Thanks for offering, but I am planning on being with my family during that time. Let’s do it another time.”
When I am leading, loving, and listening to my wife then she feels full and understood and I get all her wisdom, input, and experience that I so badly need. One would think that by investing in your family that you are taking away from ministry. Nothing could be further from the truth. I need her. I need all that she offers me. She is indispensable to our ministry because God has so designed me that I am incomplete without her. She and my children are my best investment for my ministry. My team needs me to be the best husband and father I can be. If this is happening then I can give them my best. If is it not happening then forget it.
If you do not invest well at home, you will not be able to invest well outside the home. It is amazing to see the freedom, challenge, and inconvenience Sara endures when she sees my commitment to our family on quality time level. She makes me feel empowered when I leave the home at night to spend a night out with students rather than guilty. When she feels in competition then it is hard for her to be my complement. We need to take seriously the call to shepherd our households well because, “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?”
We all know how critical it is to shepherd our staff and just keeping and team and staff together in any place can be half the battle. Is their support raised and maintained? Are they healthy, holy, and happy? Are they developing, maturing, and growing in responsibility and capacity? Do they have healthy relationships inside and outside the team? What sort of past or present relationships have added to their present stability or instability and insecurities? Are they meeting with God? The answers to these questions are massive. They are incredibly important and necessary. We cannot only shepherd our staff in student strategies and movements, but our staff are whole people with whole lives and disciple through a wholeness lens. We are not asking them to just impart a gospel message, but we are asking them to impart their “own lives as well” because that is Christ’s model of ministry (1 Thess 2:8).
Therefore, how our staff are doing really matters. Our ministries will only be as gospel-laden, as growing, and godly as the people that make them up. If the primary modellers are hurting then they will produce hurting people. If they are enslaved, then they will produce enslaved disciples. Free people produce free people. Healthiness begets healthiness. True discipleship cannot be faked. The apples do not fall far from the trees. As our Savior says, “A tree is known by its fruit.” You will always reproduce after your own kind. If your staff’s lives are primary lives that will be multiplied into students, then their disciplers and shepherds must press in, jump in, and lean in early and often in situations and scenarios.
So, what is more worth it, to invest into a student OR to invest into a staff who has the capacity, experience, conviction, and competency to invest into many more? You do the math.
I have recently moved to begin a new student work outside the US and immediately realized I was in a unknown context and history of church and ministry relationships. I started to do some research and found out quickly that there seemed to be a lack of unity, trust, and assuming the best between churches and ministries. There was history, misunderstanding, scepticism, and superiority that came between Christians in the same city doing largely the same gospel work (albeit in different ways). Being the new kid on the block I realized that I was about to be swept up into this context and had to realize quickly that I would step on toes and ruffle feathers if this was not engaged sensitively and seriously.
As a mentor of mine has always said, “Andrew, it (division) almost always comes down to difference in theology and territorialism.” That is almost always true. With that being said I have observed that a little bit of initiation, gathering, presence, and fellowship can go a long way in debunking misconceptions, resetting expectations, and restarting relationships.
If you are a new kid on the block or the old kid, “What type of relationships do you have with partner organization, ministries, and churches?” When was the last time you had a coffee with your peer in another organization? When was the last time you prayed with them alone or in a group? When was the last time you consulted, informed, or heaven forbid I ask, asked their permission/input on a decision?” Have you asked then to share with your team or had them lecture at your staff development/training? Each of our ministries are NOT the body of Christ, but are part of it. And the other members exist to resource and complement us. Therefore, more kingdom work is done, better, and in godly ways when we reach across the divide to initiate, restart, or repair relationships. If you are waiting for them to do it, it might not ever happen. “So far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.”
Relationship with God
I believe the term “burnout” is overused in ministry but its symptoms do happen to varying degrees in ministry. Far too often people are just tired, busy, or stressed and they diagnose themselves as “burnt out.” Burnout is more accurately a description of prolonged (months long) exhaustion, lack of motivation, tiredness, and apathy. But the catalyst and contributions to these feelings (however lax or severe) can be very similar, but the most often unstated contribution can be lack of time and intimacy spent with God. Our type of ministry makes neediness of God necessary. Trying to function on empty or solely upon the fumes of past time or knowledge of God can only go so far. We are carrying around burdens and needs that only God was meant to carry so it is crucial that we are explicitly leaning on and labouring in only the strength He provides. Ministry is crushing and we are only as capable and competent to endure as we “humble [ourselves] under the mighty hand of God, that he may lift you up in due time. Casting all your anxiety on him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6). As George Mueller says, “The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.” If we are leading and modelling discipleship and being disciples of Christ then we need and ought to lead in following after, feasting on, and faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If only we understood that His primary work was in us? Maybe then he would do more through us? No one enters this job because they want God to work in them more than through them. But then again, they are not disconnected are they? If we understand His great work through us does not happen apart from His great work in us then we might not see time with God at odds with time with tasks for people. In fact, if this is true, your time with our God serves the vision tenfold. It is exactly what your staff teams need from you more than anything. They need you meeting with God above all else.
If my friend is right, then 66% of supporters stop supporting gospel workers because they do not think they care about them. This is a slap in the face to Jesus’ New Commandment, “They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another” (John 13:34). If lack of support exists because of perceived lack of care then it is because of Christian hypocrisy and inconsistency. It is a shame that gospel workers will inevitably come home, quit, and end full time gospel work simply because they neglected loving the body of Christ. They were so focused on the lost and important ones that they did not have time for the essential ones.
We simply do not have the luxury to lose labourers. Jesus says they are already too few (Matthew 9:37). Do not hand-cuff yourself, your ministry, and your staff by not investing in lives of those God has given you as teammates, partners, and co-labourers – we call them “supporters.” Shepherd them, pray for them, update them, and invite their influence. We were not called to operate independently, but interdependently among the members of the body. Let them complete and enrich your ministry. They are not just a means to us getting to do what we want, but a means to completing what God has called us to complete. They are our ministry. Never forget that. If you do, they might forget you.
Whether it be secular or Christian, public or private, technical or liberal arts it is extremely important you have good ties with the people in power. Being unknown in our line of work can result in unfavourable scepticism and negative perception when questions begin to arise about your presence, influence, and popularity. Are you a known entity? Do you have a University sponsor or have been approved as an official club or society? Do you have a university staff sponsorship or someone that can vouch for you? To be able to navigate universities is usually not a problem for us or our staff but to be able to stay on them as officially and favourably recognized does take some time, relationship, and initiation.
Do not get banned from campus because you failed to take the proper channels for assimilating and assisting the overall university culture. Many times just a simple introduction, email, or hello can go a long way. It is a lot easier for a University to assume the worst about someone they don’t know and stays in the shadows, but it can be much harder for them to make those assumptions if they can put a face and experience to your name. Be wise and diplomatic and may God give us favour with those in positions of power and influence. Maybe they might even be a “person of peace that avails us much more opportunity then we ever first imagined.