Peer Ministry for Campus Ministry Partner Congregations [Part 8 of 11]
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.(1 Corinthians 12:13)
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. (Romans 7:19)
As Martin Luther so often said, we are all both sinners and saints. It should not be a surprise that even the best planned and executed peer ministry program is prone to struggles. Almost every campus leader responding to the survey recounted a "nightmare" that he or she carried about peer ministry, many of which have come true. Conflicts and struggles will arise. The concern is how will they be met in a spirit of reconciliation and growth in the one Spirit.
Conflict and struggle is a very normal, indeed healthy, aspect of human community. Every effective society has found a means of dealing with conflict. Unhealthy societies have relegated conflict to the periphery. European history has been rife with examples of a society who dealt with conflict and struggle by assigning its pain to those outside the community and simply eliminating them. The ills of western community, social stratification, ethnic cleansing, violent crime within households and communities, are all the results of externalizing struggles, placing blame outside self and onto the other, and exacting vengeance. There is no repentance available to the community here, in the midst of that which Luther calls the "daily bread" of relationships.(10) The struggles of a peer ministry community can be the daily bread of a student's life, a crucible for testing the validity of the Christian message of cross-bearing and living for the other.
The reported peer ministry nightmares can be divided into two types: those dealing with relationships within the team and ministry as a whole, and those dealing with the structure and process of the program.
Many issues of relationships can be alleviated by attending to communication within the team. Intentional open listening to the otherness of the neighbor is at the heart of the transformation of conflict into creative community. It does take time to do ministry well. Well-stated expectations by all parties, processing the "daily bread" that the other members of the team present for me and for each other is the stuff of which life in ministry is made. A program which does not allow time to facilitate communication in this manner will have to take time
to do it later. The Christ in the other which calls me into righteousness, the righteous demand of the other, cannot be heard in a community which does not take listening seriously and meet it with the tools of repentance and forgiveness.
A number of structural problems bear further reflection. Funding remains an issue for any program which seeks to provide remuneration for ministry. Are there methods which might be developed to tell the positive stories of peer ministry to those who might support financially? Can previous peer ministers be encouraged to share their resources? Can home congregations develop sponsorships for ministry leadership development? (Develop this!) Finances can be difficult, but surmountable.
Another area which deserves discussion is that of the siphoning of members of the campus ministry community by leaders who become involved in para-church organizations. It has been my experience that creating a fortress of faith in defense against others who call themselves Christian on campus only confuses and further muddies the Christian witness in the community. Is there a healthy way of being pro-active in discussion with these groups? Campus ministries are constantly in change because of the schedule of academic life. Students are on campus during the academic year, then gone for three to four months. Rarely will an individual remain active in a ministry for more than three to four years. Programs are reconstructed annually, requiring a great deal of effort. On smaller campuses like that of Southwest State in Marshall the problem is accentuated by the low numbers available for leadership positions. How can continuity be built into a peer ministry community? We are experimenting with staggering the terms of our student peers, beginning the term of one of the student ministry assistants midyear.
The relationship of the student peer ministers to the rest of the leadership in the community has been a concern a couple of sites. Might the paid positions sap the strength of the others in leadership? A related issue is the student peer minister who chooses also to serve in other volunteer positions in the ministry, thereby eliminating a structured possibility of service for another member of the community. Boundaries between volunteer and funded tasks need clear definition.
The promise of modeling an effective ministry with the people of God makes peer ministry an exciting venture. The opportunities for transforming students into leaders for the world and the church commend peer ministry to the entire church.
(10) A central facet of Luther's interpretation of the New Testament is that we are daily bread of each other's lives. This is what [K.E.] Logstrup develops into his theory of interdependence or mutual self surrender. Niels Thomassen sees the root of modern communicative ethics in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Niels Thomassen, Communicative Ethics in Theory and Practice, John Irons, trans. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995) p. 117.