Monday, May 21, 2007

Campus Ministry in Missouri: More Thoughts

Recently, the Missouri Annual Conference decided to “shift toward congregationally based ministries with college students,” rather than fund on-campus ministries at colleges and universities across the state. (You can read the resolution here.) My opinion is that this move erodes part of the connection, and moves the conference toward a congregational polity, rather than its distinctive connectional polity. I also believe that it is a move motivated solely by the bottom line – money – and has very little to do with the extravagant, risky, and radical ministry to which Christians are called.

The most common motivation for this move that I have heard is that on-campus ministries cost too much. Wesley Foundations on college campuses are seen by many as wastes of money, or in the gentler language employed these days to smooth over hurt feelings, they are not “bearing good fruit” because the number of students who participate is not commensurate with the resources allocated to them. And to add insult to injury, the Conference is so reluctant to address the issue honestly and openly, the Commission on Higher Education will not even be allowed to make a report at this year’s Annual Conference session, according to a Conference source I spoke with. No chance to grieve, celebrate the many years of good ministry, mourn the loss. In the future, there will be no Commission on Higher Education in the Missouri Annual Conference!

Segue to a story I heard on the NPR program Weekend Edition on Saturday, May 19, 2007. (Listen to it here.) In an interview with retired Marine Lt. Col. Gary Anderson, John Ydstie (say IT-stee) explored the recent kidnapping of three U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Col. Anderson said that every soldier knows that if something happens to him, his buddies are going to come get him or her; no one will be left in the enemy’s control if at all possible. He considers this duty so important he used the word “sacred” to describe it. U.S. soldiers know that they are “not going to be forgotten” and that “[The search] will never be discontinued,” although “…the level of activity may go down” or change focus as circumstances dictate.

Ydstie asked him about the cost, wondering if there ever was a time when the investment of resources in the search would outweigh the dwindling hope of rescuing the prisoners from the enemy. The colonel replied, “It’s not a cost/benefit analysis; it’s, quite as a matter of fact, a moral duty that we feel we have to our troops. Cost at this point and time is I’m sure the farthest thing from the heads of the military commanders that are conducting the operation.”

Of course, sparing no expense to rescue people from the enemy is not only something the military does. Turns out, it is kind of important to Jesus, too. He said, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:4-7)

I hope we have not come to a time when we do a cost/benefit analysis to determine if we ought to go and seek the lost sheep on college campuses in Missouri. Surely there is someone willing still to leave the 99 behind and throw everything into finding the one. U.S. soldiers know that their brothers in arms will not abandon them to the enemy; should not children of God also be able to rest assured that they will be rescued from “the snare of the fowler,” no matter what the cost?

The truth is, I hope that this change in our conference represents a shift in focus rather than just giving up the search. I pray that congregations in college towns will pick up the mission that the conference is dropping. But that’s a hope right now. The reality is a lot of people connected to campus ministries are feeling abandoned by the Missouri Annual Conference. Rather than investing whatever resources it takes to find the one lost sheep, it feels like the Conference is pretty much tending to the ninety-nine.

19 comments:

Frist! said...

Frist!

Helen said...

WOW, there is nothing more to say---thanks for saying what needed to be said.

Stresspenguin said...

I think your words bear repeating from the floor at AC this year. Just my 1/50th of a dollar.

Larry B said...

Perhaps the church takes this too literally -

If you look at the document on the UMC website titled "This is our Story" from the GFCA

www.gcfa.org/PDFs/THISISOURSTORY.pdf

And look at the number of people joining by profession of faith or restoration of faith compared to current membership, it's about 1%. So the 99% are finding the 1%

Ok, Seriously though I agree with your disappointment at the decision to not support an external organization like the Wesley Foundation.

Unfortunately the reality is declining membership with increasing expenses is going to cause these kinds of decisions to be made.

Adam said...

I think that this might be a good thing. For instance, there's a brand new community college going up across the street from our new church- and we're planning on being a presence there. Now, who could offer a better "connection" the cabinet? Or a church, literally a stone's throw away. We can apply for a grant and get busy right in our own local church.

What about the fact that we had like, 13 or so campus ministries and there's over 100 campuses in Missouri? I know we have churches in every place, but not campus ministries.

I guess i'd be the kind to err on the side of local church ministry as opposed to conference ministry. The way it used to work, you could have an elder appointed to campus ministry, THAT DIDN'T EVEN WANT (or "feel called") TO DO CAMPUS MINISTRY! Now how is that "connectional"?

It is a little shady the way that it won't even be brought up on the conference floor. But I think that there are definately some pros- the fact that maybe this can ignite some congregations to get off their butt and reach out to the people totally missing from their congregation- college kids and young adults.

hhhmmm....what do college kids lack? Money! College students are transient and not big tithers, so they're not a good "investment" for say a full time staff person or a large budget line item- because they don't carry their weight money wise.

So maybe the 99 can go after the 1 lost sheep, just not at a conference level.

David said...

I am more and more discouraged at such thoughts, as the force of ministry seems to indicate a move to sustain rather than change (hearts, minds and doors).
Our own Annual Conference (Cal-Pac) went forward with a similar initiative last year and this year is scrambling to undo the damage of the proposed change, before it ever got moving with substantive change to do away with the system.
Seriously, I do think tying the college ministry units with the local church is a positive move, it is a great partnership for the University of Alabama Wesley Foundation and Trinity UMC, in Tuscaloosa. Unfortunately there are very few churches so close to the campus where many of our campus minsitry units are housed. But, the connection is enhanced as new students are drawn into the mission of the local church, and the local church takes on the issues and concerns of the college campus.
The UMC has a long history of making inroads in education and to leave these things behind only serves to discredit the UMC with the younger generation as we leave the halls of learning we once so highly valued, and lessening the appeal of the church to the average student.
I see the key to rejuvination as one that embraces the climbers turn of phrase, "If you can't get out of it, then get into it."
The move to cluster campus ministry into the local church is a matter of stating we are not ready to get out of campus ministry, but we are leaving the system that has worked at generating new ministers, introducing the faith to countless students, and providing a forum for discussion.
While I do agree that we need to reexamine how to do campus ministry, I do not think that shuffling the whole kit and caboodle over to the local church, which is already financially strained and not desirous of new ministries, is the key to change in this instance.
Sorry to go on, but I will cut and paste and link in my own blog.
Peace,

Stephen said...

I find that most united methodist churches have trouble ministering to their "own" college aged people and now they are going to take on ministering to an entire campus? Churches even those with the best missional mindsets are not equipped for this type of ministry.

Cost is something the emergent-minded folks have debated with your bishop before at the CoR last year for UMerging. The Methodist church is set up for the most part to be about "souls saved" "numbers and noses", but what about those indeterminable things? What about the Wesley Foundation at VT that held an all night vigil for the students there after the shooting? Was that "too expensive" because they didn't have a minimum number of people attend?

Rev. Tiffany Steinwert said...

What a great post!

While I think it is important to have connections to congregations, I think leaving the campus will do more harm than good, creating the perception that the Church only cares about filled pews (and plates) rather than active ministry in the world.

This is one more reason young people are leaving the UMC...it is clear they are not a priority to the Church.

mandyc said...

great post, Andy. I went to a UM university in Oklahoma and I find it interesting that as MO is getting rid of them, my alma mater is building a Wesley Foundation on campus. The churches around the campus are small, mostly elderly and don't seem to have the energy to reach out to the college kids, but there is a great enthusiasm among the students to do their own activites on campus.

Adam made some good points, such as the way some apopintments are made without matching passions and ministry gifts to the post, and there is a need for local churches to be more involved, BUT there are ways for those things to change without taking away what was perhaps the little those college students got. The church can't afford to leave anyone behind - college students graduate and get jobs that allow them to be "productive" memebers of the church later, and don't think they won't remember how the church treated them in their time of need...

Mitch said...

At our local campus the Wesley Center was not only expensive but downright ineffective. I see this move as an effort to do someting...anything different than what we have been doing. If the the centers worked we wouldn't be having this decussion.

If we are so concerned about the kids on campus why were we not having this discussion five years ago when it was apparant that Wesley was broken and kids weren't being served?

It's not about money, its about the kids...isn't it?

I'd be curious to hear your younger brother's opinion.

Adam Caldwell said...

I'd be curious to hear Brad's opinion as well...Mitch whats a "decussion" anyway?

I'm going to walk the line on this one...if you know me you know where I stand I suppose.

Much love

YEEEAAAAAHHHH...Ministry is so easy!

Anonymous said...

Andy, you once told me that it was through your relationship with the Wesley Foundation director at Northeast MO State that you were led to make the decision to enter the ministry. I can't help but wonder for how many this is true and what a resource for nurturing future clergy we are losing.

And I am really upset that the Commision of Higher Education is not being allowed to give a report at Conference. Big tactical error! cb

Brad said...

Alright, I'm flattered that I've been called by not one but two people to give my opinion on this.

First of all, I never ever want to be bishop or ACHE chair or OMT chair have to make the kinds of decisions these folks have had to make over the last few years.

That being said, while the decision isn't in itself bad or good-I don't think any of us know that yet-the motives behind it are AWFUL! Campus ministry is not being cut because of ineffectiveness. Money was the driving factor, just like money and fear were the driving factors in last year's insurance decision. When the church starts creating policy based on money, we become something that I don't think we're supposed to be. We become a business, a corporation. Lots of folks out there think that's how we're going to save the church. Thinking of worship, study, and service like products and people in the pews and, more importantly, the ones NOT in the pews as consumers is, in my humble opinion, the OPPOSITE of Jesus' call to serve the world with love, compassion, mercy, justice, peace, etc.

The reason Campus Ministry lost its effectivness is the same as why the church as a whole has lost its connection with young adults: the church is 20 years behind the rest of the world. Taking money away from any program without addressesing the overwhelming out-of-touchness and lameness of mainline Christianity will not accomplish anything.

Not envying those who've been called to serve our church on a conference level, and not representing the youth culture on any level,
Brad

Richard H said...

While it is sometimes true, that some Wesley Foundations have been staffed by people who are not effective at reaching students for Christ, ending the practice of campus ministry doesn't look like an obvious solution (unless, as some say, the real reason is saving money).

But then the Baptists, Muslims and Secularists (to name a few) are all giving up on influencing students too, so at least we're not alone. (Pardon me: I'm not so sanctified yet that I've lost my sarcasm.)

Helen said...

Wow, think this is the longest blog of Andy's for awhile. Good comments.

Someone mentioned why this was not a topic some time ago. I do not think several of us Methodists in Missouri knew that something like this was going to happen---we have just been use to the Wesley Foundations being there for the college students our churches send off to college each year and for the ones that they make friends with like room mates and fellow class students.

cb glad you mentioned Northeast Mo. State---have not heard that word for awhile!!!!!

That is one where my husband and I met in 1965---old!!!!!
This is the one I know about the most.

I know that in the last 6 years there have been 6 or 7 come out of that group and go to seminary. Two are ministers in Missouri now.

There are going to be 3 from that Wesley group in the same seminary next fall. One of them will graduate next May---I know that one very, very, very well.

I do know that the former members and the present students there are very sad and some of them do feel their church has left them.

My prayer every morning is that some how the churches do find a way to be their for the college students and that those students that need lots of support in college years will not lose complete faith in the church.

Anonymous said...

You go, Andy!
I must agree that ACHE not being given a chance to report on its demise is a real shame--and a tactical error.
However, it seems to be the trend in the Missouri Conference. We say that communication is of the utmost importance. After all, we know who the Great Communicator was--and I don't mean Ronald Reagan--he just had good speechwriters! But here's one place where we're not walking the walk. If we were, for example, we would have been telling people all along what the Pathways task force was thinking, doing, considering. . .we would have talked with the participants in any ministry being considered to see how they thought things might be improved. We would have been open about thoughts for the future and plans as they were being considered. That didn't happen--despite the repeated urging of the "professional" in that field (yes, that would be the same professional who is now looking for a new job--and who had to announce her own demise. . .). Anytime change is proposed, the process goes smoother if you have buy-in of those involved. And you can't have that if they don't know what is being considered.
I fear for the fallout. I will be watching for it from the outside.
In the meantime, thank God for those of you who can continue to try to make changes for the better from the inside.
Another Northeast Mo State alum

Adam Caldwell said...

This is just a question...

Should the church be run as a democracy?

Throwin' a softball...who wants to take a wack?

Dr. Tony said...

I am another NEMO/Truman graduate who feels the move of the Missouri Annual Conference to change the nature of the campus ministry is probably not the best move. It will be justified as cost effective but, as Andy pointed out, is that ever the proper way to justify ministry?

Two points -

Back in March,I did a short survey on the impact of the Wesley ministry on the members of the Methoblog (look at http://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2007/03/10/the-wesley-ministry-survey/).
The conclusion was that there were some who were touched by the campus ministry but there were many who were missed.

Second point - if there is another Virginia Tech tragedy (and I pray that such a thing never occurs again), who will be there for the students? The Wesley Ministry was there when it was needed. Who would have been there for the students if the Wesley Ministry had not been there? Do we want to answer that question?

A campus ministry is a unique ministry and it takes special people to lead it. But the outcome is a good one and we should not short it just because the results don't appear on the bottom line.

In peace,
Tony Mitchell - Truman '71

heart4kids said...

well AB i think you know how i already feel about this issue...since it was through campus ministry and my desire to be active in ministry that we met in the first place... it saddens me deeply. If it were not for CMSU's campus ministry I would not be in ministry today. And it saddens me that by the MO annual conference giving up on campus ministry means that you will miss out on future clergy members it will happen. The saddest part is that Missouri's college students will be missing out on life changing opportunities. This is just one more reason why I got out of the MO conference when I did... In MY opinion...MO church/conference people need to stop acting like the World and help the worldly people to start acting like the church...Christ's church...
~B