Feb 12, 2018
Endure With Christ in College Ministry
Andy Cimbala provides some Biblical encouragement to endure to collegiate leaders who are experiencing a difficult season of life or ministry.
One of my favorite movie lines is from The Dark Knight. Batman is so discouraged, he asks Alfred, “What would you have me do?” and Alfred replies, “Endure, Master Wayne. Take it.” College missionaries would do well to heed Alfred’s counsel. It’s hard, but you must endure.
College ministry is hard. It’s hard to get rejected by students. It’s hard to process through conflict on your staff team. It’s hard to be ignored and passed over and looked down on for having a “junior” ministry. It’s hard to pray and pray and pray and then God says “not yet” to your big prayers. It’s hard to recruit students to come to events. It’s hard to fight your own sin and discouragement. It’s hard to drive to campus when you are discouraged and lacking motivation. It’s hard to pick up the slack of lost teammates who’ve transitioned off your staff team. It’s hard to do ministry seemingly alone, 30 minute drive from any of your other teammates, or maybe even with no team! It’s hard to serve a whole year recruiting new students and building up your freshman class only to have to start ALL OVER AGAIN in the fall with a brand new batch of freshman.
It’s hard to engage wisely with a constantly changing culture. It’s hard to stay biblically faithful and obedient when Satan, your own sin, and the world is at war with orthodoxy. It’s hard to raise support (can I get an amen??) and be fully funded so you can focus on ministry and not be worried about your rent and medical expenses. It’s hard to balance ministry to staff, ministry to students, ministry to donors, ministry to your local church, and ministry to family. It’s hard to be faithful in work AND rest, trying to labor diligently, but not burn out. It’s hard to find consistent time to spend reading the Bible and enjoying Jesus when the demands of ministry are nonstop. It’s hard to do ministry among a demographic that doesn’t have much interest in Jesus. It’s hard when you are constantly losing your best leaders, as senior students graduate. (Imagine a church where nobody but the pastors could stay longer than four years! Crazy!)
Because college ministry is hard, you are tempted to give up. Who would want to continue amidst these difficulties? Who even CAN keep at it? It’s exhausting work. You also face temptations to mistrust God. You can begin to think that since God is bringing all these hardships and sufferings, perhaps the Lord isn’t good. “He’s not answering my prayers, He’s just turning up the heat. Maybe He doesn’t even want me in ministry? Maybe I should just give up? Maybe God isn’t WITH me in this?” Sometimes the pressure and challenge of ministry feels like too much. You begin to think “any other job would be easier than this…”
Instead of giving up, you must endure with Christ! The Scripture gives us rich reasons for enduring:
1. Endure because your work is not in vain.
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” What a promise! Our labor for the Lord is NOT in vain. That inspires endurance! Galatians 6:9 encourages us again, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Don’t give up!! Yes it’s hard. And there’s a time gap between sowing and reaping. But, don’t become weary to the point of throwing in the towel. Keep going. Hershael York says, “Don’t underestimate or disdain the value and power of plodding: staying in harness, faithfully advancing, keeping your lines straight, trusting that the reaping will eventually come. Every celebration of harvest is preceded by a thousand unspectacular steps of simple obedience.” I’ve often seen the Lord bring fruit much later in the lives of students, sometimes even after graduation.
2. Endure because pain grows character.
The Scripture is replete with encouragements in this regard. Consider Romans 5:1-5, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We hope because of the gospel, and we can even rejoice in our sufferings! Hardship produces character and more hope. Do you want character? Then you need trial. This is how we grow. God is a good Father, and He disciplines us for our good. Hebrews 12:10-12 says, “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees” …in other words, endure! I haven’t enjoyed the difficult seasons, but God has used them to galvanize my commitment to making disciples.
3. Endure because Jesus is WITH you.
When Jesus gave His Great Commission at the end of Matthew 28, He didn’t just call you to make disciples and then tell you to get to work. He finished out with a promise: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus is WITH you! You aren’t alone. This gives us great comfort. In all the hardship, in all the difficulty, in all the pain, Jesus is with us. If I didn’t have that promise, I would give up. Ministry is too hard! I cannot do this on my own. But Jesus is with me. Psalm 34:18 affirms this, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Remember this, and fix your eyes on Jesus so you can run with endurance (Hebrews 12:1-2).
The work is worth the pain. God is growing you through the pain. He is with you in the pain. If you’re in a difficult season right now, you must endure. Just make it through this hard season. The Lord is doing a marvelous work in you, and it’s only through pain and difficulty that some aspects of character can be formed. There really is just no other way. Ministry success and a fat account balance and a huge healthy staff team is a blessing, but that high level of comfort and ease just doesn’t produce the character of Christ in you. And that’s what God is really after. He wants to conform you to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). When I forget this, I focus on the pain and get discouraged. But as I remember God’s intention, I focus on His promises and character, and I’m spurred on.
As you walk through this dark valley, CLING to Jesus. He is your GOOD shepherd (John 10:11). Remember His character, that He is kind and humble of heart (Matthew 11:28ff). Be encouraged that He has faced every temptation and shows grace to those in need (Hebrews 4:14-16). And most importantly, be comforted because He draws NEAR to those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). Press into the Lord through the pain. Additionally, reach out to others and be honest about how you’re doing, ask for help! Talk with other college ministry leaders on the Collegiate Collective Facebook group, talk with your pastor, talk with friends (but probably don’t raw process with your students).
Finally, PRAY often, pour out your heart to the Lord (Psalm 62:8). Psalm 55:22 says, “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.” Pray that God strengthens your faith. Pray that in this dark valley your faith would not fail. Pray that God would help you to endure.