Mar 12, 2018
First Steps for College Ministry at HBCUs
Darrick Smith shares some of his own experiences in starting collegiate ministry at HBCUs.
Over the years I have come to learn several things about myself. One of them being, I don’t like roadmaps. Not like a physical map that you need to navigate you from Boise, ID to Billings, MT. More like a model or step-by-step manual on how to do something. You know, like, “Ten Ways to Start a College Ministry” or “Six Things Every College Pastor Must Do.” For years I couldn’t understand why those types of books, blogs, or articles on collegiate ministry frustrated me. And then it hit me one day.
I’m a PIONEER.
I like to prepare a way or open a path for others to follow along. I gain energy from the creative process of developing the roadmap to help others get where they’re going. I enjoy the complete absence of a “how to do it” manual because they typically make me feel limited or stuck. They tend to get boring really quickly as they can prescribe cookie cutter approaches to something. Not to mention they’re often a one-size-fits-all model. And since the collegiate landscape always shifts, we need models that can shift.
Several years ago, I ventured off into the world of collegiate ministry in a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) context. My first exposure to the HBCU context was in 2002 when I attended North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C. Even though I had just graduated from a predominately white high school, and for some reason I’d let my guidance counselor convince me to attend an HBCU. Talk about culture shock! They were two completely different worlds, but I learned a ton of things – things that unknowingly helped prepare me for collegiate ministry.
As I was gearing up for my first semester of collegiate ministry, I did exactly what I hated doing. In desperation to “get it right” I searched for a step-by step manual on collegiate ministry on HBCUs, I googled “How to start college ministry at an HBCU.”
Guess what? No results.
There was no article, blog, website, or books on how to reach these types of campuses. I found myself anxiously trying to get my hands on a how-to manual. Nothing. I had to figure it out on my own.
HBCUs were instituted with one of the purposes of providing African Americans with higher education opportunities. One of the greatest struggles that African Americans faced during the Civil Rights era was the inability to be educated. HBCUs served as a beacon of hope and an ocean of endless opportunities for oppressed African Americans. Many HBCUs were created as missionary training institutions. Now. the schools that were once founded to equip missionaries have become mission fields – strategic mission fields.
There are currently over 300,000 students across 100 HBCUs in North America. This means there’s probably an HBCU not too far from you. This means that future marketplace ministers, missionaries, and church planters are right near you.
So what do you do? What do you do when there’s a strategic ministry opportunity in your own backyard that’s contextually different than yours? What do you do when you don’t have the, how-to manual that you need in order to engage the context?
For me, I had to get really creative and try lots of things. In the process, I heard a friend use these four words to describe cross-cultural engagement: Go. See. Feel. Do. I took that and ran with it. I added some flesh to it and it became a roadmap. The process was life-giving and here is my attempt give you a starting point for collegiate ministry on HBCUs.
Before you do anything, you need to get on the campus. Walk around the campus. Pray over the campus. Take note of the culture. See where students hang out. Dialogue with students. Meet the faculty and staff. Eat where the students eat. Take it all in. The goal is to immerse yourself in the context and become a learner who never stops learning. You should leave feeling uncomfortable.
As you spend time on campus, take note of what you see. The differences, the similarities, and the need. Process what you see with others of the same context. Take it to God in prayer. The goal is to get a glimpse of the context and discern what could be—vision.
While you may not be able to relate to the context completely or at all, ask God to give you a heart to understand the context. To feel what they feel. To understand where they are coming from. Discover what the felt needs of the campus are. Ask God to break your heart for them. Ask God to give you the passion to toil with the strength of Christ (Col.1:29) for a context that’s different from yours. It’s hard to do ministry in a context where you don’t love the people.
Start taking some action steps. Set a meeting up with the Dean of Students to discover the needs of students. Share the gospel. Attend some events on campus. Host an event on campus. Host an event at your church. Start a small bible study. Remember to honor campus protocol.
Here’s the catch. The process isn’t a one-and-done. It’s a continual process of going, seeing, feeling, and doing. It doesn’t guarantee success and you won’t do it perfectly. You will make mistakes. However, God is faithful to use our messy processes and use them to begin disciple-making movements.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if I can help you discern next steps for cross-cultural collegiate ministry or next steps at an HBCU near you.