There is nothing more frustrating as a parent then policing a dispute between your children. My children are 3 and 1 1/2 years old and I can assure you that neither their mother nor myself have ever taught them to argue and bicker. A sort of sibling rivalry seems to emerge throughout the toddler years and sometimes it causes my wife and I to scream, “ENOUGH!” During this year’s Simply Youth Ministry Conference I facilitated a discussion that reminded me of this.
One of the obstacles many youth leaders identify in reaching the students of their community are the para-church organizations that are looking to reach the same students they are. Many church based youth leaders identify these ministries as counterproductive to the work of the local church and many para church ministries would say their biggest obstacle to reaching un-churched students are the local churches. So, who is right? Who should champion the efforts of reaching these students? Is it the local church? Bill Hybles famously states, “The local church is the hope of the world.” The ministries of Jesus and Paul seems to affirm the importance of the local church. Or, should the mandate of the Great Commission give para church organizations free reign to reach the lost for Christ.
The truth is Jesus should be championed and if we believe what He says, then unity matters most. In John 17 we are given insight on Jesus’ parting earthly prayer and this prayer focuses on His disciples, Jesus specifically asks that all His followers would seek unity. Jesus prays, in John 17, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” – John 17:22-23 (NLT).
I have learned a lot about managing this tension in my 9 years as a young adults pastor ministering to students at the local state university. A quick perusal through the student organization manual would reveal 30+ evangelical ministries all looking to introduce students to Jesus Christ. Many of these student groups were made up of national para-church organizations; Campus Crusade, Navigators, Chi Alpha, Intervarsity, YoungLife, etc… On the other had many of these campus groups were local churches that each wanted a piece of the college ministry pie. Every Fall at the student organization fair I am amazed at the booths, banners, flyers and posters given away to college students. An un-churched college student has the ability to choose between Christian ministries the same way they can choose which bar to spend their Friday night. So many of these ministries believe they are in competion with each other and more Christian leaders are worrried about their egos and their logos the more the un-churched and even believers will get disenfranchised with Christian ministry.
Paul tells us that there are different parts of the body that are called to perform different functions. Each ministry in town has the potential to reach students in their own unique way and this needs to be championed by the Local Church. Unfortunately what we disagree on gets elevated more than what we actually do agree on, that every student needs the touch and forgiveness of Jesus Christ in their lives.
Here are 5 practical ways you can begin to collaborate with other ministries rather than compete with them:
Meet with leaders of other ministries.
Get to know the leaders of other ministries in town. Get to know them apart from the ministry setting. Ask them about their past, why they are in ministry, what is important to them. Find out what their ministry philosophy is and how they desire to reach students. You may find an ally in ministry or someone who complements the ministry you oversee. The point here is relationship.
Pray for other ministries (in private and in front of your students).
In the spirit of getting to know other ministry leaders and ministries in town. Pray for them specifically to fulfill all that God prepared for them to do (Ephesians 2). Pray for them in your own time with Jesus, but it will communicate a lot if you pray for them in front of your students as well.
Don’t talk trash.
Speak well of others. A few other pastors and ministry leaders in our town have committed to stopping any conversation that speaks ill of either of our ministries. Even if its a student complaining. I know the leaders of other ministries in town and when a student starts complaining about them, I stop that student and tell him / her that the person they are talking about is my friend and I don’t want them to trash them in front of me. If there is a legitimate grievance I approach that ministry leader later and ask them about the situation. Nine times out of 10 the student has embellished parts of the story. Refuse to give in the temptation to dump on another ministry (no matter how “successful” they are).
Believe the Bible.
Paul tells us that there are different parts of the the body. Its okay that Young Life is doing something you aren’t doing. Champion the fact that they are reaching students you may not (hopefully they are championing the fact you are reaching students they aren’t).
Talk to other leaders about what is going well in their ministries and get excited about the fact that God’s Kingdom is expanding because of them.
As I close I want to remind us of the words of Jesus. We are modeling for our students what Kingdom focused life looks like. Bickering and competing with other ministries is a poor way to model how Christ calls us to live. Remember how Jesus told His disciples the world would know them as followers of Jesus, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” – John 13:34-35.