Posted by: Justin Wallace | November 29, 2010

Long Distant Friends :: From Greg in Mexico

*Sometimes I feel like a like a lion stuck in a cage. I can only see the 4 walls that have captured me. My world view is small and minimized. I wonder if, at times, we approach ministry from this place. We only see ministry from the perspective of our context, our culture, our generation, our 4 walls. So, we spin our wheels, thinking that we’re moving but instead the back axle is sinking deeper and deeper in the mud. I see this as a huge temptation that we as American college ministers face. We become so locked into how ministry is done in the context of America that we become more like America than like the Kingdom of Heaven. What is the remedy? How do we protect ourselves from such a myopic view of ministry? I believe we must surround ourselves with friends, mentors and Christian family from outside the 4 walls of this country. I have asked 4 of my friends that work with College students in other countries, other contexts, to share their views of college ministry and their suggestions for us here in America. I asked them, “What would you, someone outside the four walls of the US, say to those of us that are working with college students in the US? Suggestion? Warnings? Advice?” Today’s post comes from Greg Millsaps in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. (You can read part 1 of this series, a message from Robert Millar in Munich, Germany, HERE)

In being asked by my friend Justin Wallace to pen a brief essay to campus pastors in the United States from the perspective of someone who works with college students in another country, three important points immediately sprang to mind.  Certainly there are many important things in campus ministry to be considered but these three are at the top of my pile.  This essay comes from the perspective of someone who loves college students – their bombardments of questions, their middle of the night phone calls, their inability to pay for their lunch tabs when we go out, their passion and zeal for everything – these are but a few of the things one can expect from them.  They are indeed a unique age-group that requires unique people to serve them.  I was a campus pastor at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina for four years before being called to overseas missions work in Latin America.  Based in Monterrey, Mexico, I teach at a Bible College and run a discipleship project for college-aged adults.  I know first-hand the challenges and heartaches, as well as the joys and fulfillment of working with college students.  Campus ministry, long seen by many in the church as just an extension of youth ministry, is actually more like foreign missions than many realize.  Campus ministry requires all the courage, creativity and cultural adjustments that are necessary in foreign mission work.  We all know that the university has long been the graveyard of the faiths of many an enthusiastic Christian youth, but thanks to the faithful hard work and dedication of our campus pastors, God is alive and well on our university campuses.  So, pastors, be encouraged and please consider my brief essay.

(1) The importance of discipleship.  The Great Commission is about disciple-making just as much as it is about going into the nations.  Sure, going into the nations is important (see point #2), but our life as disciples of Jesus is to make more disciples of Him.  There are many things that vie for our attention as pastors – big events, outreaches, and conferences to name a few – but the real success in ministry comes down to one simple word:  fruit.  And by fruit I don’t mean large numbers, great meetings, or impressive multimedia presentations.  I believe our fruit is measured not in souls saved but in souls discipled. One of the things most lacking in the Body of Christ worldwide, in my humble opinion, is discipleship.  By discipleship I mean an investment of the kind modeled by Jesus in the lives of his disciples – not only teaching and instruction but more a life shared together:  time spent, bread broken, tears cried, blood spilled.  I won’t lay out a simple formula for doing it because I believe it’s something that is more caught than taught.  A pastor needs to intentionally spend time with his students – it’s not just about hanging out with no purpose.  Discipleship seems to naturally flow from intentional relationships.  So, pastor, go and make disciples!

(2)  The importance of foreign missions.  Foreign missions teaches us that the body of Christ is a global community.  Our brothers and sisters from other cultures have a lot to teach us both about ourselves as well as about God.  All human cultures reflect some facet of God’s nature and character.  Though we Americans definitely understand and appreciate other cultures because we are ourselves a multicultural society, it is very important for us to travel.  Our students need the valuable perspective that only a foreign missions trip can provide – it gets the students out of their ordinary routines, comforts, and, most importantly, out of themselves.  Cultivate a love for the nations in the hearts of your students and they’ll never love the world.  As a campus pastor some of the most fruitful times with my students were when I led short-term missions trips to other countries.  Standing on Mars Hill in Athens, Greece reading aloud Paul’s sermon from Acts 17, outfitting and supplying a library in a Christian elementary school in Nicaragua, and a late-night dinner of tacos in a dusty Mexican desert town are all unforgettable experiences I’ve had with students over the years.  So dust off those passports – acts of service and new adventures in learning are waiting!

(3)  The importance of interdependence.  Not independence but interdependence.  Independence is a bedrock concept woven into our being as Americans and is so deeply ingrained into our DNA that we often fail to realize that independence is a much lesser virtue in God’s Kingdom.  God desires an interdependence from us as believers that, in many ways, runs counter to what we’ve been taught as Americans.  We have to learn to rely not just on God alone but also on our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Because of our cultural emphasis on freedom and independence, many leaders face two challenges (among others):  (1)  we as pastors are wary of taking the full measure of our God-given authority – which sometimes involves speaking the truth in love – out of fear that the students will simply leave and find another campus ministry or church where they are more “accepted.”  So, campus pastors – don’t be afraid of the authority God has given you.  Of course, I’m referring to using your authority in true agape love and not to control or lord over your students.  And (2) because of our cultural emphasis on independence it is much more difficult to form and maintain a community of students willing to slog through all the issues with one another that come up in a discipleship relationship.  Too often, Christian students will jump from one campus ministry to another or just drop out altogether when problems arise.  It takes a lot of work and prayer to create and maintain a healthy cohesion in a campus ministry.  Pastors, learn to be interdependent!

I hope you receive these as an exhortation to continue on in your work with college students.  Remember – you only have these students for a season, so take advantage of it!  Many of my former students are now doctors, lawyers, pastors, police officers, teachers, and more importantly, moms and dads and happily married husbands and wives.  I’ve re-connected with many of them on facebook and it’s a joy to see most of them still serving the Lord.  It is an honor and a privilege to have helped them along on part of their journey when they were but college students.  So be encouraged.  Your investment in them is of the utmost value.  And who knows…someday, after they’ve paid off all those student loans, you might be surprised to find them picking up the tab.

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