After almost 29 years of campus ministry experience I have learned at least one undeniable thing: You cannot please everyone. That hasn’t been an easy lesson to learn. I want people to like me and to like Christ on Campus – our ministry, our worship, our teaching, and our purpose. I want them to want to be a part of what we care doing and the direction we are heading.
But that doesn’t happen. Every leader knows what it is like when people opt for another church, another ministry, another leader that better “meets their needs”. Every time someone decides that Christ on Campus isn’t for them, it hurts a little. When that happens, a part of me wants to say, “Let’s see if we can work something out.” No matter what I tell myself or others tell me, a part of me takes it a little bit personal. There is a small feeling that it is me they are rejecting.
Yet you never find Jesus running after those who chose not to follow him. Though he looked with love on the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22), he didn’t try to “renegotiate” when the young man walked away. And when many chose to no longer follow him (John 6:66), Jesus didn’t chase after them and try to change their minds or soften his stance.
How was Jesus able to deal with this so confidently? Because, as John tells us in John 13:1-4, Jesus knew who he was and what he was called to do. He knew where he was going and how to get there. So he was content to let those who didn’t share that vision or calling to walk away. Some will choose not to walk with us for a variety of reasons. But if we remember who we are and to what we are called, we can handle this like Jesus.
Those in leadership must have a clear sense of vision and direction. And that doesn’t come through a congregational vote or democratic action. It comes through time spent alone with God, seeking him and searching his Word. It comes as you hammer it out with godly and like-minded leaders who are seeking God with you. If our ministry is driven by the wants and desires of the people or community around us, we are setting ourselves us for disappointment and frustration. If we think our purpose is to gather a crowd or provide entertainment or keep everyone happy, we are looking to please men more than God. In these cases, we are taking our cue and calling from men – not from God.
God’s call on the Church is to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), bring them to maturity in Christ (Colossians 1:28) and equip them for ministry (Ephesians 4:11-16). These are the values that should shape the vision and direction of our churches and ministries. We have to beware of calendars that are full of activities without substance that keep people involved but produce little maturity. Our campus ministries cannot be “spiritual baby-sitting services” – designed to keep students busy and entertained, making sure that students stay in church and out of trouble.
Not everyone who walks through our doors has this perspective.
Two writers that I resonate with are Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. (I would encourage Christian leaders to read The Tangible Kingdom and AND.) In talking about those who don’t stay, they write:
“Sadly, many people really are satisfied to live as consumers, and they are just looking for a place to hold their beliefs together and to provide a sense of belonging relationally. In other words, all they want are some sermons and some friends. Now, neither of these is bad in and of itself, and any person who grows into a community ought to find that these come naturally; but if they are the only two reasons people are coming to our church, we have to realize they aren’t looking for transformation, either for themselves or for the world.” AND, p. 106
All of our ministries experience this dynamic. When our ministry has a clear sense of vision and direction, we are better able to deal with those who have yet to catch it. We don’t want to run people off, but we realize that not everyone is at the same place we are. Like Jesus, we teach and cast vision and help others gain a sense of excitement about our calling. We invite them to watch and listen and be a part of what we are doing, but we don’t design our programming around them or change our vision to please them.
One of the traps of Christian leadership is trying to please everyone. When we do that, we lose a sense of ourselves and our calling and fail to please the only one whose opinion ultimately matters. Jesus’ eyes were continually set on his Father and his calling. That shaped what he did and it influenced who chose to follow. And he seemed to be OK with that.
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