I have a love/hate relationship with the roller coaster that is chapter planting, and I'm learning that success doesn't always look the way we expect it to.
If you were at Staff Conference 14, you might remember a brief training video featuring students at Bridgewater State University (BSU). This video was used to develop our skills in crafting discipleship cycles. Click here to see the video.
None of the students mentioned in the video are still involved in the chapter. They all served well for a time and they have now moved on to other endeavors. This is sometimes the hard reality of chapter planting. It is tempting to write a rosy blog post as a follow-up to that video, but it wouldn’t be the truth.
What I wish I could write
“The students featured in that video returned from summer break pumped about Jesus and our movement, ready to take on the campus (well, that was actually TRUE). They participated in our new student outreach (also TRUE) and they are now student leaders, leading others through dynamic discipleship cycles on campus as the movement expands into new dorms and student cultures (FALSE).”
What actually happened
In reality, I quickly learned to hold everything with an open hand in planting this student movement at BSU. The students featured in the SC14 video were excited and started the fall semester out strong, but slowly their involvement in God's work on campus faded due to family obligations, sports schedules, Thirsty Thursday exploits and other priorities. This is part of campus life. Students come, and students go. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away -- and what is the resounding chorus of the familiar prayer? Blessed be the name of the Lord! (See Job 1:21.)
What God is teaching me
I am one of those achievement types. I love numbers. I love seeing things succeed. I wish that life were one giant upward trajectory into success and prosperity -- but then I am confronted with the cross. While planting this chapter at Bridgewater State, I have been learning so much about who God is, and who I am in light of him.
My entire paradigm of success has shifted. Success is no longer defined by how many students show up for a given Bible study (although that is worthy of celebration). The question has now become, did I show up? Did I show up expectant that God might move, regardless of the outcome, day in and day out? Did I trust that God is already working on this campus? These days, I am learning far more about faithfulness in the midst of the ups and downs of campus ministry, rather than focusing on my former obsession with success.
God is teaching me that success is actually faithfulness. And yes, it is amazing when the Lord adds to our numbers, or when we seamlessly work through each portion of the discipleship cycle in one week, or when students take life-changing steps towards Jesus. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. The way of the cross is suffering but not empty self-flagellation; it is suffering that leads to new life.
I can say today, without spin, that it is a privilege to sacrifice for Bridgewater State University. It is a privilege to cry over students far from God. It is a privilege to watch students who hung around for a year finally “get it” and lead a friend to faith. This openness I am experiencing is no longer a self-defensive numbing from caring for the campus, lest my feelings get hurt. Rather, it is a small foretaste of this promise: "And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast" (1 Peter 5:10).
The faithfulness of God is what makes the ups and downs of campus ministry worth the ride.