How Many Dumpsters?

Campus ministry buildings are much like youth rooms in local churches.  They tend to collect the unwanted, well intended gifts, from those who support the ministry. When I began at Wesley Campus Ministry at WMU the building was full.  I wasn’t sure of what it contained I just know it was full and felt cluttered.  Standing at the doorway of one such cluttered room one of my then board members gave me wise advice saying, “give each room a purpose and it will be used accordingly”.  And so began the decluttering process of the building.

That first fall semester we donated twice to a local second hand store that supports a local ministry and Goodwill. We also began filling up our dumpster weekly.  How many dumpsters does it take to clean out a 40 year old building?  Seven.  Seven dumpsters full of outdated letterhead from two previous directors, old broken down furniture, and a variety of unusual finds including the complete set to the musical Grease.  (Don’t worry, we recycled much of what we threw out).  We also found some memorabilia like old sweatshirts from the 1990s and display boards going back to the 1960s.

I can now see that the cleaning out of the physical space was symbolic for the cleaning out of some habits that were not so helpful.  As we cleaned out each room we gave it a purpose.  One space became a study space and student meeting room.  Another became a prayer room outfitted for small groups and individual prayer.  As we purposed the physical space we began to let go of some of the unhealthy habits that were keeping us from growing out of a small comfortable group and into a ministry with a purpose.

Some on the student ministry team claimed spaces as “their office” even if that meant a closet or out of the way room.  Creating an “office” meant they were being about the ministry they were committed to doing in and out of the building.  They had a purpose.

Decluttering our physical space allowed us the create purpose for each space.  Decluttering our unhelpful habits allowed us to create purpose for our ministry.  With a purpose we now knew what we were offering to others.  We knew what our physical space would be used for and how our time would be spent doing ministry.

I also found that this is a great metaphor for our relationship with God.  I find that my mind is typically full of all sorts of chatter about what I should or shouldn’t be doing.  I sit down to pray and my heart is full of requests for God instead of open to the Spirit’s leading.  I wonder how many dumpsters it would take to clear out the inner chatter and distractions.

In my eighth year I am wondering if it is once again time to “declutter”.  Although we physically clean out every summer (because somehow, just like those youth rooms in local churches, we find random items that have mysteriously showed up by some well-intentioned giver) we also need to clean out the unhelpful habits that we keep dragging back into our ministry–habits that do not fulfill our purpose and are not about the ministry on our campus. I think maybe it’s time to let go of previous behaviors in my own spiritual life and start clean with God.

So, here we go, walking through each room, decluttering and naming its purpose.  Here we go, naming and claiming our ministry for the upcoming year. Now, on to the mind, heart and spirit.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does your ministry’s space help fulfill your ministry’s vision and purpose?
  2. How does clutter–whether physical or metaphorical detract from that vision and purpose?
  3. How do you name and claim your ministry for the upcoming year?
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Stoop Sitting and Other Holy Habits: A response

For me, the idea of a ministry of presence has been key in my own life’s ministries. The idea of being fully present with someone is to share their joys or fears, to walk with them in happy times and also through sad ones.

To do this authentically, one must do so without having “ulterior” motivations. Relationships are not built with others to then leverage those relationships–not even to leverage those relationships for what may be for us “a good cause” like bringing that person “closer to God” or being more involved in our ministry.

Think about that for a moment. The goal is the relationship–the presence with the other person. Once our goal stops being that, we lose all of our authenticity with the other person. “So you’re only take an interest in me, you only spend time with me because you want me to do something?…because you want me to be a certain way?”

Now, it’s true that things like becoming closer to God or becoming more involved may happen as a result, but they cannot be the goal nor a condition of the relationship. If they don’t happen, you’re still in relationship. This is critical because it allows those with whom we are present to feel the true love and acceptance of Christ, and because inauthenticity is spotted, especially in religious groups today, from miles away.

My experience of being present with others began with Lisa as a staff member at the Wesley Foundation and continued in my time working in youth ministry with my reading of Andrew Root’s book Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation. In that book, Root cites heavily Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his time being present with other prisoners while a prisoner himself of Nazi Germany as an example of walking through life with others.

Two extended quotes from Root’s book stand out to me as explanations of what he means by a ministry of presence or a “Theology of Incarnation” connecting what God did for humanity through Jesus Christ and how we ought to be in ministry with others:

“We often assume that being incarnate means being present in such a manner that we earn the leverage to influence others, as though God in heaven decided that incarnation was the best way to influence humanity. This position holds that God used God’s humanity to convince people to accept God’s message; it denies that the message itself is God’s humanity. To think of the incarnation as a tool of influence is to deny the necessity of Jesus’ humanity” (91).

“Speaking of the incarnation as only a strategy for influence cuts free Jesus’ humanity, making it possible for him to be only an idea, a logo, and not the who that encounters us within our human situation. The incarnation, then, is not about influence but about solidarity in common humanity, and so relational ministry should be the same. Relational ministries should avoid the temptation to use relationships to influence adolescents and instead see the mandate of the incarnation as the call to shared solidarity in common humanity” (92).

To advocate for a ministry of presence though is not to say that the act of being present alone on a campus or in a community is sufficient. In doing ministry of presence, one must find ways to approach and be with people wherever they are. In the case of Wesley Foundation one way is sitting on its front stoop and interacting with those on campus as they pass. This intentional presence is much more difficult than simply being present–just having a building and expecting people to come in. It requires addressing the question of how you can encounter and be present with others in authentic ways. The answer to that question will be different for every ministry context–but no matter what the context, it is a question that is worthwhile to try answering.

Ryan worked with Lisa at the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo from 2007-2010 as a student leader. He continues to work with Lisa and the Wesley Foundation by editing and administering this blog, with the Widening the Welcome capital campaign, and through advocating for UM Campus Ministry at the Annual (regional) Conference level.

Stoop Sitting and Other Holy Habits

Our ministry building has a good sized front stoop that faces the center of campus. There are five steps leading up to the building and at the top a roof covers the landing.

During my first year of ministry I noticed students, some active in our ministry and some not, sitting on the steps. I realized that I needed to get a feel for the campus and the student community so I decided to join the students on the stoop. I realized that I could see so much by simply sitting on the stoop and I could interact in all sorts of ways with students on the stoop.

The fall is a great time on campus with the Michigan weather giving us sunshine and low humidity. The students are energetic and excited. So, I decided to make stoop sitting a regular habit, taking time to simply sit on the stoop and interact and observe.

I announced my new ministry to the leadership team by saying, “I am bringing stoop sitting back!” followed by a Bible study on the ministry of presence. I invite them to join me. We met all sorts of people, had all sorts of conversations, some religious and some not, as we were simply present.

This year I began my eighth fall on campus and realized that I had gotten away from stoop sitting. As our ministry has grown to three large weekly programs, six small groups, weekly service opportunities and 130 students, I was neglecting the ministry of presence, simply being for the sake of being.

I realized how much I missed stoop sitting. I missed observing the various activities and the “buzz” of campus in the fall. I missed interacting with students in all sorts of conversations.

So, I have once again been making weekly stoop sitting a habit. This decision is not so much about getting a feel for campus as it is about the goodness for my own soul. I feel connected to my community as I observe the students and the campus.

Jesus’ presence, often through open table fellowship, was central to his ministry. The unhurried manner in which he spoke (at least how I hear the Gospels) and interacted with those around him reminds me that being present needs to be central to my ministry as well.

The early church that we read about in Acts 2 is all about being present,

43-47 “And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met. They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.”

Early this fall as I was reclaiming the holy habit of stoop sitting I remembered a painting by Palmer Hayden, “A Midsummer Night In Harlem”.

Midsummer-Night-in-Harlem-1938

When I first saw the picture I was drawn in by the smiles and celebration and sense of community. I wanted to “be there” in that place on that stoop with the old people and babies and teenagers, to hear what they were talking about and to experience their presence.

The people of God only need to be present with one another and in their community as a practice of a holy habit that our needs might be met and as a celebration that people in general might like what they see and every day we grow in number and spirit.

Vision, near- and far-sighted

I am near-sighted.  I have worn glasses since the 7th grade (not a fun time to get glasses when you are already feeling geeky and unsure of yourself).  I wore contacts throughout high-school and college for convenience and to play sports . . . and out of vanity.  The hard contacts I wore in the 80’s were uncomfortable, scratched my eye more than once, and yet I put up with all of that so I could look better but not necessarily see any better than I could with my glasses.

It seems that in our current culture, glasses are a fashion statement.  You can buy frames without prescription lenses.  Large, oversized lens are back in style, like ones I might have worn in 7th grade.  If I had only had the foresight to keep all my old frames, I could save some money now by reusing them.

glasses-304499_640

Vision is important in ministry and life.  I serve on a campus with a large percentage of low-vision and blind students due to the university’s renowned  Blindness and Low Vision Studies and Rehabilitation programs. One of the students active in our ministry may not see, but he has vision.  I am surprised how he will say something about an individual or situation that is spot on or comes to light later.  He has taught me that having vision has little to do with seeing.

Vision is important in ministry and life because without it we are stumbling around in the latest trend or blindly following the newest practice.  Vision involves what is right in front of us and what is just over the horizon.  It’s being both near- and far-sighted. It is both where we are and where we are going; both who we are, and who we are going to become.

There are lots of catchy ways to create a personal vision, or a vision for an organization or business. I only know one way that works time and again: creating a vision through values.

When we create a vision through and based on our values, we know that this vision is grounded in something that we are going to be willing to stick with.  When we create the words of our vision on paper, they must be steeped in the core essence of who we are or we will quickly lose interest.

The writer of the book of Acts (2:17) writes, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” quoting the prophet Joel (2:28).

There are many things and people proposing who we ought to be as an individual and as a ministry or organization.  We are often so hungry for vision that we are quick to follow the latest and greatest trend.  But I think we are actually hungering for a vision from God which comes from the people of God who are willing to do the long and arduous work of visioning.

dont you have a vision

When I first started as the Wesley Director, my board chair asked why we should be doing vision work, “Don’t you have a vision for the ministry?”  My response was simply that it wasn’t my vision I wanted for Wesley but rather God’s vision, which could only come from the collective people of God.  The board, including several students, embarked on a nine month visioning process that resulted in the words, “to be an authentic, transforming, Christ-centered community”.

Seven years later, we are living into those words both in being them now and in striving to become them.  All of our goals and objectives align with this vision.

When we have a great idea, the first question should always be, “How does this help us to more fully live into our vision?” If it doesn’t, then we don’t pursue the idea, no matter how great it is. We just don’t have the time or energy for busy-ness but rather want to pursue the vision God has set forth for us, pouring the Holy Spirit on all people.

May we be blessed to be the near- and far-sighted people of God.

Questions for Discussion: (Why not answer one or all in the comments?)

  1. What are you and your ministry’s values?
  2. What is the vision of your ministry?
  3. Does your vision feel like God’s vision or a person or group of person’s vision?
  4. How can you connect your values and the essence of who you are (collectively) to discern God’s vision?

Welcoming and Radical Hospitality: A Response

As a student leader when these events happened, but not the one mentioned in the Welcoming and Radical Hospitality post, hospitality was a foreign concept to me. I had always associated the word with hotels and the people that bring you room service or carry your bags that you have to tip. It didn’t strike me as a worthy topic for our new campus minister to be talking so much about right from the beginning.

As the connection began to be made for me to welcoming guests, it began to make sense. Of course I’m welcoming. We are hospitable. Why wouldn’t we be? I didn’t totally get it until we were told explicitly not to talk to each other or people we already knew during our activities. It was then that I began to see the importance of focusing on our guests and how impenetrable a conversation between two friends would be for a newcomer.

Several years later, I have an almost physical discomfort when seeing guests not being attended to. In my local church, I cannot stand to watch someone new standing off on his or her own while old friends and acquaintances chat with each other all around. I feel called to stop what I’m doing and go over to talk to them.

Sometimes, I wish I didn’t feel that way. I don’t always like dropping a conversation with a friend who I don’t often see. It’s often difficult racking my brain for conversation topics for that person who may not be totally geared for social interaction. Sometimes I just want to do my own thing. But in the end, I chose to take an interest in the new individual because I feel called to and because it’s what I would want someone to do for me. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

Ryan worked with Lisa at the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo from 2007-2010 as a student leader. He continues to work with Lisa and the Wesley Foundation by editing and administering this blog, with the Widening the Welcome capital campaign, and through advocating for UM Campus ministry at the Annual (regional) Conference level.

Welcoming and Radical Hospitality

“When are you going to stop talking about hospitality?” a student leader asked me, with some disdain.  I answered (in a rather loud voice), “When you start doing it?”

My first year as a campus minister, I found the small group of students who participated at Wesley to be a bit cliquey.  It’s our human nature to congregate with others who know us, like us, put up with our crap, and at the end of the day, will forgive us.  It’s very natural but not helpful when trying to grow a campus ministry.

So, I began teaching, preaching, and talking about hospitality as much as possible.  I showed video clips of a scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding and one of the final scenes from Antwone Fisher.

(This is a clip from My Big Fat Greek Wedding that shows a form of hospitality, although it is not the specific clip I showed which is not available on YouTube.)

I asked student leaders to reflect on times when they had felt welcomed and when they had not.  We brainstormed ways to be hospitable.

We made very little progress.

I think most of us in a Christian community believe we are welcoming when really we are simply friendly to each other, the people we already know and look similar to us. The reality is that we are uncomfortable with talking to new people and welcoming them into our midst.

Finally, I asked student leaders to not sit by each other or even talk to one another at our Sunday and Thursday weekly programming.  I asked the students why they were part of Wesley and why they would welcome someone to be part of what they enjoyed.

We gathered weekly for Bible study to discuss passages like Hebrews 13:2, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” and 1 Peter 4:9, “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”

Enters my student leader, “When are you going to stop talking about hospitality?”

Luckily, he didn’t storm out of my office mad. Luckily, this particular student had some influence with the other students. Luckily, the small, cliquey group of students began doing hospitality.  I wouldn’t call it radical hospitality, but gracious, out of their comfort zone hospitality.

I would like to say we grew from a dozen faithful to skads of students at all our events that first year, but that is not what happened.  We gained on new freshmen–one of them, a young man who may be one of the most extroverted, welcoming people I know . . . who then invited several other new folks . . . who then invited several others…

We ended my first year in campus ministry with about two dozen students.  That’s a 50% increase.  Seven years later, have I stopped teaching and preaching hospitality? No. I guess I like the idea of entertaining angels.

Questions for Discussion: (Why not answer 1 or all of them in the comments?)

  1. Who are the easiest people you find to be welcoming and hospitable to? The most difficult?
  2. Have you ever observed a gap in your ministry setting of claiming to be welcoming and hospitable and actually being so? How have you addressed that?
  3. Is it “We’re welcoming, we just never have any newcomers.” or “We don’t have any newcomers because in practice, we’re not actually very welcoming.” ?
  4. What is one thing you could do in this upcoming week that would make your ministry more hospitable to newcomers?