Feb 05, 2018


Avoiding College Ministry Pragmatism

Chase Abner provides three principles to help you lead your college ministry without slipping into pragmatism.

There’s something inherently dangerous about Collegiate Collective. Though we’re well-intentioned and prayerful, we risk communicating the wrong thing about how ministry happens. With titles like “7 Keys for Starting a College Ministry In Your Church” and “How to Build Evangelistic Momentum,” one could get the idea that successful college ministry is found in a plan or a playbook*. Just build the right systems, turn the right widgets, and the disciples will practically make themselves, right? Right?!

Completely foolish.

God alone is the arbiter of ministry results. There is no human strategy or scheme that guarantees the blessing of God. And the more blessings you see in your ministry, the more you should tremble.

On the other hand, desiring ministry success is not wrong assuming you are motivated by love for God and others. It is not wrong to want more people to worship Christ. As such, it is not wrong to prayerfully seek out ideas that will help you reach, disciple, and send more students on campus.

Though without proper restraint, we all can become college ministry pragmatists. We might latch onto ideas as true simply because they have been “fruitful” for others. We might compromise convictions for the sake of looking creative. Most unfortunately, we might pass over certain students because they don’t seem to fit the mold for what we think our ministry needs.

Of course we want you to keep coming to Collegiate Collective for ideas, but keep in mind these three principles to avoid college ministry pragmatism.

Ministry isn’t your home. Jesus is.

I believe that pragmatism is the fruit, not the root of the problem. We obsess over results and labor to find something “that works” because we’re not ultimately satisfied in the results that Jesus gives when we do things his way. Maybe we’re afraid that fewer numbers will mean fewer supporters or even a job loss. Maybe we’re afraid to be known as the leader who drove a ministry into its grave. Whatever the case may be, know that you don’t have to fear the numbers because you’re safe with Jesus.

Jessica Dahl of Resonate Church recently said, ““If ministry is your home, numbers will never satisfy. If Jesus is your home, you can throw away the tally sheet.”

Lead your ministry to say the right thing about Jesus.

I’m sure you labor over saying the right things when you’re preaching and teaching, but do you similarly examine what your strategies and structures say about Jesus? When I worked with Mark Vance at Salt Company, he regularly pushed our staff to assess our activities through this lens. Often this would cause us to reel in production values in order to be clear that Jesus was the centerpiece of our gatherings. Other times, it meant significantly changing plans to best serve the university, demonstrating Jesus’ own humility. Largely, it meant old fashioned things like expositional preaching and bible reading. There’s probably no better way to say that God isn’t trendy or trivial than emphasizing a 2,000 year old book!

In the whirlwind of ministry, it’s understandably tempting to just ask, “Will it work?” I want to push you to keep asking, “Is it faithful?”

There isn’t just one way to do it.

One of the things I appreciate most about our community is its diversity. Collegiate Collective features leaders from various denominational streams, ministry models, and types of campuses. We’ve got Baptists, Brethren, Methodists, and more. Some are parachurch ministry leaders, some are local church staff, and some are both! Some lead at major state universities. Others are at private colleges or community colleges. Some raise their support. Some have a full-time salary. Many are volunteers!

I mention all of that to say that there are a lot of different ways that the gospel is being advanced on campuses across North America. Yes, it’s important for you to find the one way you should do college ministry, but it’s also important to recognize other viable ways to make and multiply disciples among student populations.

There are moments when it is tempting to look around and critique other leaders and their ministries, but let me be clear. No one needs you to do that. Especially God. That energy is better spent seeking the Father on behalf of your ministry and your campus. Ask him to make you an expert on what you should be doing, not on what others shouldn’t be.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “If it’s all about Jesus and being faithful and there’s no ‘one way’ to do it, then why do I need to consume a bunch of ideas on Collective?” That’s a fair question. Just remember that we aren’t seeking to be the Holy Spirit for you. We just want to provide good fodder for your planning and prayer.

Collegiate Collective will remain a platform for the best ideas in college ministry, but we’re fresh out of magic bullets. We never really had them anyway.



*Full disclosure: I come up with the titles for most of those articles. In my zeal to provide practical help to as many leaders as possible, perhaps I’ve overstated just how crucial those “keys” are in order to get readers to take a look.

about the author

Chase Abner

Chase is the Lead Church Planting Catalyst in Iowa with the North American Mission Board and music geek.