Karen was a wealth of information. It was only my second day on the job, and she was exactly the person I wanted to talk to. She had been the director of KU’s chapter of a national student ministry organization for the past three years, and before that, had planted four other chapters of the organization on different campuses around the Midwest. She also currently sits on the board of the ecumenical alliance for all of KU’s religious organizations. And on this day, we were having coffee together, because I’m the new guy, and I’m in over my head.
I just started in my position as director of a different, smaller campus ministry, and I wanted to meet with Karen in an attempt to learn what some of the larger campus ministry organizations are doing. Karen was definitely not at a loss for words when it came to talking about all of the wonderful ways that her organization is ministering the gospel to students, but I also wanted to know what the other organizations are doing, and how hers is working together with them.
“Do you spend much time working with Cru or Navs or any of the other ministries on campus?” I wanted to know.
“Honestly, most of the time, organizing events with the other ministries is just more work than it’s worth.”
Family and Neighbors
I appreciated Karen’s candor, but her attitude surprised me. “Of course it’s hard work to be unified!” I thought to myself. “But isn’t that what we do?” After some further thought, however, I realized I can easily have the same attitude. I know more about what my Aunt Debby in Houston had for lunch than I know about what’s going on in my next door neighbor’s life. Why is that? Why does the Lutheran reverend know more about the happenings at the Lutheran church in the next town than he knows about what the Baptist church across the street is doing? And why was Karen so excited to tell me about her ministry’s activities in campuses all across the country, but wasn’t sure which night Young Life meets on her own campus?
Many of us work for organizations with a strong and purposeful hierarchy. We have campus directors, regional directors, boards and presidents, but this hierarchy is easy to monitor and difficult to change. It’s like a family. We have brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts and wise old grandmothers peppered throughout our organization on several campuses, and it’s not hard to know what everyone is doing. It’s easy to be united because we know exactly what we have in common. We’re related.
It’s much easier to maintain that kind of working relationship with a family member than a neighbor. We don’t always know our neighbor’s history. We may not know their goals, and we can’t just assume they believe the same as we do. If the other branches of our organization are our family, then the other organizations on our campus are our neighbors, and Karen was right. Unity with them is much harder work. I may be new to this, but I can’t believe it’s more work than it’s worth, and I look forward to finding ways around my organizational hierarchy and into the lives of my neighboring ministries.
John Benda is the director of Campus Christians, a small ministry organization at The University of Kansas. He and his wife, Lydia, recently moved from Austin, Texas to Lawrence, Kansas in order to be closer to family and to enjoy Lawrence’s glorious fall colors. John is also a drummer, songwriter, worship leader, teacher, runner, coffee drinker, reader, enthusiast and friend.