Philosophy / Theology
Peer Ministry for Campus Ministry Partner Congregations [Part 1 of 11]
Peer ministry has taken varied forms throughout the history of Lutheran Campus Ministry, all sharing the same name. Perhaps in no other setting of the church is more energy devoted to training Christians to intentionally minister to others in the faith. The spectrum of programs under the title of peer ministry ranges from residential programs, in which life in intentional community is the primary focus, to those in which hired individuals work in areas of music, evangelism, or small group leadership. All in all, it is much easier to first define peer ministry in the context of ELCA Lutheran Campus Ministries by what it is not, and then proceed to define what it is.
I begin with a Biblical example. After leading the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt with the hope of the promised land, Moses found himself in the wilderness with a "stiff necked" people who made no end to the demands upon his time. His father-in-law, Jethro, observed his struggle to meet the community's needs. The following is Jethro's advice to Moses.
What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them
the way they are to go and the things they are to do. You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace. (Exodus 18, NRSV)
This was the first example of a hierarchical ministry in the history of the people of God. Moses, the undisputed leader of the Hebrews, shared the responsibility of leadership and judgement with the people. He functioned as mediator between God and the people, being ultimately responsible for their actions. The power of leadership was meted out in proportion to the person's place in the ascending order. Such a form of ministry is not peer ministry.
In peer ministry there is an equal balance of power among all participants. The one who receives is equal to the one who ministers. There is respect for the other that reflects the caring present in the body of Christ. It is the intent of peer ministry, argues Richard Schowalter, to become as free from hierarchical models as possible. (1) The goal is to appreciate and nurture the gifts of each minister (student or supervisor) on the campus ministry team. Students and the campus pastor/minister serve together as coequal participants in the work of Jesus. It is to be acknowledged that it is not always possible to bring this concept into practice. The campus pastor/minister will have more knowledge about ministry, and more structural reponsibility for the ministry than the student peers. Accountability will be a part of any healthy program. Yet it remains that peer ministry, if it is to live up to its name, must strive for the same equality that we Christians already have as co-recipients of divine grace and favor.
(1) Richard Schowalter; Youth Peer Ministry: the Peer/Hierarchic Continuum" (D.Min. diss., St. Paul: Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary, 1990) pp 1-6.