The Campus MinisterTransitions

Thinking About the Beginning

Life is full of new beginnings.

There are opportunities every day to start something new, to begin something afresh.

In fact, scripture tells us that each day holds inevitable newness of its own. New mercies from God, to be received, enjoyed, appreciated, and fully experienced in that day.

And although all beginnings are important, there are some that clrearly hold more weight than others.

In less than two weeks I will start a new job. It will entail a significant move, for me and my family, getting to know a new region, making new friends, finding a new church to belong to, and beginning a new season of ministry on a new campus.

Like most weighty beginnings, I find myself filled with a mix of excitement and nerves. The excitement speaks to the near limitless potential – for new relationships to be established, new ideas to be explored, and new ways to see and experience the work of God both in me and all around me. The nerves, on the other hand, speak to those feelings of doubt and insecurity that we all feel from time to time. While we might believe ourselves to be fully qualified, prepared, equipped, and ready for what lies before us, the “what ifs” of life have away of creeping into our mind when we least expect it. The Enemy has a way of knowing our vulnerabilities and exploiting them. But all of that’s not really what this post is about.

Instead, I’m thinking about what it takes to make a great start.

How can I best maximize this critical new beginning?

Yes, a little more than a year from now I’ll be preparing for the start of another new school year – another fresh start. But at that point, I’ll have a full year of ministry on my new campus behind me. I’ll have learned a lot, experienced a lot, and learned a lot more. I’ll have made some important relationships, identified some key ministry partners, and discerned a stronger sense of what’s needed and what’s next on campus.

But what about this year?

What will be the keys to my success?

Where do I need to spend my time, energy, and effort in critical year number one?

Here are the five things I’m focusing on as I prepare to launch into a new season of ministry.

Relationships will be priority number one.

Relationships are at the heart of all we do, and are called to be, as pastors, educators, and mentors of students. So, of course, connecting with students will be essential. But just as key, in my mind, will be establishing a strong connection with those I will work closely with – my teammates, the President, the Dean of Students, faculty and staff interested in the spiritual formation of students, coaches, and local area pastors. That’s a long list, but I believe all of these relationships will be essential to a fruitful first year.

Priority number two will be learning the campus culture.

A lot of this can be gleaned through the various relationships listed above. But not all of what we need to learn will be spoken about. Some of it will have to be picked up on. While much of the history and institutional traditions can only be learned about from talking with those who have lived them for years upon years, there will be other cultural elements that will better be learned by talking with others who are relatively new to the area, or from those who function outside of the specific context. Both kinds of learning will be significant during critical year one.

Priority number three will be assessing what’s been working, what’s not working, and what’s still needed.

The temptation for many of us would typically be to ease in and carry on what’s always been done, maintaining the status quo and causing little disruption to our new context, or to bring about drastic, sweeping change that will better suit our ministry style or fit within our vision for ministry. Taking the time to assess, however, can be the key to making smart decisions that will yield the best possible outcomes. Find out what has been successful and consider how to champion it. Learn what has not been working, and why, and consider how it might be enhanced, changed, or set aside for this season. And then look, and listen, for what’s missing. Are there needs, known and unknown to the community, that can be addressed early on in this new year?

Priority number four will be the practical work of ministry – finding real, practical ways to love and serve the people around us, every day.

Relationships will take time. Learning the campus culture will take time. And assessing our new ministry context will also take some time. All of this doesn’t mean that ministry has to wait. This is where we can lean into the ministry programs that have historically been successful. We can also create some new, one-time or short-term, kinds of experiences that will allow for us to invest in our new community members while still getting a sense for what is needed, what is possible, and what will work in our unique ministry context.

And priority number five will be developing a clear vision and mission for future ministry in this new place.

Likely, from the moment we learn we will be starting in a new ministry position, God begins to grow within us a vision for what life and ministry might include. This vision will continue to develop and unfold before us as we do the daily work of faithfully stepping in to our new setting – building relationships, learning our context, assessing what’s happening, and giving ourselves to the ministry of the day. This vision and mission will provide the purpose, direction, and motivation for the years of ministry to come.

I’m sure that there is more that could, or even should, make my list of priorities as I start this new ministry post. But this seems like a great start.

What would make your list of priorities for your first year in a new ministry location?

Do you have any tales to share from your own new beginnings?