New Campus Ministers, Chaplains Hone Skills for Collegiate Ministries

August 04, 2011

By Vicki Brown*

A group of 46 new campus ministers and chaplains gathered to hone their skills and to learn about caring for students, growing a faith community on campus, and more – during a training event organized by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.
Prepare, a training event for campus ministers and chaplains who have been in ministry on campus fewer than five years, included lectures and presentations, workshops, and a chance for sharing best practices and discussing topics in more detail. The meeting took place July 17-19 in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Rev. Gail Bowman, chaplain at Dillard University, spoke about the issues that arise in caring for students spiritually.
"They are in a transitional stage from having faith to having individual faith," Bowman said. "People tend to treat campus ministry as kiddie care. It's not. If we do our job well, then the church gets wonderful people to serve on boards and teach Sunday school, all the leadership positions that the church needs."
She warned that the process can be tough.
"Sometimes you are going to get roughed up. When they don't like what's happening, they may decide it's your fault. Find a way to love them," Bowman said.
Bowman's suggestions included: 
  • Offering prayer. "I don't care if they are too cool for school and don't believe in prayer. If they trusted you enough to come to you, you need to offer prayer."
  • Learning as well as teaching. Ministry on campus is a two-way street, Bowman said, and leaders of collegiate ministries need to be ready to learn. She said she keeps in touch with students through text messaging because they taught her how to do it.
  • Read the Bible and find good resources that you can rely on.
The Rev. Michael McCord, GBHEM's director of Campus Ministry Resources and Training, said the new leaders attending the training session were filled with "energy, vision, and hope."
"I am excited to see how they will impact the Church in the very near future through the transformation of students' lives," he said.
Campus ministers and chaplains attending the event said they found the workshops especially useful.
Chuck Hilman, director of the Wesley Foundation at Western Illinois University, said he really appreciated the workshop on developing partnerships both on and off campus in order to build your ministry.
The Rev. Michael Armstrong, campus minister at Howard University, agreed.
"Our success is tied to working with a lot of other people to make our ministry successful. It's clear [that] building key strategic partnerships both on and off campus is important," Armstrong said.
The Rev. L. Wesley de Souza, Authur J. Moore Associate Professor of Evangelism at Candler School of Theology, talked about the need to contextualize ministry.
"Contextualization is founded on the principle that the gospel message must be relevant to the whole existence of humankind, capable of offering a response to the whole human experience," Souza said. "The level of irrelevance of the church today is scary."
The Rev. Mary Stewart, a part-time campus minister at Copiah Lincoln Community College in Mississippi, said she learned a lot, particularly about how to communicate with students.
"I've learned a lot that helps me understand students better, and about new ways to communicate with students using Facebook and other social media," Stewart said, adding that she saw much of what she had learned as "new ways of offering Christ so that they can find us."
Souza said campus ministry must become culturally, spiritually, and emotionally relevant to people and respond to the needs of the people in the ministry.
"Do not assume [that] the language of the Church will be understood. You need to depend on the Holy Spirit to develop a language that our students can understand," he said.
The Revs. Linda Dew-Hiersoux and Matt Smith, pastors of The Table, a new church start in Sacramento, California, based on small group "kitchen table" gatherings, talked about how a different kind of faith community can appeal to students. Their ministry aims to intersect with students from Sacramento State and Sacramento College.
"We can blur our campus ministries into communities of faith and churches," Smith said. "Much of what 20-somethings long for is precisely what Christian congregations supposedly provide. They long for community, forgiveness, opportunities to serve in significant ways, depth of experience, discernment of what matters, celebration, relationships with children and older people, a call to personal identity, [and] a sense of possibilities. They yearn, indeed, to know and love God."
But, he said, in many actual congregations, young adults perceive that their questions are not welcome and that much energy goes into fighting battles they do not recognize as important ones.

*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.