What does it really look like to partner in mission?

A long time ago, 1999 to be exact, I suggested to college pastors that we share a common database and connect our students across ministry lines to be missionaries in UT’s biggest dorm (Jester, which houses about 4000 students). The idea was quickly shot down.  The timing wasn’t right.

Fast forward nine years to 2008. A group of campus ministers were talking and dreaming about reaching every UT student with the gospel. The conversation birthed a partnership we named “Renovate UT.”  The ministries leaders decided, among other things, that they wanted to share a common database of all of their missional community leaders (not just in Jester dorm)! A new movement was born.

Missional Partnership

For two years Renovate UT was incredibly valuable.  Students were connected and each missional community was strengthened. For the first time we had real-time information of who was doing what where.  We connected our students across ministry lines.  We didn’t care who “owned” each missional community, so long as one of us was coaching the group.  The network also helped us keep missional communities active from year to year, even as students graduated or began new missiaonal communities.

College pastors from ten different ministries met together monthly to share success stories and common struggles. We learned from one another. We shared training resources and best practices. We supported one another. We even committed to come each month with “numbers” so that we could begin to tangibly measure our progress toward reaching every UT student with the gospel.  There was great humility and true partnership for two years.

Missional Resistance

The Renovate UT partnership peaked in the summer of 2010, when we held a joint “Missiona(all) Retreat” to train all of our missional community leaders. From that point on we seemed to face various sorts of resistance, and Renovate UT lost its momentum.

Some resistance was circumstantial. Several of the pastors who first connected with the movement took new positions in their churches or on other campuses. The pastors who stepped into their place inherited a commitment to Renovate UT, and naturally lacked the history and relationships that were such a significant part of the partnership.

Some resistance was by our authorities. Honestly, some of the campus ministers had to step back because their superiors were not pleased with the amount of time an energy they were investing in Renovate UT. It’s sad to say, but some left Renovate UT because they had to honor the desires of their leaders.

Some resistance was due to differences ministries had in defining missional communities. The vision for Renovate UT was very specific and in some ways too narrow. As the movement grew we needed to tweak the vision a bit to make for changes we were all recognizing.  The changes were not made and Renovate UT practically dissolved. Looking back, I blame myself for part of this.  I could have been a better leader amidst these changes.

Missional Rebirth

Last week, after a year an a half of wandering, Renovate  UT was rebirthed.  Call it Renovate UT 2.0.

Leaders from six different campus ministries were back at the table revisiting the vision and values written up back in 2008.  We changed a few minor things, but overall we renewed our previous commitments to Renovate UT.  At the table were three people who were part of the initial conversations from four years back and three new pastors who were students leading missional communities on campus back in 2008!

 Over the next few weeks I will share a bit more about the vision and values of Renovate UT. Rejoice with us, and if you’re on another campus, think about what it might look like to tangibly partner campus ministries in mission on your campus.

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.