Archives For 100% Sent

The World’s Greatest Need

January 26, 2015 — 2 Comments

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:37-38

What is the world’s greatest need? The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But what did Jesus say? The Harvest is plentiful…but what? The bottleneck is not that people won’t listen and accept the gospel.

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?” Romans 10:14-15

Sent

The world’s greatest need is for laborers.

If you were to ask any missionary what is the most needed resource to fulfill the great commission and take the gospel to the world their answer, almost unanimously, would be: people. The greatest need in the expansion of the gospel is for laborers.

From where will the next generation of Christian workers, pastors, and missionaries come? From college campuses will come the generation of laborers who will see the Great Commission fulfilled.

For this reason the role of Campus Staff in raising up Christian workers is arguably the most influential in all of Christian ministry. In fact many Cru staff desiring to serve internationally have remained on U.S. campuses knowing that every year they remain they will multiply themselves many times over in laborers for the spiritual harvest.

The strategic nature of campus ministry is that you are not simply reaching a campus with the gospel, but raising up the next generation of Christian leaders who will take the gospel, and serve Christ, all over the world.  It is a ministry where your influence for Christ is multiplied 20, 30, even 500 fold.

No one thought up the strategy of fulfilling the Great Commission by reaching the college campus. Campus ministry is the result of the observation that God has chosen to use the university and college students as His primary vehicle in accelerating the evangelism of the world. To be involved in campus ministry is to be involved in God’s primary missions strategy.

written by Rick James (you should go read the entire article – The Historic Role of Young People in God’s Global Plans)

 

In the coming weeks, I want to focus on Sending. Specifically: how can we send more college students into full time ministry? In Cru we talk a lot about 100% Sent. We want every student to graduate on mission- whether they are missionaries in the corporate world, as teachers, or in full time Christian work in Asia. But the majority of my focus will be on sending into full time ministry.

 

Some topics I plan to cover:

  • What are the Top 2 Barriers to Sending?
  • Learning from the Top Sending Campuses. In Cru, 42% of the laborers come from just 26 campuses (just 5% of the Cru movements). What are these campuses doing that we can learn from?
  • What are the main factors that influence students to want to join us in full time ministry?
  • What are Millennials looking for as they look for employment?
  • What are some resources we can use to better send?

 

I’d love your help!

What are the best resources/ideas/quotes/articles you’ve found on Sending?

 

shuttle launchI often get asked the question – if most of what you do is focus on freshmen do upperclassmen feel neglected (see this recent post on reaching freshmen over at Campus Ministry Toolbox)?

The answer is sometimes “yes” but it should always be “no”.

Yes, we have upperclassmen lament that they feel overlooked. And sometimes they are right. One of our goals this fall is to really invest in our upperclassmen Bible Studies because we DO feel like we have neglected those.

But here’s the thing: in reaching freshmen, we ARE developing upperclassmen in the most strategic way possible. Upperclassmen are getting an opportunity to lead and be developed and be stretched in ways that will pay dividends for decades to come.

What’s missing? Clear communication.

We need to help upperclassmen see that their primary need is not for “me-time” where we exclusively focus on them (see When Can Discipleship Actually Be a Bad Thing). They need to be pushed out of the nest to focus on others and be trained as a laborer for Christ.

Upperclassmen do need personal attention focused on their walks with God (first and foremost). But they also need help in becoming an adult which = the glad assumption of responsibility. And they need to take responsibility for the greatest need in the world – bringing the good news of Christ to the ends of the earth.

For us, that means communicating over and over to upperclassmen how they are benefiting from this indispensable training they are getting. Even though it may FEEL like you’re not the primary focus, in reaching others YOU are being developed.

The biggest “win” in our focus on reaching freshmen is probably that hundreds of upperclassmen are getting to taste the life-changing experience of being used by God to change another person’s life.

By reaching freshmen we are training up a new generation of laborers. And we want those freshmen being reached to turn the corner as quickly as possible: from being reached to reaching.

What do you think? Agree/Disagree?

 

 

every good endeavorTim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor has been on my nightstand to-read stack since it came out.

Enter Andrew Wise with this handy Executive Summary. Andrew just graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and was an intern with us with Cru for two years. His professional opinion on the book:

“this should be required reading for every college freshman/sophomore”

While I still plan to read the book…in the meantime this is a helpful, well organized overview of the book, chapter by chapter.

Some highlights:

“Our work can only be a calling if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests”

If this life is all there is… everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavors, even the best, will come to naught…Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.

Without meaningful work we sense significant loss and emptiness…Work is one of the ways we make ourselves useful to others and discover our identities.

Work of all kinds, whether with hands or minds, evidences our dignity as human beings because it reflects the image of God the Creator in us.

Choosing Work: “How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people, knowing what I do of God’s will and human need.

Since we already have in Christ the things other people work for, salvation, self-worth, a good conscience, and peace – now we may work simply to love God and our neighbors.

If you have to choose between work that benefits more people and work that pays you more, you should seriously consider the job that pays less and helps more – particularly if you can be great at it.

All work is objectively valuable, but it will not be subjectively fulfilling unless you see it as a calling to love your neighbor.

Today young people are seeking to define themselves by the status of their work. It is a major identity marker.

    • Many college students do not choose work that actually fits their abilities, talents, and capacities, but rather choose work that fits within their limited imagination of how they can boost their own self-image.
    • Three kinds of jobs they see – those that pay well, those that directly serve society’s needs, and the cool factor.
    • Results in students choosing work that doesn’t fit them or fields too competitive for them. Sets them up for dissatisfaction / meaninglessness.

If we have the luxury of options, we should choose work that we can do well – what’s something you can excel at?

attention over time

Challenging thoughts from Penn State Cru on helping students become

“independent, capable, Christ-centered laborers equipped and motivated to continue their own development and influence the world for Christ”:

We need to build better bridges to life and ministry after graduation. We often say that your 4 years in Cru are really about the 50 years that follow. But in some ways our structure hasn’t helped prepare you for life and ministry after graduation. One reason is that some of our ministry methods don’t transfer easily to the work-a-day world. More tragically though, we have heard from far too many of our grads that the sudden transition from the considerable support structures they experienced in Cru to the independence and relative isolation of the “real world” has been jarring. Indeed, too many of our grads cease influencing others for Christ, and worse still others stop walking with Christ at all.

Typically, students in Cru get increasing attention over time culminating in the greatest attention their senior year. Then the day after graduation, it all suddenly goes away. A friend of mine who works with graduate students observed to me that in graduate school, where the plan from day one is to create independent adults, they increase independence over time, not attention. In this way the newest, youngest grad students get the most attention to lay their foundation, and the oldest grad students function independently. The day before graduation is little different from the day after graduation since they have been steadily moving towards greater independence. It seems that we have something to learn from this system.

This is a great overview of how they hope to accomplish this:

How will Cru help you grow

What strategies are you employing on your campus to help launch independent, Christ-centered laborers?

Share the wealth in the comments.

penn state cru

This is part of a series: Learning from Large Cru Movements- a look at 8 of the largest Cru movements in the U.S.  Read the Series intro here.

This post is a summary of two conversations I had with Tim Henderson – in Summer of 2008 and 2011. So some of the content may not 100% reflect the current reality at Penn State Cru. But it’s such good stuff, it is worth sharing all of it.

Overview of the Movement at Penn State

Movement stats as of 2011

  • There are 44,000 students enrolled at Penn State
  • 300-400 students involved in Cru (maybe 5% growth every year)
  • Been pretty slow growth the whole way
  • 8-14 people are coming on every year into Cru internships and staff
  • About 500 students at weekly meeting (ranging from 275-600);
  • 24 small group Bible Studies
  • Staff team ranges from 10-13

 

  • Aside:To my knowledge, Tim Henderson is the most innovative Cru Director in the nation.
    • He has produced phenomenal resources like the Compass and Cru.comm (which, I would guess played a role in eventually forming the phenomenal CruPressGreen).
    • About a decade ago Penn State brought in a graphic designer to come up with a brand for their ministry (and many Cru ministries, especially in the Northeast, have used this branding)
    • They wanted to reach drunks so they came up with the “Beer is Proof” Evangelistic campaign (that many campuses have used)
    • He led the research team that delivered the very insightful Changing Evangelism report (that is well worth reading if you want to understand how to better reach today’s college students)
    • He wrote/gave a brilliant talk to the Penn State Cru movement following the news on Sandusky in Fall 2011.
    • Penn State Cru is always on the cutting edge on evangelism and really college ministry in general.

 

What we do

  • We are not an evangelistic organization
  • We are not a discipleship organization
  • We are a labor producing factory – our clarion call – this would be my message if I had a megaphone
  • I always ask the staff:
  • If we were a factory, what is the widget we would produce?
    • If we were a tree, what would be our fruit?
    • Laborers!
    • We make missionaries
      • Our raw good is lost students
      • Process is centering them on Christ
      • Churn out laborers (missionaries – don’t care who they work for)
    • We win and build so that we can send
    • Why do we share the gospel?
      • B/c out there, among the lost, are people who will be laborers
  • This is what we do

 

What does evangelism look like on your campus?

  • There are 2 types of students:
    • The ready and the unready
  • Doug Pollock in his book God Space says that evangelism is like golfing:
    • You need to be able to drive, putt, chip
    • I think a lot of time Cru treats it like it’s a putting game
    • But most people are not on the green
  • We’re using Community to address Evangelism effectiveness
  • [Here at Arkansas we use Penn State’s Community 2:8 strategy for evangelism. It’s simple and effective.]
  • Evangelism Made Slightly Less Difficult is the best book I’ve read on evangelism recently

 

Ministry Structure

In 2009 we restructured everything that we do here.

We made sweeping changes because:

  1. We need to penetrate far more of the campus with the gospel
  2. We need to dramatically increase our capacity to love and serve students
  3. We need to build better bridges to life and ministry after graduation
    • We have heard from far too many of our grads that the sudden transition from the considerable support structures they experienced in Cru to the independence and relative isolation of the “real world” has been jarring. Indeed, too many of our grads cease influencing others for Christ, and worse still others stop walking with Christ at all.

These two documents describe some of the changes we made– What is Cru, Transition Letter to Students.

Everything we do is designed to move students toward becoming:

“independent, capable, Christ-centered laborers equipped and motivated to continue their own development and influence the world for Christ”

 

We have Four Lanes that students can lead in:

  • Managers(organizationally minded)
    • Managers run the infrastructure of Cru. If you like to set direction, strategize, plan, and execute those plans this lane is for you.
    • Bonus side effect – Penn State does really good job at recruiting to Ops
  • Multipliers– evangelists and discipleship
    • They lead our dozens of small group Bible studies across campus, and meet weekly with students one-on-one to help them walk, communicate, and multiply their faith.
  • Freshmen team
    • The Freshman team exists to reach every freshman at Penn State
    • Always composed of sophomores (6-8 student leaders who oversee the Multipliers who lead freshmen studies)
    • Freshmen bible studies are all led by sophomores
  • Missionaries –if you don’t want to be burdened with a group and want to just go after new areas (you can read more about this lane here) – link to changing evangelism

 

  • In general for leaders: Quality proceeds quantity
  • Our students are particularly sharp leaders

 

Weekly Meeting

  • The entry point to the movement
  • Being in a consistent place with a great location is huge
  • Most people come b/c a friend invited them
    • Community is our primary currency
  • We work really hard to make sure we have a meeting that people want to bring their friends to (feel comfortable with)
  • We are seeker-friendly but with pretty deep talks, pretty serious worship
  • 3 things we focus on:
    • Good Worship
    • Good teaching
    • Fun (not embarrassing)
  • Students speak at Cru 2-3 times a year – big win

 

Bible Studies

  • Freshmen bible studies are led by Sophomores who lead in pairs–
  • Not sure how many are in studies because that’s someone else’s job to know that!
  • Maybe 12 freshmen studies?
  • This year we’re trying to have fewer, bigger studies

 

Discipleship

  • “Discipleship” has at least two senses.
    • The general biblical sense that pertains to all of our life as followers of Christ
    • And the Crusade sense of “discipleship proper” by which we mean a one hour meeting each week in the student union with an older student or staff member.
  • In Crusade we tend to use it almost exclusively in the more limited sense.
  • We hope to recast discipleship in the broader sense, while continuing to value the particular sense known around here as “D Time.”
  • In doing so we hope to help our students learn to see the many, many ways that they can participate in the act of growing as a disciple of Christ, now.
  • Also, we hope the variety will help them be prepared to find the discipleship in its many forms after graduation
  • [You can read more in the two documents linked to above re: the changes they made]

 

What do staff focus on?

  • We get out of the way and let students lead
  • If our students are going to lead, what does that leave us to do?
  • 3 things:
    • Set direction (“this is where we are going”)
    • Resource (skills, tools, money)
    • Develop

We are asking Staff to lead at a much higher level.

  • Our Staff all specialist- they all work exclusively in their lanes and lead it as a Director
  • One person leads each of the Lanes (It’s like having 4 Directors)
  • Everything happens within those lanes
    • They disciple within those lanes
    • Tom leads Multiplier lane
      • He cares and develops everyone in his lane
      • Weekly meeting with everyone
      • Indiv meeting with each student (not every one every week)
      • Not necessarily discipleship (one on one)
        • Where they share their faith and talk about their girlfriend
  • Missionaries
    • Mostly just going and doing Perspectives Cards
    • Every three weeks rotate thru guys (taking them out)
  • Managers – take them sharing twice a semester
    • We coach the student team leaders
      • How did the weekly meeting go?
      • What is going on in your life?
    • Students lead their own team – staff don’t go to the team meetings
    • It’s the staff’s job to lead the student leaders; the student leaders’ job is to lead their team (CRU, prayer, etc.)
  • Our Staff has invested really heavily in doing the 5 follow ups
    • We call it “Cru core values” and we heavily promote it:
      • “If you’re a freshman and you’re new, we’d love to go through this one on one with you”
      • Have them sign up to meet and talk about our Cru core values
    • It’s the best thing we do for evangelism

 

What do you (the Director) focus on?

  • My job is to keep my staff happy so they’ll stick around and grow up to be Directors
  • I speak every other week at our weekly meeting
  • Lead missionary lane
    • Meet every week with them (45 students)
  • Develop the team
    • Meet one-on-one with staff
  • I never go on campus alone
    • Always with staff or student
  • Weekly schedule
    • In the office all day Monday
    • Wed. AM prep morning
    • Thursday afternoon prepping for Talks
    • Other mornings, doing staff meeting or training

Making Staff Happy

  • We go out early to Ray’s Town (where we have our leadership retreat)
  • We get a houseboat for our staff
  • We invest very heavily in making our staff really happy
  • Play a ton together
    • We do a lot of staff retreats
    • Strong sense of camaraderie
  • One year we took off the week after Fall Retreat
    • Monday and Tuesday off
    • Wednesday – day of prayer
    • Thursday night – cheese and chocolate fondue for the students (at a mansion house they rented for dirt cheap)
    • Took the staff team to Philadelphia on Friday
    • Net effect= staff are feeling: “I went a whole week, I celebrated, we played, I left town, and now I’m ready to go hard for the rest of the semester”

 

Miscellaneous

Question – You’ve referred to community a lot; how that is your primary currency, the main thing you do.

How do you produce good, life-changing community?

  • We talk about it incessantly
  • Applaud it when it happens
  • Spend money on it
  • Make things as fun and social as we can
    • Staff team loves each other – we play a lot
    • A sense of playfulness that permeates our movement
  • Dances and socials
  • Houses where students throw parties
    • Videos during Cru to promote their parties
    • Lodgefest – bunch of guys lived at a place called the Lodge
  • At beginning of the year, take all the leaders down to a lake
    • For 3 days
    • Water ski, jump off cliffs
    • Camp fires
    • Live in tents
    • Evangelism training
    • Drenched in community and play
  • Turn everything into a C2:8 event
  • Cru Meetings aren’t too formal
  • We’re here to have a good time and verbalize that
  • Champion inclusivity and warmth

 

Recruiting

We’re trying to get as many kids to join our staff as we can

  • We need more laborers and are current system won’t give us any more (if we wait for staff)
  • We tell students:
    • “There is no one better than a Penn State Cru senior to go reach other Penn State students.”
  • There’s a ton of people in our movement who won’t go on to do full time ministry but might invest a year with us
  • We’re going to run a campaign called, “One year and then career”
  • Result would be another 5-10 laborers per year who will in turn give us more potential to do more

 

Strategic Planning

We use a framework called Clouds and Puzzles Pieces (click to see the pdf of the framework)

4 questions

1) What are we trying to build here this year?

  • What are we trying to get done/accomplished? Mission/Vision

2) What are the problems holding us back?

3) What do we currently have that can help us?

  • Critical mass
    • Your weekly meeting is not a problem to be solved
    • It’s a bucket of cash
    • We use our weekly meeting to help our morale problem
    • We use our weekly meeting to fix community
    • We have 400 people that are a resource

4) How do we spend what we have to solve our problems, meet our goals, and increase what we have for next year and its problems?

Example:

  • Couldn’t get kids to come to a ministry training time
    • Don’t want to come because it’s boring, time constraints
    • There is no time where we can do training time during the year
    • We bought a bunch of tents and booked a couple nights at Ray’s Town camp
    • Did it before the school year
    • Charged $30
    • Train them up and have a blast
    • Ray’s Town (training we do before the year) is no longer a problem, it’s a resource, it’s critical mass we can use for our purposes
    • Students are trained, have fun, connect with each other

Those 4 questions are  the framework that we work through

[Here at Arkansas we’ve adapted this approach and use it for all of our planning – I wrote more in depth about it here]

 

On Sharing Resources

  • We never make things intending to use it nationally
  • All we do is make things we need
  • We needed something for discipleship, so we came up with the Compass
  • We needed something to use for drunks so we made Beer is Proof
  • It only took 5% more effort to share the wealth
  • We made Cru.comm (Bible study material) because we lacked control over small group material and that was hurting our sending
    • We would ask students to join them on staff and they would be like, “why?” – they had no idea what we were about, our distinctives
    • We wanted material where we knew our students would be getting our distinctives over 2-3 years in Cru
    • 80% of our small groups use Cru.comm

 

 

What are your biggest takeaways from learning about the Cru ministry at Penn State?

Montana State

This is part of a series: Learning from Large Cru Movements- a look at 8 of the largest Cru movements in the U.S. Read the Series intro here.

Overview of the Cru Movement at Montana State

Movement stats as of 2011

  • 13,000 students enrolled at Montana State (3,500 in dorms)
  • Typically 6-10 staff (that includes 0-3 interns)
  • 335 students in Bible studies
  • 425 at the weekly meeting
  • 285 at Fall Retreat
  • Bob Schwahn is the Director. He’s been on staff 19 years. 15 years at MSU (13 of those as Director). Came to Christ at MSU.

Movement History

  • Since 1999, they’ve taken a movement from 50 to about 500 involved
  • Since 2006 they’ve gone from 15 students living out Win/Build/Send to 150 this past year
  • They’ve sent out staff to lead Cru ministries in Seattle and Portland
  • What contributed to their growth [with some great candor]:
    • Not sure!
    • Our meeting was really cool, fun students involved in our ministry (great personalities involved who were cool and fun who were in the band or MC’s)
      • Wow, this looks like a fun group
      • I don’t think they necessarily were getting involved in a movement
      • We were more about talking about the mission than doing it
    • I don’t think I did a great job (I was just trying to keep my head above water) at thinking strategically

 

Key Points

  • Even in the early days, when there were a lot of people coming, our “movement” was actually really pretty small – maybe 10-15 people who really got WBS, actively sharing their faith
  • Our “movement” is now 125-150 people (students who are sharing their faith)
  • What contributed to THAT growth (of your core)?
    • 5 or 6 years ago we really began to take spiritual multiplication seriously and asked “Are we really preparing people for a lifetime of ministry?”
    • We got dialed in on evangelism – which is really difficult to help staff remove everything off of their plates so they can focus on evangelism
    • When we really set out to make spiritual multipliers/grandchildren, we found out, “this is slow!”
    • It actually takes years
    • “Less happens in one year, more happens in five years” from Jim Sylvester
  • We have a big emphasis on encouraging our students to move back into the dorms (even in groups)

 

Success for Us

  • We track/measure two things the most:
  • How many people are actively involved in sharing their faith (that’s our top goal)
    • We want 125-150 people who are regularly communicating their faith (at least once a month) – not just telling someone they’re a Christian but bringing people to a point of decision
  • Multipliers/Spiritual grandchildren.
    • Are there students involved in our ministry who are really helping students have a ministry?
    • We’re pretty focused on it and work hard at it, but that number is pretty small
    • 17 is the most we’ve ever seen – students who are shepherding people who are having a ministry
    • We had 9 this year
    • “The grandchild has to be sharing their faith” – the litmus test of the leader

 

What do staff focus on?

  • Their primary job is to be in their target area, sharing their faith, with student leaders
    • We call it “The Critical Event” – a trained person taking a non-trained person to share their faith
  • Our staff share their faith A LOT
    • That’s what we ask them to do, day in/day out
    • Because they’re thinking multiplication, every appt they have to have a student with them (we think the best training for students is to watch someone else share their faith) as they share their faith
    • It’s usually said “I’m pouring my life into someone” – but we say “I’m trying to pour my life through someone” – anything I do with a student, I ask them “who’s someone you can do this with?” or “who’s someone you could tell about this?”
  • Every staff have a residence hall they’re focusing on (focusing on freshmen)
    • Every staff person is over prayer, outreach, etc
    • Every staff is a MTL over their area:
    • They build a team of leaders to reach their area
    • “How are we going to reach this dorm?”
    • Each area does their own prayer, socials, outreaches, etc
  • As we look at why staff say they don’t share their faith, they legitimately may not have time to do it because they have so much on their plates
    • They’re spending all their time doing socials, planning meetings
    • It’s unfair to ask staff to do everything they’re doing AND share their faith
    • How do I take those things off their plate?
    • Students will figure out how to do socials, what they’re not going to figure out is how to build an evangelistic movement and share their faith
    • We just decided, “how are we going to focus on this one thing”
    • And what do we need to say no to (aggressively)?
    • We made the decision to relentlessly take things off their plate that are not
      1. Evangelism
      2. Following up New Believers
    • The reason we see a lot of students come on staff, is they’ve gotten to share their faith a ton as students and seen life change, and they think “why would I not want to do that for my job?”

 

Ministry Structure

Leadership Development/Training

  • We used to have a weekly leadership meeting but we killed it
  • But this last year we didn’t have a single leadership meeting
  • We have one overnight leadership meeting per semester
  • Each staff person does leadership training in their own area
  • We do some training corporately in how to share their faith – the week after the fall retreat
    • We essentially make it a part of the fall retreat, “we’re going to come back and get trained and get mobilized”
    • Monday right after fall retreat (for 2 hours)– students are at the peak of their excitement about who we are and what we are about
    • The main goals are:
      • Teach them the Knowing God Personally booklet
      • Get them to really think thru how to ask question to get into spiritual conversations
      • Assign them to a staff or student leader who are very skilled at sharing their faith (who will then take them out sharing 3-4 times in the following weeks)
        • Apart from modeling, they’re not going to get it (how to share their faith), so we don’t do much in the classroom
    • We give them just enough to get them out there and get killed : )

 

Committees

  • We don’t have any committees (prayer, evangelism, etc)
  • Everything just operates in areas – each area/dorm does their own prayer, socials, outreach, etc.

 

Weekly Meeting

  • We have a weekly meeting team but staff don’t meet with those students
    • They do everything
    • We just provide the teachers

 

Bible Study Structure

  • 45 small groups
  • about 335 people in small groups (early in the school year)
  • Studies are both student and staff led
  • They’re all team led (2-4 leaders)
    • One facilitates content, the other 2 or 3 think thru how to meet personally with each student how to share their faith

 

What are your biggest takeaways from learning about the Cru ministry at Montana State?

 

photo courtesy of jimmywayne

As we send out college graduates to be lifelong laborers, we will hopefully have a good percentage of students heading into full-time ministry.

Which brings the perennial question from students: Should I go to seminary?

As college ministers, it’s an issue we need to be well versed in. [Another post for another time – we also need to have well thought out advice on graduate school. More and more, students are pursuing graduate school- some rightly, some as a way to delay adulthood.]

The short of it: for most college students I would say–  No, you should not go to seminary (right out of college).

When I was considering my options coming out of college, I got this wise advice from my pastor-
“Get some experience in ministry for a few years and then, if you feel it would be helpful, go to seminary. If you go straight into seminary you simply will not have context for all the information you are taking in. You will not have pegs to hang things on. And I think Cru offers the best 2 years of training in ministry.”
Seminary without ministry experience can be like reading a parenting book before you have kids. Or like when my wife and I attended a marriage conference as an engaged couple (which I’m not discouraging!): we sat there knowingly nodding our heads as the speakers talked about conflict and the difficulties of marriage. We had it all figured out.And we didn’t take any notes.

In a recent #AskTK Q&A on Twitter, Dr. Tim Keller was asked: Should young leaders go to seminary or go on staff at a church right out of college?
TK: Not necessarily a church, but better to get ministry experience before seminary to ask the right questions once there.

Every Christian leader needs to be well trained and well educated. But seminary is not the only way to arrive at that destination.

“Ralph Winter’s observation is tragically too true: The most extensive, pervasive strategic error in the Christian tradition lies squarely in our coveted and generously supported, but unquestioned, concept of years of “schooling” as the way for leaders to develop and be trained. . . .

Formal education definitely has a place and can make an enormous contribution in the life of a leader. I am the product of a couple of graduate degrees and am deeply grateful for my formal education. But there are limitations to what formal education can do.” – Sam Metcalf in his book, Beyond the Local Church
In another interview, Tim Keller shares how College Ministry is “our best leadership development pipeline” because on a “college campus, you’re on the culture’s cutting edge. By exposing people to the cutting edge of culture where they have to deal with the modern mindset, where they have to deal with non-Christians — that, in Keller’s opinion, is the best way to develop pastors and lay leaders.”

I always counsel students to get a few years of college ministry under their belts before going to seminary. Yes, I’m biased toward college ministry. But, as Tim Keller asserted, I really do believe ministry on a college campus offers the best place to become skilled at evangelism (engaging other religions and world views) and rapidly multiplying discipleship.

In his recent post, The Pipeline is Shrinking: Reflections on the State of Church Planting, Bob Thune observes: “Turning a seasoned youth pastor or college pastor into an effective church planter is a two-year project; doing the same with a young seminary graduate is more like a ten-year project”

As college ministers it is our duty to ask students – why are you going to seminary?

I am not at all anti-seminary. But I am very against the blind belief that seminary is the default next step after college for anyone going into ministry. I’ve seen too many young people invest years of their life and tens of thousands of dollars and come out on the other end jobless and hopelessly in debt.

The secular publication The Atlantic painfully described the situation in an article called “Higher Calling – Lower Wages“:
“Of the seminary students who graduated in 2011 with a Master of Divinity degree (the typical degree for a full-time pastor), more than 25 percent accrued more than $40,000 in educational debt, and five percent accumulated more than $80,000 in debt. Those lucky enough to get a full-time job as a pastor will join a profession whose median wage is $43,800”
Reformed Seminary put together this sobering graphic:
With those cautions in mind, here are some guidelines to consider as you decide whether you should you go to seminary.

Don’t go to seminary:

  • to grow spiritually
  • to figure out what you want to do when you grow up
  • because you want to go into ministry (if a student says this, ask them: “How will seminary help you do ministry better?” If they can’t answer that, they’re not ready to go to seminary)
On the Church and Culture blog, James Emery White (a pastor AND former seminary president) describes

who should go to seminary:

For those wondering whether to go to seminary: It is critical to discern why you want to go in the first place. No one should go to try and find themselves, get fixed, get healed, get spiritual or figure out what they want do when they grow up. Save your money and go to a good Christian counselor.

Who should go?
  • If you are going to be a teaching pastor, getting the best of biblical studies, languages, theology and church history is essential. There can be little doubt that most seminaries have this training down to an art, and no matter what anyone says, such training would be hard to duplicate on most local church levels.
  • If you feel called to work within a denomination or ecclesiastical structure that requires it. [My thought: It’s still not a bad idea to ask “Well, is that the best agency for you?”]
  • If you feel called to academia.

Here are some excellent places to read more:

I did not begin my seminary education until I was in my 30’s. As a matter of fact, I never recommend that anyone pursue seminary education until they have been out of undergraduate school for at least two years. Even a few more years under your belt will not hurt anything. You can always discern who the youngest and least experienced students in the room are by the quality of the questions they ask. Those who arrive a little older know why they are there and what they want to get out of a seminary education.
“First things first: theological training is a must for anyone called to the pastorate. So I’m not denying the importance of sound, rigorous theological training. I’m simply questioning whether seminary is the place to get it. Here are some of my concerns . . .”

“Christians have a nebulous perception that a seminary degree is like a union card for pastoral ministry. News flash: it’s not. In fact, in Acts 29, we find that church planters without a seminary degree are often more successful than those with a degree.”

“Seminary pulls pastors “off the streets” for 3 or 4 years to isolate them in a sterile academic environment. While this might be great for paper-writing, it’s really bad for missional living.”

“The seminary model is a tired one that needs to be updated for a post-Christian, technological age. Here’s a possible way forward . . .”
Three Questions Before You Go
1. Might you benefit from more experience in the “real world” first? Many students will graduate from college and head off to seminary. But for many students, seminary will be richer and more helpful with a little more life experience.
2. Will your seminary education be going toward some end which requires such a seminary degree? Graduate school costs money, money you probably don’t have. With so many Christian books, conferences, and online resources these days, you can learn a whole lot on your own. If you are going to seminary because you love Jesus and love the Bible, that’s wonderful, but you may want to consider if there are less costly, less time-consuming, less disruptive ways to keep learning and growing.
3. Are you prepared for a largely academic approach to learning? I am all for academics. But writing long papers, taking tests, listening to lectures, and reading thousands of pages is not for everyone. Seminary is not like a three year Passion Conference. It is like graduate school. Know what you’re getting in to.
  • Todd Wagner, Senior Pastor at Watermark Church in Dallas, has an excellent seriesof very honest posts on seminary. A few of his points:

You don’t want to work at a church that will hire you only if you have been to [seminary]. [If a] church would not consider someone because they do not have a degree from a seminary, DESPITE an obvious qualification of life and commitment to continual learning, it is likely a church that believes that the unbiblical idea of  “clergy/laity distinction” is real and necessary. I agree with Paul that our lives are the best letters of accommodation (2 Corinthians 3:1-6a) and with Peter that we are a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9) who should be led not by degreed men, but by men who separate themselves by degree of personal holiness and giftedness.

I do not hire folks because they have been to or are going to any seminary.  The easiest thing to teach someone is theology and Bible. I hire guys that have shown a history of faithfulness, teachability and passion for the King and his Kingdom. DTS can teach theology and Bible (and they do well), but not the other stuff.

Seminary neither kills nor helps your heart. Many guys have struggled greatly in their walk with Christ while at [seminary]…my guess is they would have struggled greatly had they not been down there.  Many guys have grown in their love for and usefulness to Christ while at [seminary]…my guess is that they would have continued in obedience and faithfulness wherever they were.  If you go to [seminary] thinking it is going to be the means through which you take ground in your walk for Christ…you will be disappointed and discouraged.

  • In his book Dangerous Calling, Paul Tripp has an excellent chapter on the spiritual dangers of seminary:
Academized Christianity, which is not constantly connected to the heart and puts its hope in knowledge and skill, can actually make students dangerous. It arms them with powerful knowledge and skills that can make the students think that they are more mature and godly than they actually are.

Is it not possible for seminary students to become experts in a gospel that they are not being exposed and changed by? Is it not dangerous to teach students to be comfortable with the radical content of Scripture while holding it separate from their hearts and lives? Is it not dangerous for students to become comfortable with the message of the Bible while not being broken, grieved, and convicted by it? Is it not important for seminary students to be faced daily with the personal implications of the message that they’re learning to unpack and deliver to others? Is it not vital to hold before students who are investigating the theology of Christ the frequent and consistent call to life-shaping love for Christ? Shouldn’t every Christian institution of higher learning be a warm, nurturing, Christ-centered, gospel-driven community of faith? Could it be that rather than having as our mission students who have mastered the Book, our goal should be graduating students who have been mastered by the God of the Book?

I am convinced that the crisis of pastoral culture often begins in the seminary class. It begins with a distant, impersonal, information-based handling of the Word of God. It begins with pastors who, in their seminary years, became quite comfortable with holding God’s Word distant from their own hearts.

[Now, obviously this is true for any Christian leader, whether in seminary or not, and Tripp spends the majority of his book addressing the dangerous world of all Christian leaders]

What are your thoughts on college students going to seminary right out of college?

For those of you who have gone to seminary, what helpful insights do you have?


photo courtesy of kern.justin