Insights into Planting at Hispanic Serving Institutions

This post is the eighth post in a nine-part series reflecting on InterVarsity's Ambition conference. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage (Series: An Ambition for Mission)

All over the United States, Latino student populations are growing at exponential rates. This has huge implications and exciting challenges for how we do ministry on campus (for some of these, check out my post over on the InterVarsity national blog: How You Can Help Latino Students Finish College).

Here, I want to focus on one of the biggest challenges in this demographic ... you guessed it ... planting new ministry. Hundreds of thousands of Latino college students go to school in places where there is no campus ministry. And some of these schools have extremely large Hispanic student populations.

At the Ambition Conference, I joined Orlando Crespo and a dozen or so students and Staff to talk about planting ministry at Hispanic Serving Institutions (schools with > 25% Hispanic student population).

Here are some of the insights Orlando shared ...

Contextualize to the community

Use this as a jumping off point: what difference would it make if your students still lived in their communities? At HSIs, a lot of students live with their parents. Loads of students have family nearby. Friends from high school are still in the picture.

There is tremendous potential here. One life transformed will shine like a light in the darkness. One campus renewed will send a shockwave through a community. One worldchanger developed will create a missional snowball.

But our planting strategies need to be contextualized and our assumptions about the students we're working with need to be revisited. In some ways, the same tweaks we need to make to serve community colleges will help us at HSIs (for more on this, see Insights into Planting at Community Colleges).

Be inter-ecclesiastically open

Protestants and Catholics need to learn how to work together. Get comfortable with this and you'll have jumped over a huge hurdle to planting ministry at HSIs.

Collaborate with the administration

As I mentioned in the post over at the InterVarsity blog, our presence on campus has the potential to meet large felt needs on campus (re: college completion). On top of this, colleges and universities are still trying to figure out how to do student activities programming for Latinos (we can help with this!). And, even though HSIs receive government grants, many of them are growing so rapidly, they're thrilled to have helpful adults willing to volunteer on campus.

We need to talk with administrators at HSIs, not avoid them. Our presence on campus may be an answer to their prayers.

Have a holistic approach

One of my friends - who planted ministry with Latino students in LA - said that he had to talk to students about Jesus and about diabetes. Talking about diabetes didn't surprise anyone and was essential to building trust.

In general, with Latinos, borders tend to be softer. We expect our doctors to ask about our families. We expect our bosses to talk to us about our personal lives. And when we encounter campus ministers, we expect them to blow through the sacred/secular border (and really, does that border even exist?).

You can't plant at an HSI without engaging students holistically.

Tomorrow's post will be the last in this series and will reflect on Brian Sanders' talk on apostolic missional movements. A link to the post will be published here as soon as the post is posted.

Storytelling and Mission

This post is the seventh post in a nine-part series reflecting on InterVarsity's Ambition conference. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage (Series: An Ambition for Mission)

"In every apple, there's an orchard."

This parable from Alan Hirsch resonated with us. Short, powerful, memorable.

And Kim Hammond told funny stories about his missional experiences and emotionally moving stories about his family. Pubs and hospitals. We remember these stories.

Shawn Young told stories.
Brian Sanders told stories.
York Moore told stories.
Everyone at Ambition told stories.

Stories move people. Missional mobilizers need to be master storytellers. And that skill takes years to develop. And we need it.

Here are some shortcuts to help you get started:

Don't get bogged down in details

"She brought a basket of muffins" works (this was an example Kim used). We don't need to know how many muffins or what kind of muffins they were or whether they were home-made or store bought.

Learn to say a lot with a little.

Think about your pacing 

Stories need to move steadily, smoothly and quickly. This doesn't mean that stories need to be short. You can tell a 2 hour story. People do it all the time (movies, for ex.). But if you're going to try, you better keep the story moving.

Land the plane

A good joke ends with a punchline (or several). And if you mess up the punchline, you mess up the joke.

The same is true for stories. Ending well matters greatly, especially if you want people to respond to your story, to move or act or think differently in response to what they've heard.

Ending well involves ending intentionally, ending clearly, and ending before your listeners are sick of hearing from you.


Stories have the potential to get us moving. We lean into them. React to them. Imitate them and run from them. We imagine ourselves in them.

All too often, our theology and ecclesiology have been coordinated around propositions and systems. In order to reinject mission into the conversation, we need good stories told well.

Seeds and orchards. Pubs and hospitals. These stories wield more power than a library of Christian books. They have more impact than a day's worth of exposition. They tug at our hearts and click at our heels, compelling us to move.

Why, then, do we shy away from story?

The next post in this series will focus on another practical application from the conference: Planting at Hispanic Serving Institutions. I'll post a link as soon as the post publishes.

Equipping Everybody for Mission

This post is the sixth post in a nine-part series reflecting on InterVarsity's Ambition conference. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage (Series: An Ambition for Mission)

About halfway through the conference, we were joined by Kim Hammond. Kim directs Forge America and turned out to be a very funny man.

Kim claimed that there were two imaginations competing in the Western church: a consumer church and a missional church. Both can grow. Both (surprisingly) can produce fruit for the kingdom of God.

But they are so different. In the consumer church, everything is evaluated and picked apart. Scripts and plans abound. Growth is managed and steady. And the leaders ... well ... as the leaders go, so goes the church.

The missional church plays well off of it's foil (and we know we're dealing with a foil here ... no church would call itself a consumer church). There are no spectators. Everybody participates. Growth in numbers comes as everybody engages more and more with God and his kingdom. And the movement extends beyond the personality of its leaders.

Whether or not you buy Hammond's taxonomy of churches, one idea from his sessions really jumped out. Here is a man who passionately wants to see everybody equipped for mission. Mission mobilization keeps him up at night.

Three things in this vein kept popping up in this sessions:

1) Teach new language

People used to sitting in an audience will only take initiative if you engage their imagination. New stories and phrases re-form and re-shape expectations. And this leads to more active engagement with God's mission.

2) Give license

I find license one of the hardest words to spell and one of the most difficult things to give. But if you want people deeply engaged with God's mission, you need to give them license to try new ideas, to innovate, to start their own things.

This runs counter to so much of the church growth material we engage with all the time. It releases a ton of sideways energy. A lot of ideas don't take off. But if success in ministry is measured by the people being formed, this may be the best path.

3) Train in the field

Teach mission in the context of mission. Books and theory are so helpful. But, divorced from real action, they don't amount to real learning. Many of us are attempting to learn to become missional by reading books and attending conferences. Few of us are attempting to learn mission by doing mission. And even fewer teach this way.

I loved my years in ministry in Virginia. But when I look back, I'm saddened by how much time I spent talking about things and not doing them. I talked about evangelism much more than I went out and shared the gospel. I talked about justice much more than I went out and helped the vulnerable. I talked about making disciples, but made so few. And my students went and did likewise.

Because I was doing more talking than doing, I had little to invite people into. Because I was running around so much, I had a hard time bringing people with me.

This is something I'm still chewing on. I want to make some changes, but haven't quite figured out what this looks like.

Any ideas?

The next post in this series will be on storytelling and mission. God can get a lot of mileage out of a good story told well. A link to the post will be posted here as soon as the post is posted.

Insights into Planting at Community Colleges

This post is the fifth post in a nine-part series reflecting on InterVarsity's Ambition conference. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage (Series: An Ambition for Mission)

One of the main reasons Amy and I moved from Virginia is because we wanted to be a part of what God was doing to reach community college students. I've written previously about community college ministry here (3 Reasons We Avoid Community Colleges and Why Those Reasons Don't Matter).

So, when I had the chance to go to a conference focused on planting new ministry, I wanted to find other people with a similar passion. Kurt Thiel and Natalia Kohn hosted two seminars on this topic and Kurt was kind enough to let me pick his brain for 2 hours during the break (Natalia's a good friend and I've been picking her brain for years).

Here are some of the ideas that came up ...

Outreach is a paradigm for ministry

In standard campus ministry practice, there are intense seasons of outreach at the beginning of each new school year, helping students connect with your campus ministry as soon as they step on campus. The idea is that you want to connect with them before their calendars fill up.

The standard practice is to transition from outreach to program as quick as possible. Once you connect with people, you pay attention to them. And this makes sense.

But at a community college this doesn't work.

Students' calendars are already full when they first step on campus. They move quickly to class and then leave. You can't catch them in just one week of outreach. They are in and out all the time. At a community college, if you're not visible, you don't exist.

So a thriving community college plant will be engaging in outreach all year round. The doors never close. We are always working to welcome new students.

And outreach is our environment for discipleship. Once students connect with us, they start reaching out too. They develop boldness. They learn how to talk about their faith. No spectators.

Prayer is going to be your main thing

Natalia Kohn brought this to our attention powerfully during the conference. At other schools, Staff can make discipling their main thing (or Small Groups or preaching or Proxe Stations). But at a community college ... things are so up in the air ... prayer is a wise activity to make your main activity.

For many of us, prayer becomes our opening and closing thing or our fall-back thing. We don't know what it looks like to make prayer our main thing.

But it's worth exploring. Praying for the campus and for students. Praying with students. Teaching students to pray. Prayer is an activity that doesn't require large numbers or lots of money or consistent attenders. No matter what happens with us or with our ministry, we can always pray.

Momentum matters momentously

Kurt shared this simple, strategic insight. At everything we do, we need to be ready to invite students to whatever's next. This is how we build momentum on campus.

Meet someone at an outreach, invite them to lunch. If a student comes to a Bible Study, invite them to an outreach. Connect with someone randomly on campus, invite them to a Bible Study. Always be prepared to invite to whatever's next.

In some campus ministry situations, you can see students really connected to one point in a program, but to nothing else. They may go to Large Group but not Small Groups. They may enjoy being discipled, but not have any connection to on-campus evangelism.

At a community college, the connection is a communal connection. Students don't link in to programs. They link in with other people. With Staff. With professors. With other students. That's part of what makes our ministry special. That's the irony of the community college. Community college students hunger for community. And, for us, community creates its own momentum.

Missional community combats club mindset

The deadly plague of community college ministry is the club mindset. It's a spill-over from high school. Titles and elections. Campaign promises and doing the minimum. Getting things done, not knowing and being known. These all kill campus ministry.

But if you can build a missional community at a community college, if students are interested in serving their campus or their city or the world, if the gospel doesn't end with with "I'm saved" but goes on to "We're sent out to heal" ... if all this happens, you don't have to worry about the club mindset.

A community on mission will never be confused for a club on campus.

Kurt also had some brilliant ideas about connecting established chapters to community colleges and about the idea of training interns at community colleges. I'd share them here, but I'm still trying to wrap my brain around them. :) 

I realize that the posts in this series are long, being published slowly. Thanks for your patience in reading them. This is so helpful for me as I process this conference.

The next post in this series will reflect on Kim Hammond's talk about equipping everybody for God's mission. We weren't meant to be bystanders. We're supposed to be in the game. I'll post a link here as soon as the post publishes.

The Future of the Parachurch in God's Mission

This post is the fourth post in a nine-part series reflecting on InterVarsity's Ambition conference. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage (Series: An Ambition for Mission)

During the Q&A session with Alan Hirsch, a series of small missiles were launched from the stage (I'll paraphrase them here):
"The parachurch movement is coming to an end"
"The church is no longer outsourcing mission"
"Negotiate a new contract with churches."
"Better yet, break the contract and start your own churches."

I've struggled over the years with working in "parachurch ministry." On the one hand, people talk about our work as if it is less than legitimate, as if real ministry takes place inside buildings with steeples. On the other hand, there can be a real arrogance in specialization.

But I know my work is meaningful.
And I want to avoid arrogance.
So, what do I do with Hirsch's small missiles?

First, I deeply respect him for launching them. In a room of 300 people who have deeply committed themselves to a parachurch ministry, Alan Hirsch had the courage to tell us he thought our time was coming to an end. His commitment to God's mission is deeper than his desire for approval from a crowd. And I deeply, deeply respect him for that.

Second, I need to take the harder edge of Hirsch's words as the wounds of a friend. This is not a man who believes (as do some disparagers of the parachurch) that real ministry requires ordination or denominational affiliation or steeples. Real ministry happens when Jesus' disciples follow him into the world. And when Hirsch tells us that the parachurch movement is coming to an end, he isn't denigrating our work, our passion, our service or our commitment. He's trying to care for us.

[If we evangelical Christians would receive wounds from friends as signs of love and compassion rather than offers to fight, I suspect the gates of hell would be reduced to rubble by now]

Third, I am reminded of my weaker justifications for parachurch ministry:
  • We go where the church won't go (weak)
  • We go where the church can't go (very weak)
  • We go where the church shouldn't go (extremely weak)
Those of us who work in parachurch ministry do, at times, find ourselves struggling to justify our existence. And not all justifications are created equal.

If we exist merely because the church historically decided to outsource mission, we would have no place in the picture if the missional movement consumes the church and re-engages her.

But this is perhaps where I would tell a different story.

From my vantage point, InterVarsity doesn't exist because the church has decided to outsource mission to us. I see churches all over the country that love college students, that want students to know Jesus, that will pursue students to the ends of the earth.

And to these churches ...
We are a two-way bridge, connecting church to campus.
We are a force battling for the life of the mind.
We are salt and light in a very particular place.
We are an environment for polyecclesial collaboration.
We are indigenous guides and experienced coaches.
We are a forge and a crucible for church leaders.
We are a blessing.

We are ... or at least ... we can be all of this.

As churches becomes more missional, we will find ourselves doing better, not less work on campus. And this may mean, as Alan urged us, that we may need to negotiate new social contracts with churches. At the very least, we need to stop saying "Give us money and leave us alone."

But a missional shift in the church is good news for InterVarsity.

Great news ... if we position ourselves correctly.

What do you think? What would happen if InterVarsity broke away from local churches?

In the next post, I'll take some time to write about the seminars I attended on planting ministry in community college contexts. This is a very practical application to the ideas about church, structure and eschatology we've been wrestling with so far in the series. A link will be published here when the post gets posted (Insights into Planting at Community Colleges)