New Beginning … New Opportunities

By Tim Mapperson, Melbourne Labouring Community, Student Ministry. First published in Compass, Autumn 2022.

What do you do when your ministry is pulled out from under your feet? When you watch the community that you have strived to build over the years slowly diminish until it vanishes, nothing left, and there’s nothing you can doto stop it.

Pessimism is a ready friend when the membership list is emptied, when the team dwindles to … only yourself.

I’m referring to student ministry during two years of COVID lockdowns, campus closures, and national border closures (for international student ministries). Pessimism is a ready friend when the ministry membership list has emptied, and when the thriving campus team dwindles to only yourself. Oh, there are still people we’re discipling—graduates, workers, mostly no longer in Melbourne. But the community and campus teams are gone.

In the early days of COVID, we tried to keep everyone connected. The team kept in close contact with our network—phone calls, messages, Zoom catch-ups. Bible studies and discipleship shifted to online. We shopped and cooked for  those who were not handling the isolation of lockdowns. We wanted to meet the needs of our community, but that became harder as lockdowns became longer. We made short videos about conquering fear, keeping emotionally healthy, and
such topics, but their impact was minimal.

Looking back on it all, our efforts were probably helpful—tangible love and service. For that, we’re pleased and grateful. But none of it worked long-term to ‘save’ the ministry. Why? Unlike a local church, university ministry is high turnover. People graduate and move on. For an international ministry like ours, they often move far. Yes, we follow the fruit, disciple our young professionals, but the lockdowns starved us of the next generation. Now, no campus community, no
campus team. This was hard to come to terms with.

And that’s where the other daunting realisation set in. Me, a nearly 40-year-old male, recruiting young university students to birth a new discipleship community… C’mon, pull my other leg. This normally requires a team—a small community of committed individuals to begin with. Those who go it alone amongst non-Christianised strangers do it tough, often labouring many years, decades, with little or no lasting fruit. Did I just get a glimpse of my future? That thought was daunting. My theology says, ‘Trust God’. Instead, existential questions knocked on the door.

So, what do you do when your ministry is pulled out from under your feet, and you are left alone? Here is what I have learned. First, my ministry had not been pulled away because … I never had one. It’s the Lord’s. I pressed this truth until it reshaped my thinking. Second, my job is not to recreate the ministry that once was, only what the Lord wants now – they may look different. Drop expectations that are just me clinging to the past. Third, take time to remember my calling, renew confidence in it. Fourth, don’t presume what God will or won’t do. Be flexible. Look at what I’ve got, then start moving. Every new beginning has new opportunities. Look for them, don’t pine over ones lost.

I have found the Apostle Paul is a repeated example of resilience. His life and ministry are worth chewing over for a while. Over time, I adopted 1 Corinthians 15:58 again. It’s a good truth to behold.

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