When people ask about how I’m doing or how AIV is going, I don’t usually have an answer that isn’t simply quantifiable. It’s not because I’m obsessed only with numbers. It’s because I cannot explain to you what’s really going on underneath the surface. So I’ve written a little list of 5 anecdotes and adages that hopefully help illuminate what my life is like as a chapter planter. Maybe this’ll become a series. Hopefully it’ll help me make more sense.
I followed a 1st-year to get into a Watson-Webb, 20 minutes early to stake out and set up a study room. I move tables and chairs into a circle. In my bag I have 12 copies of the Bible passage, my notes, and pens. I sit quietly, waiting for the next 20 minutes. And the next 20. Nobody comes.
I walk back to my car, reminding myself that God has called me here. Shortly after, I shout at God for not following through. And I repeat this process a dozen more times that night.
Actually, this is how it always feels. What alternative is there? I am fighting/living/dying to bring a vision that doesn’t exist yet. And I feel relish/rage in every moment of it. My mind is a hot, tempestuous place, always coming up with new ideas and thinking about what to do now and next.
Such is the life of a forge.
Chapter planters are not optimists or pessimists; we can’t afford to be either. I gustily plan for 30 but always fearfully know it could be 6. We live in two places at once; both are real. That is every day of my job. God help you if offer any overly-optimistic/-pessimistic ministry ‘advice’ to a chapter planter. I’ve learned to politely receive and not take it personally. But, this is me we’re talking about, so it’s hard not to.
We all know that ministry is not an easy calling – if it is, you’re not doing real ministry – and at some point or other, every campus minister has a hard year. NSO flops because students drop the ball. Divisions emerge in leadership and commitments aren’t honored. Even when good choices are made, sometimes things don’t seem to click in some pragmatic or spiritual way. In a hard year, numbers shrink, morale sinks, and we say “okay, next year.”
Consider that a chapter planter willfully signs up for a hard year, or two, or three. We don’t have the luxury of “next year,” because there isn’t even a “this year.” There is no M.O. to rewrite or reshape. If I do not go to campus on a given day, the chapter does not exist. It is a round-the-clock kind of calling that has no back-up plan. Yes, we’re all a little crazed. That should explain why we joke about being the Top Gun of IV.
I am setting up meetings through Facebook on a nondescript weeknight – my hours know no rhythm. And as I’m adding an appointment into Google Calendar I realize that I, a professional Christian minister, am meeting with leaders of some of the U.Va cultural organizations on a personal and pastoral level, many of whom are not Christian or in any way religious. These are the same leaders who asked me, suspiciously, cautiously, necessarily, what exactly my role – as a professional Christian minister – was going to be in their organization.
After hours of attending events, cleaning up, serving alongside, offering rides, offering advice, it seems they believed whatever answer I gave them about being here to serve and support them because God loves them even if Christians don’t always show that. I have taught Acts 2:42-47 many times as a Christian leader but this is the first time I know what it truly means to “[enjoy] the favor of all the people.” It humbles me, empowers me, and brings me to tears. It reminds me that I am here for a specific, God-ordained reason even though it feels like hell and the gates seem to be prevailing more than we are. It helps me sleep another night and go to war another day.