7 Things I’ve Learned From Being on the Same Campus for 7 Years
You may have caught my post last week, reflecting on 15 Things I’ve Learned from 15 Years of College Ministry. If not, you should check it out!
Those 15 years have unfolded on four different campuses — but the last seven have been in the same place. And truth be told, I’m surprised that I’ve made it this long.
It’s not that I’m a bad employee — often at risk of getting fired. Nor is it that I dislike the place I work (or that I’ve previously worked) — all have been great! It has more to do with me — and my propensity for change.
In the past, I’ve enjoyed starting on a new campus, making new relationships, assessing what’s working — and what’s not, and then discerning how God wanted to use me in that place.
After some time had passed, I’d usually sense some internal alarm bells sounding that would be my signal that it was time to move on.
I lasted three years on the first campus I served (in two different positions).
I had a six month stint at a local church (another post for another time).
I spent three and a half years on my second campus.
I spent one year on my third campus.
And now I’ve been here at BU for the past seven years.
Yes, the alarm bells have sounded during my tenure at BU — but I’ve been able to acknowledge my internal desires for change, assess my surroundings and ability to create change here in this place, and thus far I’ve been able to work through it — to the point of knowing that my time here is/was not done.
In the first four ministry locations I definitely felt called to something new. Thus far, that has not been the case here at BU.
And although I love change — and changing contexts — I feel like I have struck gold in some of the things that I’ve learned from serving in the same location as long as I have.
Here are seven things I’ve learned from being here for the past seven years:
1. It takes a while to learn an institution. There are some things we can learn about a place by checking out their website, talking with some of their employees, or listening to how community members talk about them.
But there are a good number of other things that we can only learn from being a part of that same place, or watching it ever so closely, for a number of years.
> What they really care about.
> How they treat people.
> What they aspire to.
> What they’re willing to do in order to reach their goals.
> How things work and happen “behind the veil.”
When you’ve been around long enough to learn some of these things, it shapes how you do ministry. It shapes your understanding of the vision and mission God has given you for that place.
It makes a big difference!
2. It takes awhile to build a reputation. People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.
When we step on to campus we likely come on the heals of another leader that may (or may not) have set us up well to succeed. Our work is to be faith and consistent — faithfully consistent — to the work God has called us to.
Regardless of whether we work directly for the campus we serve or not, there’s no expediting our reputation on campus. If we can be faithful with what’s right in front of us, God will offer more opportunities to expand our reach and influence on campus.
Conversely, a misstep — of the wrong kind, at the wrong time — can be fatal to our reputation, and can take a long, LONG time to overcome.
3. It takes a while to grow relationships with faculty. Faculty are a busy bunch, and don’t often have much time or mental space available to tend to things outside the classroom. But that doesn’t mean that they’re uninterested in what we do, or that they’re unwilling to partner in some way.
All of this means that we’ll need to be consistent in our pursuit of relationships and partnerships with them. We’ll need to find easy, but meaningful, ways to connect with them; and for them to connect with what we do. We’ll also need to find ways to be a part of some of the things they’re doing on campus — specifically outside of the classroom.
Our reputation may or may not proceed our first interaction with a specific faculty member — which is why we should do our best to honor God in ways that demonstrate his love and grace to all. It’s hard to be against that — unless that’s the very thing that they’re against — which is undoubtedly the case on some campuses.
4. It takes a while to understand how to partner (and not compete) with other entities on campus. This is HUGE! We all want to be seen as successful. We all want to have a voice in the lives of students. And depending our context, many of us who might “compete” with one another ultimately want the same (or similar) things for our shared students.
When we find ways to partner or collaborate on events or experiences it sends an underlying message to students that we’re ultimately about them — and not us. It’s also a way to multiply our work and our reach. It’s working smarter — and not harder.
5. It takes a while to see how God is already at work in a specific context — and how to best come alongside what God is up to. As “professionals,” we often feel compelled to go into a new ministry context — one that we’ve felt called to — with a plan. God’s called us — and hopefully given us a vision for what a thriving ministry in our context will look like. And our initial days and weeks on campus can begin to give us insight into just how challenging it might be to carry out that vision. This can be devastating, but also liberating!
When we take the time — over the course of time — to attune ourselves to what God is already up to in that place, we can better understand the role he is asking us to play in fulfilling his vision.
6. It takes a while to become the “go to” person (or department) for different things. It’s amazing what faithfulness and consistency can yield over the course of time. When we do our work — well! — and prove to be a steady and consistent resource for others, God will open doors and create opportunities.
We can attempt to manifest this for ourselves, but that usually doesn’t go well — and can serve as a strike (or two) against us and our reputation.
7. It takes a while to grow something that is tried and true, steady and deep-rooted. No matter how much we might try, growth is not something we can manufacture or manipulate. Especially in our work, which is subject to the timing and movement of God’s Spirit — in the lives of individuals and communities, our best work is to be consistently faithful to the work that we have been given.
We tend to the details, we invest in all the right ways, we do our best to create optimal conditions for growth and formation — and then we wait. We wait for God to do what only God can do.
So there you have it.
Consistency and faithfulness.
Consistently faithful or faithfully consistent!
These are just a few of the things I’ve learned over the course of my first seven years at BU!
QUESTION: How have you seen this play out in your own ministry context? How does your length of tenure speak to your current level of trust, partnership, or influence?
Photo by Lincolnian (Brian) on Flickr.