Thursday, September 25, 2014

Seasons Matter

     Continuing with agricultural metaphors that I use when talking about campus ministry.....

My grandfather Betts was a verifiable "green thumb."  He worked that Tucumcari (New Mexico) dirt faithfully and always had fresh beans, tomatoes and squash etc.  He passed the gene along and although my dad didn't get a garden planted every year, he certainly gave it a go on and off throughout my life.   I've never planted a garden, but as I get older (and get more kids to feed!) I've felt this desire to get into it.

Have you ever heard of planting potatoes in a trash can?  This spring, I watched a few videos about planting potatoes in barrel.  With any kind of barrel or bin or even some type of cylindrical fence wire and some straw, you can plant a whole bunch of potatoes in an upright arrangement.  "Container Gardening" is a fantastic urban gardening technique, and it's also good for keeping the deer out of your crops!  (Go on youtube and search for "plant potatoes in a barrel" or check out this link.)  I was inspired reading about harvesting hundreds of pounds of potatoes!  What a great idea!

Then I went to Wildwood, NJ for our Cru Summer Mission.

When I came back, I still wanted to plant some potatoes, so I found my friend Teddy at church.  Teddy is a masters student who studies potatoes!  You couldn't find a better helper!  I told him what I wanted to do.  He wasn't too familiar with the barrel technique, but he had heard of it.  I asked him where I could get some good seed potatoes and he said he'd talk to one of his professors.  We both acknowledged that it was a little late to be planting.  

A whole week passed by and the next week, I saw Teddy at church and here's what he said.  "My professor said you would need to plant some very specific (fast maturing) variety of potatoes if you wanted to have any yield planting at this time of year.  And even then, you would really need some ideal growing conditions.  Without a greenhouse, you really can NOT count on the elements to help you out.  And besides that, you don't have access to the seed potatoes that you would need even to have a chance.  It's not going to work out for you this year."

Shut Down!  

Here's what happened. Growing crops takes time, and it's critical to get seeds in the ground at a certain time of year.  It doesn't  I matter how good your soil and your compost is if you aren't planting at the right time of year!  It doesn't matter how carefully you place the seed or how nice your irrigation system is.  It won't matter how much care and "love" you give your garden -you have the plant in the spring!  I could've found the nicest barrel, procured the finest soil and fertilizer, but at the end of the day, I was just too late! Even with the help of an Ivy League student who majors in tubors at Cornell, you just don't plant potatoes outside in Ithaca in the middle of July.

Planting crops is a "time critical" endeavor.  There are times of year when you must do certain things if you want to have things to do the rest of the year!  Every field has it's seasons, not all seasons are the same, and you've got to act accordingly.

In campus ministry, there are also seasons that are special, and there are things that must be done in the summer and in the  fall or things will be very very hard.  (I would say "impossible" but we know that with God all things are possible!)

The fall is a time to meet tons and tons of new people and help them get plugged in.  We must get out on campus to welcome as many new students as we can.  We must labor  to make campus ministry visible, tell people that we exist, inform them about our on campus fellowship.  We talk to people about Jesus and explain the necessity of life in gospel-centered community.  We invite them to check out our small groups where they can connect with others study the Bible and gather around the gospel.  The fall is special because the weather is good and the school year has just begun.  The "climate" is literally "right" for making new connections! People actually  have time to hang out and talk more than they will in about a month.  Everybody wants to meet new people and make new friends.   And people are just forming up the "rhythms" of their year.  They are making decisions about how they will spend their time, and who they are going to be hanging out with.  Campus ministers and student leaders must engage as many people as they can in the fall because that's when students are settling in.

In essence, this is our planting season!   As the year goes on, life on campus gets more hectic, frenzied, and here in Ithaca -cold!  Students schedules become more settled and rigid.  Habits have been formed and if a student hasn't made Christian fellowship a part of their life, it will be harder to integrate it in the middle of the year.  But if we will put the work in during the first few weeks of the fall, we can see a new "crop" of leaders raised up.

Everything we do is dependent upon dedicated, Jesus exalting student leaders.  In order to do what we do and make the gospel as accessible as possible on campus, we need as many student leaders as we can get.  The new students we connect with in the fall are the leaders of the future.  And if we fail to connect with those students in the fall, we will be lacking man-power in the spring and going into next fall.

This dynamic really affects our Community Group leaders.  They understand that if they don't work hard in the fall, their Community group might be about as big as my potato harvest.  Nothin!   The beginning of the year is when you have to make the majority of your new connections.  You can go walk around the dorms in November, but you won't find tons of students willing or even able to modify their schedule to help you launch a new missional Community Group at that time.  But if you work hard in the fall, you'll have a group ready to minister to those around them for the rest of the year.   You've got to get your hands dirty in the first few weeks of the fall!

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