That time I was placed on academic probation…

CCW Spring Retreat ’16

I started my journey of undergraduate work in the Fall of 1998. I was a music education major at Jacksonville University. Music seemed like the one thing I was made to do on this planet. I was excited to start freshman year and have the college experience by living on campus. It wasn’t long, though, that I become disinterested in the academic discipline of music. Going to the practice rooms felt like a cruel chore and eventually, that feeling made going to class in general feel like torture. Maybe it was immaturity, or I just needed a new major. My scholarships were linked to my major so I felt stuck.

By the end of the spring 1999 semester, I heard my advisor say those two scary words: ACADEMIC PROBATION. It wouldn’t be the last time I heard those two words, but the first time was dramatic enough. Probation meant my scholarships were placed on immediate hold. Since I had already taken out a couple of loans, my options were limited as to how I would remain at JU. After it was all said and done, I decided to transfer to UNF – where my undergraduate journey would include many highs and lows (more lows than I am ready to admit) for the next 6 and half years. But on that April day in 1999, I honestly believed my life was over.

This is the moment that every young adult fears: the consequences of your actions being more severe than you realized. Yes, I had issues with JU’s music department, but I knew this was my fault. On the outside, I probably appeared confident and care-free. On the inside, I was reconciling myself to the idea that I had failed at life.

What I needed at that moment was someone to tell me this is not the end. I needed someone to remind me that while these mistakes were significant, they weren’t strong enough to predict my future. I needed someone to reassure me that I could overcome – that I was not the first person to be placed on academic probation or to be forced to transfer because of it. I did NOT need someone to make sure I understood the gravity of my situation – I was already doing a great job of that whether anyone knew it. I needed a unique voice that could speak into my college/young adult experience. I needed a voice of hope that my future was still secure in Jesus; and I found that voice in the guy who was basically my campus minister: Kendall Hunt.

Don’t get me wrong – I have amazing parents who have always cheered me on and they were very supportive throughout my undergraduate journey. I also had strong friendships with other young adults on and off campus. And I had a beautiful church family who continued to create a loving and merciful environment for me. But no one spoke to my life the way Kendall did in that season. Kendall’s job was to pastor college students, and that specific emphasis made his words ring so much louder than all of the others. I got through that season (and a few others) because God sent Kendall to be my college pastor. Years later, Kendall would take me to a leadership conference in Atlanta where he encouraged me to consider pastoring college students alongside my friend (and his future wife) Alison. I don’t think you need a degree to figure out why I told him yes.

I’m starting my 15th year leading ministry to college students this fall. Right now, young adults are driving up to UNF and starting to move in. Others will be heading to Flagler this weekend and JU next week. They are all hoping to have the best experience of their life on campus. But the truth is, some of them will hear messages like “academic probation”, “C grade for the first time”, “you were not accepted into the program” and “the funds have run out.” Friends, I am still in campus ministry because when this happens, I want to be the first person they call. I want to be the voice of hope through the seasons of their college experience.

Some folks think campus ministry is unnecessary – calling it simply “youth group 2.0”. Not only does that diminish the great work of youth leaders, but it also shows a clear misunderstanding of the importance of campus ministry. Ministry to campus students is a unique opportunity where fun and games fill up less than 5% of our time. We are missionaries and counselors who have the grand privilege of loving and leading emerging adults as they figure out where their life is heading. Campus ministry is vital to the continued development of young adults and critical for the future of Jesus’ Church. And I am humbled to work with an amazing team of people as we serve college students on three campuses in Northeast Florida.

Campus to City Wesley Foundation turned 5 in August 2016. As we head into our 6th fall semester, we are stronger and busier than we have ever been. We are convinced that serving college-aged young adults is important for the Church and the world. On Saturday, August 27 we are gonna celebrate all that God has done in the last 5 years and anticipate the miracles that await us in the future. I’ll be reflecting on that April day in 1999 when I thought my life was over and I heard that voice of hope from Kendall. And I’ll be re-committing myself to be that same voice for college-aged young adults for as long as the Lord allows.

5th_Anniversary_Instagram_PostPS Everyone (especially the older than college crowd) is invited to join us for the Anniversary worship night at Mandarin UMC on August 27. For more information, click here.

That time I was placed on academic probation…

Blessed in Zimbabwe

AUsignI had the privilege of traveling with a team to Africa University in Old Mutare, Zimbabwe. I am still trying to put words to my experience. One thing is for certain — my first trip to Africa has left an unforgettable impression on my soul. I am looking forward to visiting this continent many more times over the course of my life.

One of the abundant blessings I received during this trip was meeting the people of Africa University and Zimbabwe. The “Shona” people, native to the country, are some of the most welcoming and hospitable folks on the planet..super generous and open-hearted. Also,  hearing the stories of the students of AU was inspiring. I can honestly say that I have made some life-long friends. Thank God for Facebook!

The national politics of Zimbabwe was of particular interest to me. The current president is Robert Mugabe, whose picture has to be displayed by law in every store, restaurant, school, etc. The people are eagerly waiting for Mugabe to set a date for presidential elections. I wish I could have had some deep conversations about this and other issues related to the nation’s government, economy, and policies. The little bit that I picked up from newspaper stories left me intrigued and longing for more.

There are so many things I could tell you about my trip: experiencing the deep faith of the AU students, the impact of being a black man in the Motherland, the ways my preconceived ideas about Africa were challenged, learning the rich history of the UMC’s mission in the nation, and so much more. I will probably spend the next several years processing my time there. It has been said, “When you visit Africa, you depart leaving half of your heart behind.” Friends, that is a true statement.

Blessed in Zimbabwe

Nice Stats

Several weeks ago, Ed Stetzer posted results from a Lifeway survey on his blog on American’s perceptions of certain faith groups. The United Methodist Church was one of those groups. According to the survey, 62% of those surveyed had a favorable impression of the UM Church. Within a week, I found two more articles celebrating these results. I LOVE what Stetzer said in one of those articles: “If they will show and share the gospel with their neighbors and plant evangelistic churches … they can turn a good reputation into a gospel opportunity.” Many people in our denomination have worked hard to see renewal happen in our denomination, especially in regards to reaching the next generation. I am happy and proud to be a part of an event this March called Reclaim that seeks to do this very thing. But I am concerned that we might take the results of one survey as a sign of a ‘job well done’ and call it a day. Check out this quote from the Press Center of the UMC website.

Americans in the South were the most likely to have a very favorable opinion. Americans with a college degree were also more likely to have a very favorable opinion than those without a degree. Those in the West and Northeast were most likely to be not familiar with United Methodists. Americans who never attend a worship service are the least likely to have a very favorable opinion or a somewhat favorable opinion and the most likely to have a very unfavorable opinion. 

Okay…let’s unpack this extremely significant statement.

Now it could good thing that Americans in the South find the UM Church favorable. It is the Bible-belt though, so shouldn’t they think highly of a church? Not sure if that is really news. I am making an assumption here, but I think the far majority of dying UM Churches are outside of the South. And yet, these are the regions that are not familiar with our denomination and Wesleyan approach to ministry. Further more, those who have never attended a worship service are most likely to be unchurched, and according to the survey, the least likely to have a favorable view of us. (TRANSLATION: Non-Christians do not like us very much!)

Call me a debbie-downer, but a 62% approval rating on one survey may not be enough to rest our efforts or even call what we have done so far successful. At the end of the day, our churches annual decline rate is getting closer to 10% every year. With the coming death tsunami, the last thing we need is a spin on statistics. We have tons more work to do.

What this survey does say is that United Methodists, by and large, are considered “nice people”. I guess that can be considered a good thing.Honestly, I did not become a United Methodist just so Americans could then report that I was ‘nice’. Jesus was not nice. John Wesley was not nice. And movements will never find renewal by simply being nice.

Nice Stats

Return on Investment

Fundraising to get CCW started this fall has been a new adventure for me. I am so grateful to the individuals and churches that have generously partnered with us. We have a dream of reaching the 250,000+ young adults aged 18-29 in Northeast Florida. Every dollar we’ve received confirms for us that this is a dream worth pursuing. I cannot tell you how motivating and exciting it has been watching God fund this dream.

A few weeks ago, I was at the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. The delegation of clergy and lay members approved the 2012 budget which included a significant increase in the campus ministry line item. While many UM Conferences (as well as whole denominations) are decreasing their funds for campus ministry, Florida continues to increase its support of ministry to the next generation. As I sat in the room after the budget was passed, I felt that sense of excitement and motivation for the work I am allowed to do.

My excitement has been sobered tonight after reading a compelling post by Seth Godin. The title says it all: “Getting funded is not the same as succeeding.” Such an obvious sentence led to a convicting two minutes.

So much of our time is spent on garnering support. Not just for ministry, but for any new venture. This is an essential step, but only a step…not the destination. My response to the partners of CCW is not simply ‘thank you so much’, but also sweat equity and by God’s grace, results that people can get their hands, head or at least hearts around. It will be appropriate for the Annual Conference in a few years time to ask the question, ‘what did you do with that money?’ Expecting a return on investment is not just good money management, it is also biblical.

Most of us have already received more than our share of support and partnership for the dreams in our hearts.

Return on Investment