Fun. Campus Ministry ought to be fun. Maybe not every moment of every day, but often, perhaps more often than not, especially this time of year. Sure, we are doing work that has eternal significance and that is sobering. Yes, we are dealing with students, and often families, suffering crisis and tragedy and that is humbling. Souls are at stake, absolutely, and that is motivating. But I am increasingly convinced that our work should be enjoyable through the ups and downs. The tasks and people that comprise our job should never destroy our joy.
Every job has some stuff you’d rather not do, some people you’d rather not deal with, some situations you’d rather not face. I call all of that stuff the “crud factor” of a job. Generally speaking, your job’s crud factor should be proportionally low on average, or at least it should feel low to you. If the crud factor in your work feels like it is increasing with no end in sight, you are not in a sustainable working environment. Nobody can continue to minister effectively in that context. Sometimes the crud factor can get so high that a ministry context becomes toxic for you and those around you, and a change is needed. If you don’t make the change to a new job, chances are somebody will make it for you. If you find that the crud factor of most every job you have ever had is too high for you, the problem is probably you and not your boss. Maybe you’ve developed work habits that increase your stress, like procrastination or crud avoidance behaviors. Maybe you are over-functioning to compensate for the weakness of someone on your team. Maybe you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, as if the salvation of the world (or your campus) is entirely up to you. Maybe you aren’t resting, exercising, sleeping, eating well, or practicing the spiritual disciplines with consistency. The point is that if there isn’t a critical mass of fun in your job, then you probably aren’t experiencing the joy that is essential for you to function effectively in ministry long-term.
Years ago a colleague told me that most young ministers have a “messiah complex,” a sense that they can solve every problem, please every person, and meet every challenge without fault or failure. He was talking about someone else, but he was speaking to me more than he realized. I’ve been there. I’m tempted to go there every semester. And I know that the closer I get to the messiah complex, the less joy and fun I find in my work, and the less effective I become as a campus minister. I’m in this for the long-haul and I am learning that it’s a marathon not a sprint. Pace is important. And fun helps you keep the pace, particularly as you get older, as the higher education becomes increasingly complex, as money becomes more difficult to find, as salaries stagnate, as state conventions falter, as the crud factor rises.
As I write this, it’s the beginning of the fall. Things are new. Football is around the corner. Cooler temperatures are coming. New students are on campus. And if you aren’t having fun as a campus minister, it’s time to consider a new job!