Ministry in Troubled Times

Like a deer thirsty for satisfying water so my soul cries out for the Living God. (Psalm 42:1 loose paraphrase)

Sometimes it is hard to share about the realities of campus ministry. One of those realities is that it often doesn’t go the way everyone wants it to.

We’ve always been a smaller campus ministry, both in my five years here and my predecessor’s twelve. Sometimes we have struggled to have the human connections necessary to accomplish our mission. Sometimes the group becomes insular because it’s only the other group members who know and understand the care needed. Other times we try to reach out to new students through a variety of ways and our efforts fall flat. Last semester, hardly anything we tried met our expectations.

Unrealized expectations and the loss of hope engendered by those unmet needs are real things. Lately it has felt like we were suffering from corporate depression (if that exists). And if not depression, then certainly low self-esteem, as we are constantly being compared to other ministries and fail even in our own assessment of effort and growth. We are a ministry that typically accepts failure well (we are ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ people), but it helps to have a few successes mixed in to the attempts. When there is little to celebrate, the ambition to try anything else new dies quickly.

We remember the days when we cried out in praise to you our God and our King. But those days are gone while we carry along wond’ring what song we should now sing. (Psalm 42:5 loose paraphrase)

This past year has also seen both internal and external challenges to our mission and purpose on campus. There is a growing sense among some church leaders that we have outlived our purpose and need to be replaced by another way of doing ministry on our campus. In our case this means outreach from a new church start near campus. Internally, the Board of Directors struggles to accomplish its own tasks and has run out of steam. Some think we should just close shop.

The taunts echo: “where is your faithfulness, where is your fruit” (Psalm 42:10 loose paraphrase)

As the leader of this ministry and because I love what I do, on my better days I’ve been addressing these challenges two ways. First, I’m being honest with people when they ask how things are going on campus. Instead of saying ‘things are fine’ or talking about some new venture we are taking on (because that continues, even when things are hard), I’m sharing the realities of our work. People don’t always know what to do with these observations, but it seems good to share them. Perhaps my honesty will lead to new opportunities or insight. The second thing I’m doing with considerable effort is taking the long-view. This is really hard when you are in the midst of the suffering, but necessary to move from where you are to where you want to be. I’ve been writing visions for ministry, considering new partnerships and collaborations, and discussing with trusted colleagues the idea of completely revamping how (and perhaps why) we do ministry.

I can’t tell for certain where all this is leading. And I don’t know if I’m the one to lead us into the future or if someone else should come along next, like how Joshua stepped in as Moses stepped out. Still, I listen and I hope and I trust.

Trust in God, and praises again shall ring to our God, our help, our hope. (Psalm 42:11 loose paraphrase)


Greg Lawton

Director, Wesley Fellowship

Grand Valley State University

Allendale, MI

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