If you were to visit my house on a Friday night around 10 o'clock, you would likely find our floors and couches full of people. Friday in our family is Family Movie Night, a night we treasure having each week. Something my wife and I love is that our kids have come to embrace what we feel is a more gospel-centered view of family. Our family is not just the five of us. Instead, our movie nights include our broader definition of family. We're usually joined by five to six college students or recent graduates.
During my seven years as a campus missionary and BSU director, I have come to learn that collegiate ministry almost never happens on a schedule. We certainly schedule and plan our worship gatherings and formal discipleship studies, but the most effective ministry we do has almost always been unscheduled. Early on in our ministry, we found that what college students needed most was someone who loved them, someone who cared for them, and someone who valued them. The best way we knew how to love, care for, and value our students was to invite them to share in the two most special things we had—our relationship with Christ and our family.
We have spent countless hours discipling and counseling students over coffee, Kombucha, and bagels in our kitchen, in front of a football game and a pile of laundry in our den, at one of our kids’ RecPlex basketball games, or eating with them in the cafeteria. One of my favorite moments of collegiate ministry occured this fall when our 8-year-old son disappeared from the cafeteria dinner table for twenty minutes. I learned later that he had found one of our students and helped her study her Greek vocabulary!
The life we lead is not normal, but I think it’s biblical. We call it open-door discipleship, but I think Jesus may have just called it discipleship. Jesus spent three years inviting others into his life, to share in his journey and his trials and to learn from his teaching. I don’t think we can accomplish the goal of discipleship in the 21st century without demonstrating to those whom we wish to disciple that we are for them and not against them – that we are willing to invite them into our mess, to hopefully show them that our mess is a Christ-centered and redemptive mess.
They witness our struggles trying to get the kids to bed, but they see unconditional love in the frustration. They witness my wife’s long-term health struggles, but they witness godly courage and perseverance as she loves others despite the sickness. In short, they witness how every aspect of life should be, and can be, albeit very imperfectly, informed by our Christian faith. Collegiate ministry, like all ministry, requires radical hospitality, vulnerability, and love. Not surprisingly, I think when we read the gospels we see Jesus exhibit these same things.