I never thought I would pioneer a ministry. This was affirmed to me in multiple ways. Indirectly, I remember listening to someone I highly respect publicly teach that pioneering ministry requires an outgoing, “type A” personality. I am an introvert who needed to overcome his shy tendencies and risk-averse nature. Besides this public pronouncement of what it takes to pioneer campus ministry, I recall another veteran campus pastor say that the best way to determine if someone is a leader is to “place them on a campus and see if anyone will follow.” If I could not escape my introspective and introverted personality, surely my fear of the unknown within a crowded campus would trip me up. But I felt like Jesus was leading me into campus ministry in places where it had not been established. Thus, I headed out to the Northeast with my wife as interns at Georgetown University. It was a challenging, yet highly influential year. I faced all my fears in one year. I had to engage with students I did not know or share much in common every Wednesday afternoon in the center of campus called “red square.” The ministry would not succeed or fail due to my efforts so part of my experience was getting outside of my comfort zone (personal), while the other was learning to creatively consider why anyone would listen and take seriously the Gospel (theological).
After a year of ups and downs, the day of our final internship evaluation was upon us. My wife and I sat before our internship directors and listened to their feedback. Their final analysis: “Matt, you could take over a campus ministry as a director, but we don’t think you can pioneer one at this time.” They weren’t wrong. However, it was an uplifting moment for it showed me I was headed in the right direction.
After Georgetown I went to Cornell University where the group was being rebuilt after years of officially being chartered through a local church. My wife and I took over and through the 7 years we spent in upstate New York, we learned and worked through what it takes to cast vision, preach the Gospel, and equip students to follow our example. When we moved to St Louis (for reasons beyond this short story), we entered a city where almost every campus is private, and no one had much success establishing campus ministries.
As a 32-year-old with two kids and another coming shortly after arriving in St Louis, I walked onto campus, as a reflective, confident introvert, determined to show that with God’s leading, others would follow. In Genesis the patriarch Jacob left his mother and father in order to find a wife among some distant relatives. Over those years, his personality changed, and his experiences produced a tremendous household of people, livestock, and wealth. But it was his confrontation with his past, with his brother Esau, that caused his fears to rise again. And it was in the middle of the night, as he wrestled with God, that his fears were relieved and he moved forward. The story of his son Joseph would be similar. A foreign country became the proving grounds for his faith as well.
If I could impart one simple lesson in all of this it is this: making disciples for Jesus is not a matter of who you think you are or who others think you are, but using what spiritual gifts God has given to you in whatever calling His is leading you into. Not all will have the spiritual gift of leadership or administration, etc. The point is to find out what your gifts are, and use them to make disciples. Pioneering cannot be done by anyone, but far more are capable of its calling than we make it out to be. That was the case for me.
Matt Herman, is the author of Pioneering Campus Ministry, What You Should Know Before Stepping Out Into the Unknown (2021). See a complete Book Review in the Resource section of the web.
“This may be the first book written in such a way that brings you on campus in the first few years of forming a campus group from scratch. You get inside Matt’s head as he encounters students for the first time to build relationships when he is unknown and few cares about what he doing. It is a masterful book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is pioneering a new ministry, particularly on campus, and to those learning how to exhibit humility as a leader.” Dennis Gaylor, former national director, Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, USA