Thinking Out Loud

July 24, 2017

The Office of a College Campus Minister

Regular readers here will remember Jeff Snow from the three-part series about how divorce affects teens, which we actually ran twice. If you missed it, click this link and scroll down to Part One. Jeff is currently serving bi-vocationally doing campus ministry as part of Mission Canada, an initiative of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (what the Assemblies of God churches are known as here.) The University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) shares a campus with Durham College, so Jeff interacts with people studying at both levels, not to mention that this campus is more culturally diverse than anything our American readers might imagine.

He shared the following in a recent newsletter and as we do have readers here involved in student ministry, I thought it was worth presenting.

I get the feeling I like to work when there is food around.

I’m sitting in my favorite corner of the local Subway restaurant on a sunny but cool day working on this letter and it makes me think back to last semester, my first full semester of ministry through Mission Canada at UOIT/Durham College, and consider my favorite place to work on campus.

The cafeteria.

Last year, as I shared my ministry plans with a colleague, one of the first questions he asked me was would I have an office on campus? I just smiled. I knew I would have an office, but not in the way he was thinking.

My office is the cafeteria.

In my years of high school ministry, we would at times hear stories about youth pastors who had developed such a well-respected ministry at a high school that they were given office space. This does speak highly of the respect given to a youth pastor, but an office is something I’ve never aspired to for a couple of reasons.

One is that on a secular campus it puts a bulls-eye on your back for those to aim at who don’t want a Christian presence on campus. One principal told me years ago, “You fly under the radar. We like that.”

Secondly, being in an office means you are but one more person that a student has to go TO in order to get help and support. It takes more time and patience, but the payoff is greater if we are able to travel in the young person’s world, become accepted in their universe, and, by being on their turf, be more accessible when they need help and support. The goal is to try and be where the young people are.

Like in the cafeteria.

Over the past semester, the two places I spent most of my time on campus was at Campus Church, the Friday night student-led campus ministry, and in the cafeteria. Usually I will make an appointment to meet one student for lunch, with a plan to stay in the cafeteria the whole afternoon. I bring a laptop to do some work and look studious during downtime, but more often than not there isn’t any downtime, as students that I’ve gotten to know through the Campus Church ministry will stop by, pull out their lunch, and start chatting.

The conversations usually start off light, and sometimes stay that way. But most of the time the conversations move to deeper issues. Relationships, school pressure, dorm life, church life, world issues, the future, ministry opportunities, prayer for family and friends. All have been topics for discussion. I have found myself being a pastoral presence on campus for a number of these students. Many of them have home churches and pastors, but my presence on campus gives them accessibility to a listening ear and support right there on their turf. And they don’t have to go to an office and make an appointment. They can find the support they need.

Right there in the cafeteria.

My desire as I look forward to the coming semester is to find ways to connect with students who aren’t necessarily Christians, connect with students who are not yet part of Campus Church. That is where an office could come in handy for the few who might seek out spiritual support. It would be a formal way of identifying where to find support rather than talking to some dude in the cafeteria. But until the school reinstates the chaplaincy, my best bet for meeting students is through my office in the cafeteria. Whether it is meeting pre-Christians through their Christian friends or through other means, I’m looking forward to opportunities to meet pre-Christian students on their turf and help them see how the Gospel connects with where they are in life.


If you’re interested in learning more about Jeff’s work or providing financial support, click this link.

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January 31, 2017

Before Screens There Was Newsprint

Filed under: Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:26 am

From the time I was 20 to the time I was 30, four of my friends started Christian newspapers. In the times before screens, there was newsprint and anyone with minimal ability to do basic layout and the funds to pay a printer could have their very own outlet.

Oddly enough, the type of offset printing used to print newspaper was called web printing — or fully, web-fed printing, to distinguish it from sheet-fed printing — a term which has taken on a different meaning in the digital age. Most of us had worked on high school newspapers and understood the low-tech technology.

In a world where it seems that everybody has a handful of social media platforms on which to share their poetry or prose, their political views or their literary skills; it’s important to realize that those living in a pre-internet age had no fewer opinions or no less desire to see their words in print reaching a mass audience. (Also, unlike today, we knew how to insert paragraph breaks. But alas, I digress.) I had a byline at some point in each of the following ventures.

The first paper I became involved with started by friend Steve, who named it Deluge. On page four of each issue, we were reminded that “Deluge means flood…” but I can’t remember the rest of the purpose statement. The paper was officially published by the Toronto Christian Activist Forum, which to the best of my knowledge consisted of Steve. I don’t believe the group had held a meeting, or a forum, or done any activism, but I could be wrong. My job was to write music-related content. The 12-page paper was distributed free on college and university campuses at a time when a great host of other interest groups were also distributing newspapers. Together, we contributed to the demise of many forests.

delugeWhen Steve grew weary of the project, I took it over, dropping the activist group reference. The paper became wholly subsidized by a business I had started, and showed up at more Christian gatherings than college campuses, but basically consisted of advertising for music related products and events.

That caught the attention of a local concert promoter and radio program host, Gord who started the paper Triumph. Unlike the rest of us, Gord had a friend named Tom who was a professional graphic artist and was able to upgrade the quality considerably.

One of the people who worked on that paper was another Steve. He dreamed of doing something to reach the same basic audience — twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings — but on a national scale with rented commercial office space in the heart of downtown Toronto. His publication used the same type of web printing, but rather than a tabloid size, was printed in magazine form. The magazine was called Destiny. The idea was to focus on a much wider variety of interests; not just music.

Although it was a given that I would write for Destiny I was initially hired as advertising sales manager. This was based on the assumption that because I had been involved in writing for a variety of publications — both these and much larger U.S. magazines — I knew something about selling ad space. We now know that this assumption was somewhat flawed. Did I mention that during much of the time I was supposed to be traveling the city meeting with clients I was having to borrow my mother’s car?

Destiny had a truly beautiful layout concept, but the initial issue was printed on the same paper stock that had been used in each of the earlier ventures which gave rise to it. In other words, it was a magazine printed on newsprint. But not only that, it was a magazine that was somewhat ink-saturated, with the result that after only a few pages, one was leaving fingerprints on everything they touched.

Furthermore, the official launch issue of Destiny was shipped in bulk across the country to Christian bookstores who had not requested it. While there are ways to put a positive spin on negative-option or consignment sales; the particular retail climate of the day meant that store owners were not entirely receptive. Bundles of that first issue started returning, many of them unopened.

Eventually, while some nicer full-color issues on better paper stock appeared, the magazine wasn’t destined to survive long-term. It was at Destiny that I was asked to commit what I now see as a breach of writing ethics. Or maybe not. (You’ll have to tune in on Thursday for that story.)

The final venture with which I was associated brought things back to a more regional territory and was in fact sponsored by a local church. My friend Vince started Crosswalk — ah, that poor name, used to this day by so many ministries — which was the print outreach of a dynamic youth outreach in Toronto’s northeast suburbs. It was the product of a particular time and place; so many people talented in the arts producing music, writing and visual fine art. Minus the aspect of living in community, it was a smaller scale of what Chicago’s JPUSA was doing with Cornerstone magazine and Resurrection Band; and the house band at the coffee house ministry which sponsored the magazine was actually good friends and toured with Rez Band…

…And where you live there are similar stories. Visiting different cities and connecting with different youth ministries as an itinerant speaker, I would always pick up copies of whatever publications were stacked up on the lobby of the concert hall or church basement. If we really liked a graphic image we would literally cut and paste it. (Yes, the thing you know as Ctrl-V actually had an element of glue to it.)(Or command-V for you Mac users.)

These publications were the way we promoted our youth events, sold our t-shirts and shared our testimonies. When an issue was ready to go, we didn’t press a “publish” key, but took the finished layouts to a printer where we told they would be ready in 3-to-5 days. If you noticed a mistake after going to press, you couldn’t edit printed copies; you had to live with it. As for stats, if your copies were still lying in a pile a week later, you knew the response wasn’t great.

Later, a generation who worked on such things would move on to writing for denominational publications and national ministry organization newsletters; but there was nothing like the early days of just starting something, even if it left black fingerprints all over everything you touched.

 

January 9, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Paul's Other Damascus Road - Cuyler Black

Remember, “The just shall link by faith.”

  • Our artwork today has no specific link, but is in celebration of artist Cuyler Black’s newest greeting card releases from his Inherit The Mirth collection and Nicole Brayden Gifts
  • Passion’s Louis Giglio will pray at the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama. Now it’s not happening. Read this update.
  • Shane Claiborne talks about his 2012 trip to Afghanistan on two videos at Red Letter Christians.
  • After several years silence, James Duncan returns to his blog to document his side of the lawsuit he filed against Perry Noble‘s New Spring Church.
  • Also on the subject of lawsuits, at the end of December a court weighed in on the dentist who fired his assistant for being too ‘hot.’  Dan J. Brennan offers a Christian perspective on men and women working together.  [HT: Pastoralia]
  • Michael Gungor has a very lengthy, very thoughtful essay on the state of the Christian music business. Or you can read ‘The Becky Part’ in this excerpt at Vitamin Z. You might actually know her.
  • Stanford University has an atheist chaplain — apparently that’s not an oxymoron — but Get Religion editor Terry Mattingly thinks the reporting on this misses a bigger story: What are the spiritual needs of atheists?
  • Without books like Heaven is For Real at their disposal, where did Old Testament saints think they were headed after death? C. Michael Patton answers this one.
  • Mark Galli at Christianity Today provides an updated profile of Francis Chan. “I’ve got five kids (ages 17 to 1)… My one daughter had to drive on the same day that I taught my other one how to walk. So it’s a weird, weird phase.”
  • If you’re using a computer right now, you are among the world’s richest people. Congratulations! You won the life lottery. Here’s some pictures that ran here two years ago that illustrate your prizes.
  • …And January 2011 was a good month here for several reasons. If you’re new to this blog, another one you missed was this challenge to summarize the gospel in a single sentence
  • A classic book by Louis Giglio is now updated and available in paperback. I am not, but I know I AM is both the book’s rallying cry and its title. (This item was slotted here before item #2 was added late Tuesday night!)
  • Never thought of this one.  With all the gay-friendly churches out there today, do gays really need their own denomination?  A look at the Metropolitan Community Church movement.
  • Meanwhile, a Roman Catholic church in London has ended their gay-friendly service. “Archbishop Vincent Nichols said in a statement that gay Catholics should attend Mass in their local parishes rather going to separate services.” So it’s about the parish system.
  • Sometimes when someone does something silly we jokingly say, “Are you off your meds?” But mental illness is a serious problem that the church needs to be more aware of.
  • The Christian Post weighs in on the thorny issue of how much pastors get paid. Some salary quotations are comparing apples and oranges.
  • A new generation of video game designers wants to launch a new generation of video games that aren’t lame.
  • Do you reach out when new neighbors move in? Here’s a brilliant essay with everything you need to know about how not to do this. Or maybe you’ve already done something like this.
  • Finally, a video for a song from Chris Tomlin’s new — released yesterday — album, Burning Lights, gives us weekend guitar players onscreen guitar fingering charts to play along.

Mrs. Goliath - Cuyler Black

March 19, 2012

Campus Alpha Now in 7-Week Format

Two weeks ago I was given a copy of an updated edition of the campus version of the Alpha Course, the popular evangelism and discipleship course which originated with Holy Trinity Church in Brompton, a district west of the London city centre.

Most people associate the course with Nicky Gumbel, although he didn’t start the course, but greatly popularized it after arriving on staff at the church in 1990. Since then, Alpha has been spun off in a variety of revisions, translated into a variety of languages, and customized to suit a variety of denominations. There is a prison version of Alpha, and it’s one of the few Christian resources for which study guides are available in Braille.

In the youth edition of Alpha, talks are always given live, no DVDs are used. But in the student/young adult/campus version the talks I saw feature a younger presenter, Jamie Haith.

Haith presents the course standing next to a video monitor in a manner not unfamiliar to fans of Andy Stanley. There are also some animated sections which are rather brilliantly synced with the live commentary.

But like its parent curriculum, Campus Alpha is again a lecture format. A university or college student who is open to investigating the Christian faith — the stated purpose of Alpha after all — is going to listen attentively to these lectures as do the students in the live audience.

Is that the best way to communicate with postmoderns? I’ve already expressed in this blog a bias toward an alternative, the mini-movie format H20 course, referring to it as “Alpha meets NOOMA.” While that course’s distribution has been passed like a hot potato from Standard Publishing to Thomas Nelson, it’s best days may be yet ahead, as the new Not a Fan DVD curriculum has greatly enhanced the profile of host Kyle Idleman. It’s so hard for so many of us to break away from the sermon paradigm; to move beyond propositional preaching.

But with Alpha, many times it’s the already-converted who take the course — sometimes several times — to deepen their understanding of basic core doctrines. So many times Campus Alpha is delivering to an audience already on side.

While some will argue that college and career ministry is neither middle school nor high school ministry, I keep thinking that in dealing with the broader spectrum of “youth,” some of the references (i.e.:to owning, or wanting to own a wristwatch), or quoting classical theologians maxims in Latin are just not the best strategies in connecting; again, especially with a postmodern environment. The audience listens politely, but doesn’t necessarily react to the attempts at humor.

Still, if Haith is simply following Nicky Gumbel’s script, he does it perfectly. His apparent passion for the subject matter makes him more than just what the Brits would call a ‘presenter.’

This is material that we all need to review from time to time. In the U.S., acceptance of the Alpha Course has been geographically spotty. If you haven’t heard of it, suggest to your church leadership they consider hosting either an adult version of Alpha or, if you live in a ‘college town,’ the revised 7-week Campus Alpha.

This is absolutely solid material, but don’t expect a lecture format to connect with every university or college student.


NOTE:  The 7-week course is in fact now being used in non-campus settings because of its length being shorter than the 10-week version hosted by Nicky Gumbel; however when referring to the length of both, it’s important to mention the retreat weekend courses comprise additional lectures, in this case three more, bringing the total to ten.

Also, in the revised format I was given to review, I’m told that more revisions took place with the support materials than in what is seen on-screen.

Finally, the entire package is being distributed pre-loaded on a flash drive, not with physical DVD discs.

January 19, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Enjoy this week’s links; there’s ice cream at the end!

  • You Give Me Your Shows and I’ll Give You Mine Department:  Canada’s Christian television network, CTS has put together a reciprocal deal with Robert A. Schuller’s American Life Network to share programming and media platforms.  Currently a limited list of CTS programs are available on the NRB Network.  Read more at BDBO.
  • Tattooed Pastor Department:  Jay Bakker has a new book out, Fall to Grace (Faithwords) which Tony Jones reviews at Take and Read.
  • Read This One For the Gipper Department:  Here’s another book review, this one for The Faith of Ronald Reagan by Mary Beth Brown, reviewed by Darrell Dow.
  • Biting The Hand That Feeds Them Department:  The Feed-a-Friend program in downtown Houston, Texas is now being required to purchase a $17/day permit from the city to carry out its mission of feeding the homeless.  The group is trying to avoid an us-versus-them mentality.
  • Killing Me Softly Department: Dee at Wartburg Watch takes a trip down memory lane profiling a not-yet-published book by Irishman Charlie Boyd, and reminds us of The Jesus Movement, Arthur Blessitt, Larry Norman, The Late Great Planet Earth, the Shepherding Movement, Calvary Chapel, and so many other times and places worth remembering.
  • Big Bang Theory Department:  If your tastes run to quantum physics, Michael Belote’s recent posts at Reboot Christianity might be just what you’re looking for, starting with the most recent, Schrodinger’s Christianity. (This makes a good forward for your science-type friends. Spoiler: Our souls are like quantum particles.)
  • Ministry Copycat Department:  We all know of churches which offer conferences and seminars for pastors to learn how the big guys do it.  The seminars aren’t free; the churches are basically selling their expertise.   Now comes word that one megachurch actually charges a fee just to see the wording of their staff job descriptions. Yikes!
  • Dialing for Doctrine Department: At The Arminian Blog (caption line: Theology in the Dutch Reformed Tradition of Jacob Arminius) comes this article about inconsistencies among Southern Baptist Calvinists when it comes to missions.
  • Glass Houses Department: We all have a public persona and a private persona, but what really goes on behind the closed door of our houses when it’s just us and the fam?  It’s a question worth considering in the light of this homespun article by Trey Morgan listing ten things you’d notice if you were a guest. Not sure why I’m attracted to this article, but after reading it, I feel I’ve already spent time with Lea, Trey and the boys.
  • Church Plant Withers Department:  This is a link to Jamie Arpin-Ricci’s blog, selected because it takes you to all four parts of Jason Coker’s blog where he describes the final days of the Ikon church plant in San Diego.  Or you can also get there from David Fitch’s blog along with much additional analysis. The similarities between Jason’s experience in southern California and my own experience with Transformation Church an hour east of Toronto are rather striking.
  • Authors of Confusion Department: Keith Brenton lists some indicators of bad theology in a December piece I missed earlier, How To Spot False Teaching.
  • Higher Education Department: At my own alma mater, The University of Toronto, a couple of local churches and ministry organizations are lending support to a Jesus Awareness Week. Oh, to be a student again, and be part of the events.
  • Interfaith Dialog Department:  Mark Galli at Christianity Today suggests that step one in starting the conversation with people of other faiths actually lies in evangelizing ourselves.
  • Truth is Stranger Than Cartoons Department:  We leave this week with two, count ’em two links to the blog American Jesus.  The first is a 40-second mystery video about church pageantry and formality gone wrong.  The second link gets you an explanation for the picture which appears below.  See ya in seven days with more links.

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