Posted by: Brian Musser | June 4, 2018

Defining the Church

Often folks will use Acts 2:41 – 47 as a good description of what the church should be.

Acts 2:41-47 (NIV)  Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  

New International Version (NIV)  Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

In my two decades worth of ministry experience a specific group of Christian students involved with Disciples InDeed (DID) has been the closest I have ever seen to this passage being lived out.  Let me just list some of the ways they compared to the first church. DID held weekly Bible Studies that usually were spent reading and discussing specific passages. These Bible Studies were immediately followed by accountability groups and the accountability was real.  On a weekly basis students would dissect Scripture and each other’s lives for the purpose of building each other up. Then on Friday nights the student leaders would meet for several hours again studying Scripture around a specific issue in hopes to plan a monthly event that engaged their community with Gospel truth pertaining to a culturally relevant topic.  Often after spending hours meeting with each other the students would leave the meeting but continue to fellowship eating together or going to a movie or some other fun activity. These students did life together and the ministry of the DID just flowed out of that life together. But once a month after the Friday night meeting until the Saturday monthly event the students would fast and pray in preparation of publicly proclaiming the message of Christ on their campus.  

Now most of these individuals involved were African-American college students.  At times there were real needs among the community members. It is a stereotypical joke about the hungry college student.  But at times there are college students with significant financial issues. One term there was DID student who after tuition and housing had absolutely zero money available for food.  Because of the care of the group he did not spend a single dollar on food for the entire term. One person made sure they cooked enough for him on Tuesdays. Others took a different days.  When they would go out to eat the group would alternate who was responsible to pay for him. When there was an event on campus that was offering food as an incentive for attendance text messages were sent or food was saved.  Rides were provided to churches with food pantries or community meals. At other times food wasn’t the issue but housing was. There were designated couches that people could use. Some of them were occupied for months at a time.  The community leveraged what it had available to make sure the need was met. It was never an issue. It was life, life together.

Most students involved in DID claim it was an important part of them surviving the Drexel experience.  Most of them can easily point to how they came to know Christ for the first time or on a deeper level because of their time with DID.  None of them point to a specific individual or program that made the difference but to the group of students acting as the body of Christ in true community.  The community that was developed by this group of students was so winsome and powerful that the University respected and appreciated it. So many times we talk about how students need to be impacted by the Church.  I have had the experience of watching a group of students be the church in ways that most churches need to see.

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Posted by: Brian Musser | May 28, 2018

You Can Say No

When I started my ministry at Drexel over a decade ago, I came to campus knowing one Christian student.  He was a commuter student from Northeast Philly. He was connected to us through his participation in Lifeway Baptist Church, which is a Russian Speaking Church near Bustleton and Grant Avenues.  Through our connections with the association of churches he heard that we were trying to start a ministry at Drexel and he wanted to be part of it. He wasn’t the stereotypical student in several ways.  He was a couple years older. He was a commuter. Although, his English was impeccable it was still his second language and he learned to think first in Russian. And for most of the time he was a student he also held down a full-time IT job with hearing aid company.  If I remember correctly, by the time he graduated he was married, living in his own apartment with a kid on the way and working towards buying a house.

After a short introductory period, he agreed to work for me as a student intern in the ministry.  There were several specific parts to the job description but as this was a very new ministry and I was still getting to know campus ministry at Drexel so there were many parts of the internship role that was “other jobs as assigned.” I believe the first year he interned for me “other jobs as assigned” was probably the largest portion of his duties.  

So to set the stage, I was a new campus minister who didn’t exactly know what I should be doing.  We were creating a ministry out of nothing in a place that did not have one previously. In this context I had a student intern that had a vague job description.  This student had a unique college experience to draw from. And finally, although it wasn’t obvious on the surface our leadership meetings were cross-cultural engagements.

Eventually, all this became apparent to me.  I remember having a meeting where I was thinking out loud with possible plans that we could do to establish a ministry reaching the campus.  I was doing what I consider brainstorming. He was agreeing with whatever I said and taking my ideas as task assignments. It didn’t matter if he liked the idea or not.  It didn’t matter if he thought the idea would work or not. It didn’t matter if he had enough time to complete the idea or not. I thought I was having great ideas and he was just on the exact same page as me.  That wasn’t what was happening.

In his culture, especially in his church, they respected ministry leaders on a level that I wasn’t prepared for.  What the pastor or other ministry leader said was to be agreed to without question. So he would just shake his head and smile as I brainstormed hoping for his input.  Several years later in an honest conversation with a Russian pastor I was told, “Brian, you don’t understand. My people still want Stalin for a pastor.”

My student and I needed to work this out.  I needed him to let me know how much time he actually had to devote to tasks.  I needed to know as a student which ideas he thought would be most effective in connecting with his classmates.  I needed him to have an opinion and share it with me. I needed to give him permission to say no. I remember specifically saying to him, “You can say no to me.”

Posted by: Brian Musser | May 21, 2018

The Gospel in the Hands of a Telemarketer

One of our largest degree programs at Drexel is the Business School.  It is always interesting to see how a business student will engage their faith while at Drexel.  At times, our Christian student groups have been run on a semi-professional level just because the students were applying classroom strategies to engage the campus with the Gospel.  Then after a year or two when the leadership transitions into a group of engineers or artists the dynamics of the group shifts.  It is always a tension to maintain a group’s identity while still being flexible to foster the ever-changing leadership styles and personalities of the students in the room.  It is fun to harness the creativity of animators, the activity of entrepreneurs, the structure of engineers and the social skills of computer programmers.

I remember taking an accountant on a ministry trip.  He had an internship where one his tasks was to sign people up for credit cards.  This required cold-calls and tabling events.  He knew how to engage people in conversations.  He was accustomed to being turned down by the majority of people with whom he initiated conversations.  He trained to keep going even when the first 50 encounters were negative experiences.  These secular skills came in handy when we decided to share the Gospel at the University of Pittsburgh.

Because Drexel is still on the quarter system our spring break happens later than most other colleges so we have taken advantage of that to go and help other campus ministries nearby.  One year we went to Pittsburgh.  One thing we were really good at was using an evangelism tool called Soularium.  This tool is 50 pictures and 5 questions.  You use the pictures to answer the questions.  During spring break, we would go and work alongside other campuses training them in how to use Soularium.  Our accountant was an expert.  I remember him saying something like, “I have been put in so many awkward situations like this only to sell a credit card.  Now I get to use my skills to start conversations to share the Gospel.  This is so much easier and more important.”

That idea stuck with me.  God can use our secular training to prepare us to be better agents for His Kingdom.  Even while being a telemarketer you might be developing skills that can be used for His glory.

Posted by: Brian Musser | May 14, 2018

I Think Differently

A student leader of mine was asking my advice about an in depth spiritual conversation he was having with one of his peers.  As the story proceeded I started to piece details of the context together.  The conversation was happening late at night.  My student leader was woken from sleep in his bed by the conversation.  And then it became apparent that this deep, meaningful, life changing spiritual conversation was happening via text message.  Now it did not surprise me that they could have such a conversation via text.  I have long been aware that many young adults can communicate through texts easier than face to face or voice to voice.  I have had negotiations with students about how we should continue meaningful long-distance conversations.  Although not perfect, my default is a phone call. It is just easier for me.  Often their default is text messaging. It is just more significant in their minds.

What surprised me was that my student leader did not think it was an important detail to share with me.  In his mind “conversation” includes text messages.  In my mind the word “conversation” was defined long before text messages existed and although text message conversations are a category I have adopted into my life they inhabit a part of my brain that is nearby to conversations, maybe even conversation adjacent.  But text messages are distinct and always will be distinct from conversations to me.  This makes me think of the dialogue between Bane and Batman in The Dark Knight Rises, “you merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it.”  Because of technology the next generation fundamentally thinks about communication differently than I do.    That may not be a huge difference but it makes me wonder what other differences are there that I don’t know about.  What other words do we both use but mean slightly different things?

Posted by: Brian Musser | December 13, 2017

Prayer for Students during Final Exams at Drexel University

Dear Heavenly Father, Lord God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, Creator of All Things,

Lord, it is Finals week at Drexel again, please be with us.  First and foremost protect us.  Protect us from violence, from evil, from illness and even from ourselves.  More than anything else I pray that everyone makes it through this week unharmed.  We can recover from poor performances, lack of sleep, bad grades and damaged relationships but please protect us from those things that we can not recover from.  Get us through this week.  Help us to survive.

 

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But as we are trying to survive I pray that we are able to thrive.  Give us rest.  Give us success.  Give us the ability to study well.  Help us to learn quickly and remember accurately.  Help us to not waste time on trivial information but to truly apply our minds to that knowledge which we will be evaluated on.  Help us to achieve the right answers on the first try.  Do not allow simple mistakes to cause hours worth of frustration.  And when we have to reproduce that which know help us to communicate it with precision.  Give us the ability to understand the questions and record our answers well.

Lord, help our stress levels.  Do not allow stress and anxiety to cloud our minds.  Do not allow nervousness to interfere with performance.  Give us a calm and a sense of peace.  But on the other hand allow there to be enough stress to motivate us to do the necessary work.  Do not allow us to fall into a false sense of security.  Give us the ability to be balanced.

And finally Lord, help us to know that we are valuable independent of our performance.  You love us and are invested in our lives outside of how well we do on these finals.  Do not allow us to questions our worth because of bad grades.  Help our grades to be a measure of what we can do but not a statement about who we are.  Give each one of us a sense that we are worth you love no matter our degree.  Jesus Christ’s death for our sins so that we can have a restored relationship with God is where our identity should be rooted and not in the grades we will get because of these finals.

And we pray all of these things in the strong name of Jesus Christ the one who defeated death, Amen.

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