Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Making Predictions

Have you ever had something you wrote come back to haunt you?  About 20 years ago, I was asked to write an article for The Campus Minister journal on “Where are We Going in Student Ministries?” and did so.  I had long forgotten this but it was brought to my attention recently by friend Wanda Kidd who sent me a copy. 

As I reflect now on the ten observations in that article, I realize that some were general enough that I could not miss by including them. I am also reminded about how much things have changed in Baptist life since 1990, changes that led me to leave employment by the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention and cast my lot with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. 

So where did I get it right and where did I miss the mark?

One prediction was, “We will use ‘high tech’ equipment and resources, but it will not take the place of ‘high touch’ activities.”  I was pretty much on the mark there.  I even commented that “we will do more of our own clerical and secretarial work” and use software to produce “commercial quality printing and program materials at low cost.”  I could not foresee that social networking provided by the computer and the Internet (who knew what the Internet would become?) would provide a new means of “high touch” contact with students and constituents or that printed media would be significantly less important in communication.

Another comment was, “We will use the arts and media more effectively in communicating the gospel.”  I suggested that we would use “drama, interpretative movement, sculpture, painting, photography and music more extensively in our worship, teaching and evangelistic effort.”  This certainly has come true in worship where there is great emphasis on the visual and auditory, but some of the other elements have not become significant factors in the way we do ministry.

I also challenged campus ministers to “practice what we preach about continuing education and lifelong learning.”  I alluded to the potential of using interactive video, accessing to seminary and university libraries online, and pursuing doctor of ministry degrees.  Even though possible delivery platforms have multiplied far beyond what I imagined, I doubt that they are being accessed by a large number of campus (collegiate) ministers.

There were some aspirational ideas that we have not achieved yet but we have made some progress toward.  For example, I had hoped and still hope that campus ministry would be more inclusive and hire people for their gifts rather than their race, gender, or ethnicity.  I had also hoped that more volunteers would be used not due to economic considerations but because they often have more access and credibility in higher education than an outside person.  This is a great resource that is still largely untapped.

And then there were just some wacky things—for example, student athletes would be recognized as semi-pros and compensated for their work—that have not come to pass, but I did forecast a diverse and fragmented higher education scene that is even more chaotic today than anyone could have expected.

Where I missed the mark completely was the idea that churches and the denomination would continue to see ministry with college students as an essential “cutting edge” ministry to assure the future of the church.  Unfortunately, in many places, college ministry has been the first thing cut in an attempt to balance shrinking budgets. Although there are still collegiate ministers who do good work with limited resources, Baptists are not as committed to this ministry as I had hoped they would be.  I do stand by my closing words in the article:

“We may attempt to ignore the world of higher education, but God will still be at work there, and He [sic] will find other representatives to articulate the Gospel.  Who will lose?  Southern [and other] Baptists will lose and I, for one, don’t want to miss the opportunity.”

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