On Success.

18Nov09

Been pondering “success” lately.  What does it mean to be successful?  Specifically, what does it mean for a campus ministry (or church) to be successful?  And how the heck do we define “success” anyway!?

Oak Tree by Alan Creech

Success is clearly not numerical growth.  It may involve numerical growth, but it is not exclusive to that.  An oak tree is not successful if it merely grows larger and larger.  In fact, even if it did grow larger and larger that would not be the oak tree’s ultimate aim, purpose, or telos.  Surely part of an oak tree’s purpose – and by extension, definition of success – would be to reproduce.  Making more oak trees makes an oak tree successful.

However, we can’t stop there.  Just making more and more oak trees would eventually become self-defeating.  A good forest has biodiversity as integral to its ultimate success.  So an oak tree is only successful if it contributes to the overall success (in this case, think sustainability) of the forest/ecosystem/biosphere.  In other words, it plays well with others.

How might our friend the oak tree translate into campus ministry?  I think we need a ecological approach to ministry.  How might a successful campus ministry contribute to the overall biodiversity of a college campus, of local churches, of other campus ministries?  Maybe success is living sustainably in the social, spiritual environment in which we are situated.

As a leader of a United Methodist Campus Ministry it is important for me to know how those in authority over me define success.  Here’s this from the Mother Church:

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is the lead agency in providing assistance in developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world – the first of the Four Areas of Focus of The United Methodist Church.

Leaders of four of the denomination’s general agencies are shown here during a joint presentation to the 2008 General Conference about the Four Areas of Focus

These Four Focus Areas are meant to sharpen the mission of the church and direct critical aspects of our ministry in collaboration:

  • Developing Principled Christian Leaders
  • Congregational Development
  • Ministry with the Poor
  • Improving Health Globally

“We live in a world that once had courageous Christian leaders, but now cries out for them – the kind of women and men who are set apart to show by example how to live faithfully in bold discipleship and to engage a world starving for the Gospel,” the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, GBHEM’s general secretary, said during General Conference 2008.

How can these 4 areas guide our thinking for what is a successful campus ministry?  I’ve blogged about these elsewhere, by the way.  And while these are all related to making disciples of Jesus Christ, I wonder if these are leading indicators or trailing indicators (like unemployment numbers for this economic recession we’re in).  If we made disciples would we then see these things happen?  Or would doing these things make disciples?  The answer is probably both, but I think it is an important question.

What are your thoughts?  What is success for a campus ministry?

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9 Responses to “On Success.”

  1. Did you watch the CT webcast with Christian Smith about a month ago? He made an incredible comment about evangelical churches needing to define success in terms of faithfulness to God rather than numerical growth. In my work with ESN, I’ve seen that, sometimes, campus ministries that appear to be struggling because of their small size, actually attract the thoughtful, introverted students who later become professors or other kinds of influential people.

  2. Mike, I didn’t see that, but will definitely check it out! I’ll google, but do you have a link? Speaking of links – you are tearing up The Emerging Scholars Blog! Great posts and well linked.

    To your point about small campus ministries attracting the “thoughtful, introverted students” – we are definitely there. Which is wonderful and weird. Wonderful because these students are so much more engaged in the things of the Spirit. Weird because I’m an extrovert.

    I’d love to get Benson back in NKY/Cincy, be good to have a pow-wow with him.

  3. 3 mhick255

    Thanks, Aaron! I haven’t had a chance to meet Benson yet (the post about him was written by our other blogger), so it would be great if he comes back through.

    Here’s the link for CT’s interview with Smith, but I don’t think the quote I mentioned is in there – it was part of a live webinar that I don’t think they recorded:
    http://www.ctlibrary.com/ct/2009/october/21.34.html

    Just finished Smith’s Souls in Transition – lots of interesting stuff to chew on for campus ministers. For example: most emerging adults think the purpose of religion is to teach you how to be a good person; most emerging adults think they already ARE good persons; so they think there’s no point to being involved with religion – at least, not until they’re older and have kids. The idea that religious faith might, say, lead a person to reorient the entire direction of his life simply never crosses their minds.

  4. I’ve been wrestling with a similar question, ‘how do you assess/ evaluate the strength of a campus ministry.’
    I would agree with you, size isn’t the primary indicator or metric. I would be very interested to explore the four areas you mentioned:
    * Developing Principled Christian Leaders
    * Congregational Development
    * Ministry with the Poor
    * Improving Health Globally
    While I was typing my comment, I got a text from a UMC campus minister friend. I figured this was an opportunity to ask his thoughts. He replied:
    ‘I think it’s a combo of things. Number of active members (taking context into account), quality of programming, number of leaders trained, retention in the church following graduation, quality of disciple formation…’
    This is a topic on a lot of people’s minds. I was told the Hearts of Campus Ministry Blog (http://naccm.wordpress.com/) will be exploring this topic soon.
    Thanks for the post.

  5. 5 ~peter

    When I think “success” in my context (very large, downtown UM church, with stuents scattered across the state and nation), I think in growth of love for God and neighbor. And quality before quantity. I really connect with the ecological analogy because I definitely think that’s true–campus ministry doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

    Thanks for the post. Great stuff to chew on.


  1. 1 weekly review, upstate NY edition « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)
  2. 2 Defining the “Win” in Campus Ministry at Chris Bean
  3. 3 weekly review, bonus week edition « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)
  4. 4 Defining Success by Missional Mapping « Heart of Campus Ministry

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