Every June, the Southern California Region of InterVarsity heads to Catalina for our regional staff conference. It is a time for training, visioning, and resting with other InterVarsity staff. For me, I get to see friends from my college days as well as spend time with my new staff friends. I also get to spend some time with my students, as several of them helped with childcare for the week. Our training focus was on empowering and releasing student leaders into ministry. Our speakers, Jason and Sophia Gaboury, brought a powerful word about the transformation and growth they have seen in their region in New York/New Jersey. They shared powerful stories about how God is moving on the east coast and what we can learn from their region. Her are some of the key things that I felt God moving in me that weekend:
- Setting goals brings up a lot of junk in our own lives.
I was already seeing this before I arrived when I was discussing goal setting with my students. Much like fundraising, setting numerical goals for ministry brings up a lot of insecurities and fears of failures. As I discussed goal setting strategies with students, I met a lot of resistance about setting a number to how many students we want in our fellowship, how many small groups, and especially how many new believers. They would all tell me that putting a number to it can dehumanize them and they reasoned that counting them would make it appear that we value perfection over people. But underlying this, I think is was a major fear of failure. A fear of what will happen if we don't meet goals, the guilt of not fulfilling a requirement and the anxiety of having to live up to a standard.
I've seen goals been unhealthy set, especially when I was in the teaching world. I have seen teacher's identities and become solely focused on goal meeting and job performance. I've seen principals and administrators tear teachers apart for not meeting goals and I have seen schools that focus more on meeting test score quotas than they do on individual students. Setting goals sends me into a past pain of my own experiences in setting goals, the fears of meeting with supervisors to discuss them and the fear of being publicly berated for not having met goals. I have a lot of personal baggage when it comes to setting goals.
But that is not at all the kinds of goals God wants us to set. I believe that God wants us to create healthy goals to drive our ministry forward and use them as a propeller to meet the needs of students on campus.
Jason and Sophia took us through Nehemiah 1 and 2 to show us that setting goals and plans is helpful and valuable in God's mission. Nehemiah was fueled by a holy discontent for how things were and that pushed him into action. God was actively involved in the process but Nehemiah showed up and put forth a lot of effort. From his example we see that setting goals is not just about meeting a quota but about putting all your resources, energy, willfulness, creativity, and strategy into what God has called you two and goals give you a place to direct all of that.
- We will not grow in our region just by hiring more staff.
InterVarsity staff have a lot of value in campus ministry. They carry a lot of vision, passion, skills, and wisdom into college ministry settings but sometimes we get caught in the trap that we believe our fellowships will only grow if we hire more staff. As solo staff on campus, this can feel overwhelming because either I can think growth solely relies in me or that I will never be able to grow until I get a support team to come do ministry with me. There is a lot of danger in this line of thinking because it puts staff at the center of ministry rather than Jesus. If hiring more staff is the goal, then ministries only work when there is staff present. I've seen this mentality play out for the worse as some of my own students even believe to do ministry on campus they need staff there. False. Students are vital for ministry growth and the ever growing question is how can we empower and release student leaders to start being missional leaders on their own campus - to be Godly, goal-oriented, emotionally healthy, self-starting leaders. How can students be the ones to move growth forward, to catch onto the mission of building witnessing communities, and use IV staff as their resource rather than crutch?
How are we going to do this? Two things stood out to me: 1. We have to cast the net wide. We have to go and reach the thousands of students on campus and not be limited to the ones who walk by our table. The Gabourys pointed out that if we cast the net too small then we find those that need us, but we should be looking for people we need to join in mission. 2. We have to be clear about leadership expectations. I think many times we look at leadership as: can you lead a bible study but maybe we should change it to are you willing to be missional for the campus? Providing clarity in the expectations of leaders gives them opportunities to be the Godly, goal-oriented, emotionally healthy, self-starting leader that we desire as well as gives them clear expectations of what they should be doing at any time.
- You have to have a clear vision for your fellowship.
Almost everything we came back to was about communicating the vision for the fellowship to those on the campus. If the vision isn't missional, then the group won't be missional. If the vision is unclear and vague, then the mindset of the group will be unclear and vague. It needs to be easily communicable so that it can be passed along from person to person but also the answer to the question why. Why do we do this? Well because [insert vision here]. If some structure doesn't fit in line with the vision then we should question why we are doing it all. A clear and simple vision allows students to be the ones to articulate the purpose of our fellowship to other students and cast the net wide of those we want to reach.
I appreciated many of the things said at our conference because it validated many of the things we are already doing on campus as well as provide a new paradigm for campus ministry. It made me excited to be a part of the growing changes.
Disclaimer: What I'm about to write goes into a painful moment I had along my first year of staff journey. There are many moments along this journey that have been difficult and I have chosen to write about one of the particular places of hardship for me. Know that as I write this, I write this from a place of gratitude and healing - that while this part of the journey was far from easy, there is much that I see about who Jesus is, who he cares for, and what he cares for. It is in these moments of pain that I get to experience a piece of the pain that others have been feeling long before me and I gain truer sense of the gospel. I see a clearer picture of who Jesus cares about and how deeply he loves his people on the outside and longs to bring them in. As you read this, also know that I tend to write my emotions intensely (being a feeler and an English nerd), but know that I am, for lack of a better term, "fine" and in a process of restoration and healing from some past experiences. If you want to read my reflections about a hopeful perspective in ministry click here.
About a month ago my best friend, Sol, came to visit me in Northridge (she now lives in Fresno). We met three years ago at the FUI (Fresno Urban Internship) summer project and bonded because we were in a very similar state in our lives. We had both experienced serious rejection and were both in need of major healing. If we had not met that summer, I'm not sure we would be as close as we are now. For while we are very similar we also have striking differences. We both love food and traveling, love Portland and Seattle, love watching Friends, love listening to music, and spending time in silence together. We feel emotions deeply, love being around people, hearing the stories of the people around us, and seeing things for what they are.
But we have many differences. Sol is Mexican, I am European. She was raised in a single mother home while I was raised in a split parent home. She grew up in poverty and I grew up in middle-class. She went to public school, I went to private Christian school. There has always been a gap between us in the way we were raised, and while my privileged gap may not be mountains higher than hers, it is wide enough to clearly see the difference, to see we essentially grew up on the "opposite sided of the tracks."
I say this to set up the scene to which I entered. One of the great things about my friendship with Sol is our ability to speak freely about the difficult topics such as race, ethnicity, poverty, personal brokenness, family, etc. We work hard to try to understand or at least hear out where the other comes from. We work hard to listen to each other's stories and see the pain of a life we don't fully understand. No matter how hard we try, until we experience it for ourselves, we will never fully understand each other's stories. But we still listen. I will never fully understand what it is like to live is a marginalized minority and it is almost impossible to "displace" myself (intentionally place myself into positions of being a minority) in a way that allows me to truly understand what it is like to live out that life rather than just experience it for a short a time.
But as we discussed my staff experiences that weekend, we realized that I had been having my own marginalized experiences. Small and focused - I was getting new insight into a displacement and as weird as it will sound, I would end up being truly grateful for. As I describe my experiences and my emotions, know that I am grateful for the results and greater understanding it would soon bring.
For the past year I have been on InterVarsity staff at Cal State Northridge. I love InterVarsity and the vision they have for college students and seeing transformation on and beyond the campus. But like any organization, para-church, or non-profit, it has its weaknesses (it has to if it is an organization comprised by humans, who all have weaknesses). One of the hardships this year has been being by myself on campus and not having many of the typical structures many campus staff do. I feel marginalized because I am a solo staff at a campus far away from others. My supervisor lives 60 miles away (which is a short distance in comparison with other regions, where supervisors live 2-3 hours away). But it still feels lonely, isolating, and frustrating.
There are a lot of things that are not fair about my situation and there are injustices too. I have spent a great part of the year wrestling with the line between unfair and unjust, determining where I selfishly desire to make situation easier (unfair) and where in my staff situation that is not right (unjust). I have wrestled with being alone, with no staff team all year while I watch other schools receive many staff. I watch others bond with their teams and team leaders. I see the pictures on social media, of teams bonding together, and I will admit it, jealously long for that to be me. As I see what many others have and I do not, I wrestle with the impending green monster of jealousy, rearing its ugly head as I try to plan things on my own. I have battled with the duality of feeling "complimented" because I must be able to lead a team on my own and feeling "exiled" in a place no one wants to go to so to join me in mission. I have spent the year wrestling with my own insecurities, frustrations, and anger. In the midst of that I have had many people tell me in some way to "get over it." Most, truly, do so encouragingly which I am grateful for - reminding me of who I am, who Jesus is, and that I am not forgotten. But some speak harsher, sending ripples and waves of a past pain through my heart. With words such as "move on" or "I don't see what why you this is still bothering you" remind me of times I was told to move on before I was ready and send through my chest a fear that no one wants to understand my story.
In the midst of all of this, I could feel the frustration growing inside me. The isolation felt overwhelming and it just plain hurt to watch others bond as staff teams that I did not have. I felt left out. I felt I was powerless, like there was nothing to be done about my situation for who would listen to an intern? Would I just then receive a lot of wordy explanations of why there was no other staff to join me? Would I be blown off and told I did not know how things worked? If I expressed any of this would I even been seen or heard? I could not always see that people were, in truth, advocating on my behalf because in this moment I was wrapped in the intensity of the unfairness.
As I express these feelings and raw emotions to my friend, Sol (through her own tears) tells me this is as close to a minority experience I may ever have. The feeling of a crippling powerlessness, the building frustration toward people when they do not see how hard things are for you, the painful phrases of "just get over it"; "why are you so frustrated"; just push through" range from mildly annoying to hurtful to soul damaging. To feel like people don't see you clearly because the painful experience you are trying to explain to them is something they've never lived and they just don't get it.
As I expressed my hurt and my fears, Sol validated two things: 1. That no matter how frustrated I felt, the GLA division had my back. They supported me and wanted me to succeed. They cared about me deeply but the truth was - I was just not feeling that at the moment. 2. This is a small glimpse of what minority students feel their whole lives.
My heart then broke all over again for the painful experiences of my minority brothers and sisters throughout our country. My heart grieved for the damage caused to generations of people whose experiences are still so greatly misunderstood. How could I possible conceive the life my best friend has to live, unable to opt out of thinking about poverty and race and money and culture while I get all the chances to just because I'm white? I have so many privileges I too often take for granted just because I was raised in a higher tax bracket, because my skin is lighter, because my heritage comes from Western Europe.
I don't know if this experience is what Jesus had in mind when he sent me to CSUN. I don't know if it was his plan to send me as staff by myself so that I might wrestle through these questions, so that I might have my own experience where I am unable to "opt out" because it surrounds me every day. I do know it is not a coincidence I am feeling all of this. While being on staff, by myself, in a situation unlike many others, I have seen so much of who Jesus is and his love for the people on the outside and the margins. In fact that is who Jesus sought out first, those who were were on the margins of society and he brought them into his kingdom with an open embrace. It is this that makes me love Jesus all the more. If nothing changes about my staff situation, then so be it, but I cannot let this experience pass me by without changing how I see people, without letting it influence how I do ministry and who we include in our ministry. If want to follow Jesus and model the IV ministry after his, then I must seek out those on the outside, the marginalized, those living in the valleys and not just the mountains.
I stumbled across this article via Facebook and I thought it was amazing. Click the picture below to be taken to the article. Read the article first and then my thoughts about it below.
The principal actually treats high schoolers age appropriate. He doesn't treat them as inferior people but he also recognizes that they may not have the skills to handle some of the stuff that these teens go through so he provides them the skills to do that. Sometimes in schools we hit the extremes of treating high schoolers like an invalid or too much like an adult, expecting them to process things beyond their capabilities.
Second, he works with students who have a large amount of trauma in their lives and recognizes that their behavior may indicators of much more than just "acting out in class." The school focuses on that students' behavior indicates something is wrong outside of the classroom and seeks to give them tools to deal with in inside the classroom. Instead of punishing bad behavior solely, they give students tools to deal with when complex, frustrating, traumatizing experiences enter into the classroom (and the future work place).
Third, punishment was not removed. It came secondary to checking in with the student. I appreciated that the principal looked at students' misbehavior in class as an indicator that something was wrong. Teachers and principals first inquired into that, then punished the behavior. In many ways, it seperates the behavior from the person itself. When a person is only identified by their behavior, especially a negative one, it develops a terrible self image and rarely improves the behavior (which is what happens in much of our pulic school systems today).
Yes, this was a risk for him to do. His approach to discipline is the exact opposite of what we have seen in schools in our country. There is a clear theme that suspension and other high consequences for behavior go down when teachers, principals, and adults treat students with respect and dignity. I have seen schools that won't need to implement such a striking policy because they already treat their students as such and therefore suspensions are already at a low. But for schools that rely heavily on kicking students out of class at the first sign of misbehavior may have to rethink their discipline policies.
Directions: pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Place Ritz cracker salt side down on a cookie sheet. Place Rolo on top and bake for 3-5 minutes. Then add another cracker and push down a little. Let cool and then EAT!
I know what you are thinking? How can something so delicious be so simple? I don't know it's magic? But eat and enjoy.
My roommate and I were discussing The Olympics over tacos one evening and we decided to figure out which biblical characters would participate in which sports:
The 12 Disciples: crew or a hockey team
Paul: the decathlon
Timothy: the triathlon
Mary Magdalene: rhythmic gymnastic
Joshua and Caleb: synchronized diving
King Saul: archery (but of course he frequently comes in second)
Samson: weight lifting
Jacob: wrestling or boxing
When I was a child everything seemed larger.
The sun wasn't just a sun but a giant glowing ball of awesomeness in the sky that hurt your eyes if you looked at it for too long.
Its presence meant being outside and playing
and despite my lack of understand for how things worked, I knew that it brought life.
Grass grew taller like when all the boys in the fifth grade suddenly became tall and lanky over the summer and I was no longer the tallest person in class.
Hair grew brighter in the sun so I would actually look blonde instead of the "dishwater blonde" my mother called it but I referred to my hair as golden.
The sun was life and love and summer time.
When I was a child I used to play pretend.
Whether it was sword fighting or dragon slaying or cookie baking or dog chasing
there was no end to the ideas in my infinite imagination.
An empty wrapping paper roll became Excalibur while a piece of rug began a magic carpet and a hammock a motorcycle.
I could travel to Narnia or Tattoine or under the sea or in the jungle, go wherever I pleased and always make it back in time just for dinner.
Nothing had to be simply what it was.
When I was I child, I thought like a child and everything was magical.
The only evil in the world wore black capes and red masks and cackled as they laughed.
It was so simple to identify every villain and so simple to vanquish them with one wave of my wand or slash from my sword or one bite from the poisonous cookie they were destined to eat.
As an adult, evil doesn't wear such bright colors.
It hides in subway stations and parking lots. Underneath flowerbeds or regular beds, blending into the bleakness of the floor below.
It mixes the good with the bad so well that it turns into a gray blob that no longer holds any color but disguises itself as a well positioned rain cloud.
Sometimes I wish I wore a cape.
Bright red with a large letter M embossed on the back so people would know that I fight against evil.
But only kids wear capes nowadays, just like kids are the only ones to wear the illusion that they can make a difference anymore.
I put away that costume years ago.
Sometimes I wish I wore a cape so I could remember that I too can make a difference.