As students are being encouraged to become immersed and imbedded in the greater university cultures around them, missional churches are both excited and terrified of the impact on their pre-existing ministry communities.
On the one hand, these missional churches (and para-churches) understand the need to encourage and free students to re-engage the cultures around them by spending time inside them. On the other hand, this often means allowing their most passionate leaders to step away from traditional bible-study, mission trip, freshmen outreach, and training leadership roles.
With the 4-year turnaround that comes with each generation of students, the risk of losing an entire crew of leaders to a missional effort that may or may not “pan-out” is a great one. It puts the health of the ministry as well of the job of any campus minister attempting to make such a shift on very unsure ground.
Mission Requires Faith…
Churches that I have observed make the shift of freeing up students time to spend in the world outside of the church have done so in a variety of ways. Some ministries simply tell all of their leaders “if the non-Christian community that you are reaching out to has a meeting that conflicts with one of our programs…go to their meeting instead!” Others cancel their regular large-group meetings, and tell every one of their students to find a “secular” community to go spend time with that night instead. Still others make similar decisions with a few choice leaders…an experiment in being missional before a grand-scale shift.
Surprisingly, the majority of ministries I’ve seen make these shifts and decisions, have been met largely with success. By success, I do not mean that their Wednesday lunches or Sunday evening college meetings grew exponentially. What I mean is that their student’s readiness to engage campuses with the Gospel, was a reality. With it came a whole new set of challenges, but to be sure, Jesus’ prayer “not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17) was no longer being unfulfilled. In addition, the number of students being newly reached with the Gospel through spiritual conversations HAD exponentially increased.
For the most part, these churches were able to keep donations coming in, and campus ministers were able to retain their job. This however, required an understanding…that success is not based in the number of Christians that fill a ministry meeting, but the greater impact that Christians being sent out have on the world they are meant to live in.