If you have been in campus ministry (or any ministry for that matter) very long you’re sure to have experienced “sheep stealing.” Whether students left your church to join another or your church benefitted from having students leave another church, you’ve likely had the difficult conversations with the other pastor. Regrettably, I’ve had three such conversations over the last month.
In every case I am sure there is genuine pastoral care for the student and genuine desire for God’s Kingdom to advance. I am also sure in every case there is subtle personal insecurities and subtle concern for one’s own ministry.
I have been in these conversations personally and have served as a third party between pastors as they have had these conversations. Truthfully, since there is rarely an intentional effort to “steal sheep,” I always leave these conversations very confused about what to do when students switch ministries.
Some argue that sheep stealing can actually serve to advance God’s work on campus or in a city. While others argue that it hinders God’s work on campus or in a city. I see good arguments on both sides. In my confusion about what to do I always go back to John chapter 3 to see how John the Baptist responded when he was losing “sheep” to Jesus.
And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.”
John makes three statements that I think are good reminders for pastors in the midst of this kind of conflict.
“A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.”
I love John’s humility. He knows he has a God-given role and humbly accepts it, even at the time when he was losing influence. He refuses to get drawn into comparison, even though his disciples are asking him to do so. We’d do well to deeply consider our role in God’s work on campus and humbly accept it without drawing comparisons to others. Comparison only leads to two places: pride or insecurity. We need neither.
“The bride belongs to the bridegroom.”
Wow! Gut check. There is not “your church” and “their church.” There is only Christ’s Church. John states it with such conviction. In John’s eyes, his disciples never belonged to him in the first place. They always and only belonged to Jesus. We’d do well to remind ourselves of this fact. Could it be that the whole conversation about who belongs to who is misguided in the first place?
“He must become greater; I must become less.”
It’s all about Jesus. So much of our struggle with students leaving our ministries is caught up in own own feelings of self worth and our desires for our ministries to succeed (whatever than means). Trust me. I know how it feels. It does feel awful to “lose” a key leader whom you were hoping would serve in your ministry. But Jesus did not lose them, and it’s about Him, not me and my ministry.
Justin Christopher is the national campus director for Campus Renewal Ministries and the author of Campus Renewal: A Practical Plan for Uniting Campus Ministries in Prayer and Mission. He facilitates CRM’s Partnering Campus Project and also gives leadership to the Campus House of Prayer and the missional community movement at the University of Texas.