It’s not hard to stay connected to your students over Christmas, but it’s a gesture that will keep them (and you) engaged and allow you to shepherd a little, too.

What if, for example, you blogged once a day – about Christmas, about your own resolutions for the new year, about reflections on last semester, about a book you’re reading, about what’s coming up?

A weekly email could accomplish something – as could some purposeful social media activity.

You could, of course, go a step up on this: a regular devotional, regular thoughts as you and some students (even from afar) work through a book together, or a systematic review of what you taught last semester.

I’ve never been fully comfortable with the “gap” in the shepherding calendar of a college minister – not here, and certainly not in the summer. With even a little bit of effort and scheduling, that gap can be a lot less impactful.

I know I’ve been “returning to the well” a lot recently, to re-emphasize some posts from the past. But they’re still applicable. Today, I combine a couple of posts to flesh out something I said last week!

On Monday, I wrote,

As I’ve often bemoaned here on the blog, it seems many college ministries plan nearly entirely by the year, rather than by the semester. Not even our college students do that! So another reason the question above is tricky is that it makes us reconsider our plans in light of what God has revealed and/or done in the past few months.

Honestly, I’m not sure how much college ministers can plan for next week – let alone nine months from now. But if we planned for March 2015 in August 2014, we made the assumption that things wouldn’t change all that much.

New students come through semester-by-semester, ideas pop up that we need to run with, new issues must be dealt with directly, changes take place on campus, and even whole ministry identity-shifts occur (unplanned) every once in a while.

The truth is, I believe your ministry and your campus are both too exciting to plan a whole year at a time.

But it’s not too late! If you did attempt to “master plan” things back in the summer, let me encourage you to evaluate what (or whom) should be added, subtracted, tweaked, spun off, reined in, increased, decreased, encouraged, discouraged, confronted, or otherwise changed for the semester to come.

The key here is to doubt what should be doubted. In this case, we should really doubt that we had enough foresight several months ago to determine all our steps for the upcoming semester. It’s not a question of whether you planned good things – I’m sure you did! The question is, Were your plans then as strong as they would be now? Is the ministry planning you did last summer really just as effective as it would be if you were forced to plan now?

(This even brings up theological questions about how God wants us to follow Him in preparing our ministries – how sure are we that His plans eternally come in yearlong batches?)

Need some additional convincing, or some places to start? Here are some areas that might grow a little stale when planned or organized too far in advance:

Raising up student leaders: Depending on how you do student leadership, it’s likely some new potential leaders have arisen since August. Have you considered re-establishing your commitment to student involvement by opening the leadership application process in January?

Opening your small groups: If small groups are supposed to be part of the “DNA” of your campus ministry, why oh why would you only have a “push” at the beginning of the school year? Some students have matured, others have become intrigued by hearing about the groups, and some are simply new to your ministry. Re-up your commitment to small group discipleship by opening present groups – or forming new ones – for January.

Sharing your vision and values: Students have short attention spans, and a good chunk of next semester’s group probably wasn’t around when you shared your vision and values last semester. Recast the vision, re-espouse your foundational values.

Recruiting: It’s crazy to think that students are only going to join ministries in the first few weeks of the school year. And besides, there are students out there who have wandered from your college ministry or from other ministries… and they need to find a new community LONG before next August. Are you going to recruit those students – and others – in January?

Your programs or teams: There’s no way every good service idea, ministry team, or other ongoing program needs to wait until August to be started. Are there some “new institutions” you can start in January?

Your programs or teams, part two: Likewise, some stuff should be stopped. Not this summer. Now.

How often do you get the chance to learn how your ministry is really going, in the nooks and crannies and activities that happen when you’re not around?

For most college ministries, this primarily refers to small groups. While these are the discipleship “backbone” of many campus ministries, they’re also one step removed from the college minister. It’s unlikely you’ve got the time to do a full evaluation of each small group on a weekly basis, at least if your college ministry has more than a couple of groups. (If you did try to evaluate fully every week, it might look a little too much like micromanaging!)

But here at Winter Break, you have the opportunity to kick back with your leaders (even if it’s over the phone) and really catch up on how it’s going. Or maybe this is best done through a written survey – something detailed enough that it helps leaders ponder their effectiveness and gives you more than just a basic “it went well” or “it was hard” response. (Whatever the format, coming up with wise questions will be key.)

Likewise, if students are discipling others, leading ministry teams, or doing anything else that you’re not present for, you have a little room now to “debrief.” But the earlier the better; it’s amazing what someone can forget over a month of holiday at home.

One of yesterday’s points discussed multi-semester strategies. So here’s a post from the past about this important aspect of collegiate ministry.

One talk I’ve done for college ministers is called “The Good, the Bad, and the Crazy,” with practical tips (and hazards to avoid) for building strong college ministries in wise ways. One section of that message involves encouraging “purposes and plans.” Part of this is looking beyond the coming semester (or quarter), developing multi-semester strategies.

Wherever your campus ministry is – from just starting to well-established – you should have several specific purposes in mind for the ministry and your students – things you believe your students should become, as well as things your ministry as a whole should achieve.

And chances are, some of these purposes will require more than one semester to achieve.

If that’s the case, if some purposes aren’t simply about getting from A to B but require going from A to B to C to D… then shouldn’t we be strategizing how to get there step by step? So what multi-semester strategies do you have in place?

For instance, let’s say you wanted one-on-one disciplemaking to become part of the DNA of your college ministry. This probably wouldn’t be achieved in one semester, requiring several “steps” to get there.

First, discipling a few students yourself would be a big start. You’d make sure to mention that every once in awhile to the ministry as a whole, and otherwise help students begin to hear about this idea.

Soon enough, it would be vital to teach about disciplemaking in a ministry-wide way. (Any part of your “DNA” that isn’t backed up by proclaimed truth is encouraging legalism!) Finding and presenting testimonies of effective disciplemaking could help. Perhaps a retreat or attending a conference focused on this topic will get students considering this. Later, helping people find disciplers / disciplees will keep the ball rolling. At some point, your student leaders might be required to try to find someone to disciple. And so on.

No, you can’t foresee how each semester will go. So any “multi-semester strategy” is really just a basic blueprint. But the point is that not every goal can be achieved in one semester, so it’s important to strategize those steps.

The pic illustrating “the long view” above comes from Henderson State University, one of 2 HSUs I’ve explored.

In a post last week, I offered a single question that could be bothersome for a college minister:

In what ways will next semester purposely build on the gains, learnings, or overall “movement” your ministry had this semester?

There are three reasons I think this is a GREAT BIG question for college ministers to ask:

1. We should be moving forward. I think we’d all agree with this one. We hope that our ministry is “moving forward,” whether that means numerical growth or deepening convictions or broader reach or something else.

2. We should be moving forward strategically. This is less-often recognized as a vital part of the college minister’s job: multi-semester strategy. We should have activities in place for our present semester that are building toward something a semester or more down the road. But it’s easy to forget to plan that way. Is your ministry “moving somewhere” or just “moving”?

3. We should be flexible enough to respond quickly. As I’ve often bemoaned here on the blog, it seems many college ministries plan nearly entirely by the year, rather than by the semester. Not even our college students do that! So another reason the question above is tricky is that it makes us reconsider our plans in light of what God has revealed and/or done in the past few months.

Here’s a Fridea I first mentioned in October 2013, as I was preparing to participate in my church’s version of this. Our “Training Day” is for the entire body, but a college ministry – or potentially even multiple college ministries! – could do this for students. And if you wanted to put something like this together, Winter Break is a great time to think about it.

Students like choices. And they like going “deep.”

Our church’s quarterly presents a Saturday morning with four “elective” offerings – anyone who signed up can choose to learn about something (the topics that day were the Book of Job, Singleness, Discipleship, Soteriology, and using Social Media for Christ).

Sometimes we assume students – who sit in class all week – wouldn’t want to sit through more straight teaching. But I think we might be over-assuming for a few reasons:

  • The fact that they sit through teaching in other venues means, at the very least, it’s habit.
  • This would be a chance for them to pick something they want to learn about and are more interested in – the comparison puts our electives in a positive light.
  • This aren’t just “lectures”; they can include plenty of interactive elements.
  • As I say above, students like choices – and they don’t mind a good chance to explore a topic in-depth.

What if you held something like this once a semester? Of course, you could make it shorter or offer fewer choices (or no choices) or just try it once and see how it goes.

Ultimately, though, this gives you all sorts of chances:

  • to offer deep teaching on important topics or use narrow topics (like a book of the Bible) to give practice in broader topics (like biblical interpretation)
  • to invite students from outside your ministry
  • to allow some adult volunteers, student leaders, local church leaders, or even out-of-town speakers to teach
  • to help local or regional Christian leaders see what you’re building on campus
  • to dive into special topics that you (or students) would love to cover but can’t in other venues
  • to jump-start the interest and teaching foundation in a topic that you know you’ll be hitting in semesters to come

This is a simple, powerful, but potentially kick-in-the-pants-ing assessment for a college ministry:

In what ways will next semester purposely build on the gains, learnings, or overall “movement” your ministry had this semester?

That’s it. Ponder it if you’re willing. See you tomorrow.

Since many of you are engaged in Finals Week (or will be shortly), yesterday I blogged 29 ways to use the week for ministry. Today, I’d like to point out one more way – but it’s a ministry form you could (and should!) engage in year round.

There’s probably no better week than Finals Week to practice your “ministry of presence” on campus. That means simply sitting, being around, connecting with people organically as an adopted member of their campus tribe. It means hours or a whole day spent in the student center or in some other well-trafficked area. It might mean visiting Study Breaks or various other happenings, too, like athletics events or graduation rehearsal or a parents’ event or graduation. In other weeks of the semester there would be other options, too. In any case, you know your campus and where a ministry of presence could be a ministry indeed.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the activities and rhythms of “Doing College Ministry” that we neglect being there. We might even make the excuse that we’re always “here” for students – meaning they can contact us when needed – but “here” is not the same as being there, “on their turf and on their terms,” which is the handy, shorthand, practical definition I use for the widely ballyhooed term “missional.”

It’s amazing what you can learn from time spent there, too: the campus culture you pick up on, the students and types of students you meet that (probably) won’t ever come to your ministry, the understanding you gain of the administration and staff and how they’re actually running the school. You talk to students you know, of course, and can even encourage them to come by your “office hours” on campus. It’s not wasted time, if you’re doing it right. You get work done, catch up on reading, pray for the campus you’re looking at, even have your own devotional time with the Lord… all while you wait to see who He might drop into your booth in the student center, or who you might bump into (student or staff) at a sports event or campus party.

I’m well aware that this sort of thing “makes sense” at some schools more than others. But I would also guess that it would be impactful at a lot more schools than we’d imagine. Even a day on campus every week or two might work wonders for your job as a missionary to that campus.

And Finals Week is an excellent week to practice.

It’s been a while since I posted the list below, originally brainstormed by my college ministry-thinkin’ buddy Mark Warrington and me. While some of these require a little extra preparation, it’s good to think about next semester… and you can jump into several of them right now!

For many campuses, the last week of the semester or quarter could be the PERFECT time to add a final moment of impact.

If you know your campus, you can figure out what will help accomplish your purposes during Finals week. Maybe some of this will fit, or maybe it’ll help you brainstorm for your own campus tribe!

  1. A Finals study day (with food).
  2. A few-hour Study Break (with food & games & other fun)
  3. Give students something to serve their fellow classmates, or encourage them to pick it up themselves (candy? extra Scantrons?)
  4. Serving your campus’s students: anything from free food to free Scantrons to free tutoring to free chair massages…
  5. Prayer – for students, with students, about students, about the world
  6. Holding an on-campus or off-campus respite spot all week long, open ’round the clock
  7. 15-minute Worship breaks within the day, held on-campus…
  8. …or even mid-day “chapel services” held on campus
  9. Simply cancel some or all of your regular ministry activities, if that helps students most
  10. Prepare an awesome devotional guide or other “plan” to give students as they leave or send students two weeks into summer
  11. Quick road trip – to study (in an interesting location) or not to study
  12. A perpetual game marathon. As students need to leave, new students step in. Remember your color or your team, and we’ll announce the winning team at the end of the week. (I’ve always wanted to do this!)
  13. Print a handout or email articles on the spiritual aspects of finishing strong, studying hard, or another pertinent topic.
  14. Hang out with other college ministers (while the mice are away, the cats will play?)
  15. Cheer academic excellence and hard work in obvious ways
  16. Midnight stress relievers (B-Movies? Campus golf?)
  17. Camping on campus
  18. Collect mailing addresses and prayer requests of the students who are headed home
  19. Spend the week getting to know some of the faculty, administration, and staff
  20. Spend some time serving some of the faculty, administration, and staff
  21. Remind students to (and how to) stay healthy
  22. Brainstorm how you’re going to impact college students who return to your city during the break (even if you’re a campus-based college ministry!)
  23. Have the most amazing Senior send-off ever
  24. Plan to serve at December graduation – including hosting parents, families, and others well when they come for graduation
  25. Organize a team of all your students who don’t have Finals (or whose Finals end early in the week) – either to have fun together OR to serve
  26. Love on specific groups on campus in some of the above ways
  27. Moving-out help
  28. Tour high schoolers around campus
  29. Bring to campus: Local pastors, parents, youth pastors, and others who need to care more about the campus tribes. Offer a “vision experience” where they look to these busy-hurried-anxious-energetic mission fields, notice they’re white unto harvest, and help the labor to increase.

I talked yesterday about making sure you and your students use the Christmas Break well. Today, a Fridea to help students do exactly that.

Here’s the notion: Encourage your students to contact someone back at home to mentor them during the Christmas Break.

Sure, this won’t fit everybody’s schedule, and other students won’t be able to identify someone they’d like to have mentor them. But it doesn’t have to be someone they’re already in relationship with – plenty of church ministers would be willing to do this. Fellow or former college students they knew from high school might also be a great choice – or even family members.

Over the next week, they could contact someone, maybe even send them some “this is what one-on-one disciplemaking looks like” materials, and plan to hang out.

One of the difficulties with disciplemaking / mentoring is that it’s not always a great “match.” But what do you do when you’re the mentee (or the mentor) and you figure that out? Well, I do always encourage these relationships not to start with more than a six-week commitment (on both sides). But this idea makes it even more natural to “break” – while still leaving room for remote discipleship and/or resuming things during the summer.

Welcome to Exploring College Ministry

After ministering to college students for 8 years, I've spent the last 6 years trying to help push our whole field forward. This meant, among other things, a yearlong road trip, an e-book (Reaching the Campus Tribes), exploring 250+ campuses, consulting, writing, speaking, and more. I love any opportunity to serve college ministers or to consult with churches and others about reaching students better. To learn more, explore the header links or the tools below.

...and if I can help your ministry directly (or you want to support my mission), contact me!

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