When we first began our work at the University of Texas back in 1996, the college pastors at UT were not very interested in working together. This was mostly due to the discouraging experiences they had working together previously at UT or on other campuses.
The only time ministries partnered together back then was when someone could not afford to do something themselves. This sounds sarcarstic, but it’s true.
One ministry would want to bring in a band or speaker for an event, but it was too expensive to do alone, so they would call others to partner with them in hosting the event. I know there were other motives too, but the thought of working together was first sparked by financial need, not out of conviction that it honors God to work together or the conviction that we need to do so in order to see the campus changed.
Death by Committee
If an event is what brings pastors together, then the purpose of their meeting is to work on the event. Thus, a committee is formed. Pastors meet together simply to plan the event and sometimes pray for the event. There is nothing wrong with functioning like a committee except when the event is over the committee ceases to exist. Leaders shake hands and say, “See ya next time.”
Vision and Relationship
When we explained to campus ministers at UT that we did not want to unite to plan events but to unite in prayer to get to know one another and to seek God for a vision bigger than any one of our ministry could do alone they responded differently. When we started praying together weekly everyone knew we were meeting to get to know one another and to pray for God to do something great at the University of Texas.
We were sure God would eventually call us to do an event together, but we would let the event spring up from the prayer time. Thus, it was something we all felt led to do together, not something one ministry leader whom no one knows well proposes from the outside. More importantly, the event would never be the purpose of our gathering and we’d continue meeting after the event was over.
Taking a Step Back?
As the campus-reaching movement at UT has grown and the number of ministries at UT has increased form 30 in 1991 to 66 in 2011, we’ve had to create more teams and connection points. We literally created a “partnership menu,” which allows ministries to choose ways to connect with other ministries in the campus-reaching movement.
I’m concerned that these smaller partnerships are beginning to look like small committees, which we know do not build the deep relationships and shared vision needed to see the campus transformed. The most important thing we can do is ALL continue to pray together weekly and be sure each of the smaller partnerships are praying together, not just planning stuff to do together.
Justin Christopher is the director of Campus Renewal Ministries at the University of Texas and author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.