Football season is a particularly good time for “Dovetailing” – the art of building some ministry activities into / on top of events organized by others. Tailgating as a college ministry, for example, takes advantage of the fact that your students are already likely coming to the game. Plus there’s the important “bonus” of being engaged in the campus and its culture.

Dovetailing around sports is only one opportunity, though. As you pay attention to your school’s major events and even its regular rhythms, you’re likely to find plenty of times your ministry can build opportunity into events. You’d never want to be seen as “usurping” the goals of the campus – but you don’t have to, either. In fact, in many cases, the campus will appreciate the symbiotic relationship.

As I had hoped, my “casual consultation” yesterday was fantastic. It was exciting to see three individuals – a present senior pastor, a present church planter, and a minister-in-training – conspiring to impact college students.

One of the many topics that came up in our two hours was the value of intergenerational connections. While it’s on my mind, I wanted to repost something from a few years ago that speaks to that very idea – something all of us, even if we’re doing parachurch ministry, need to consider.

seasoning with the seasoned

One of the ingredients in shortest supply in the world of college ministry is old people.

There, I said it.

I really believe college students benefit from intergenerational connections. And while it’s not insignificant that you, their college minister, are most likely in a different lifestage from themselves, have you considered adding more of those connections within your campus ministry?

(I fully recognize that this runs counter to the way many of us – especially those in campus-based college ministry – work. But that’s the point of bringing it up!)

“Old people,” when we’re talking about college students, can mean anybody from 23 (or so) to 103 (or so). And I honestly think students benefit from interacting with people across that entire span:

  • Single Young Adults (who live out their faith in the world your students will inhabit next)
  • Young Married People (who likewise are living out a next-step or soon-step for the collegians)
  • Older Single Adults (who offer a life worth emulating and a chance for students to doubt the “I’ve gotta get married!” mentality)
  • Married People with Families (who give college students something awesome to aim for)
  • Senior Adults (who hopefully have all kinds of wisdom to offer)

So how ’bout it? Might it be impactful to “import” some slightly-more-“seasoned” saints into your college ministry this year?

I have the really exciting chance today to connect with an old friend and another pastor who are trying to rethink college ministry within their entire denomination. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to write more about our meeting tomorrow, but I love opportunities like this – just to sit and brainstorm, with very few agenda items besides “doing this better.” Whether I’m doing that for one college ministry or a whole organization or denomination, this sort of thing gets me going!

One of the principles this occasion brings to mind is this: Our ministry design should start with our context, not our methodological “box.”

(I could replace “box” with “baggage” and it might mean the same thing!)

Far too few college ministries take the opportunity – or have the opportunity – truly to design their mission from the ground up. College ministers (or those who hire them) come with preconceived notions of what’s working or what has worked in the past or “what a good college ministry looks like” or “what impacted me in college.” All those ingredients are important and will help us build our methods when the time comes. But they’re not good starting places.

Instead, we should see far more college ministries – whether they’re coming out of churches or directly campus-based – that start with the context and build from there. It won’t be easy, and not all will be allowed to try. But for those who can, there’s a lot of ground to be gained.

 

At my Christian high school, one of our random textbooks was called Understanding How Others Misunderstand You. At the time, I’m not sure I read it too diligently, but the title has always stuck with me; it was a book about personalities, and it reminded me that every personality has its weaknesses, not simply its strengths.

Some of those weaknesses would properly be called temptations… which, because they’re so “basic” to who we are, often flesh themselves out in sin and habits and other activities that hurt others and hurt our witness and hurt our opportunities to live out the lives God has for us. Yet for all the work Christian ministers do in discipleship, I wonder how often we help people realize those deep-down traits that need to be handed over to the Lord.

Are you seeing “discipleship at the molecular level” happen in your college ministry? I don’t mean that you need a Personalities seminar (although that can be awesome). But are you and your student leaders actively coming alongside of other students and gently, diligently, plainly confronting the very issues that will hurt them for the next decades… even if those issues may never become an active “crisis”? Satan would love to produce ineffectiveness in each and every one of your students (even if they never take a drink or have sex).

Outcomes will show us how well we’re doing at this. Are there students who enter as proud freshmen but learn humility along the way? Do those who are lazy, or braggy, or a little obnoxious, or chippy learn to fight those temptations – and not simply because they “grow out of them,” but because we love them enough to help?

Every once in awhile, it’s simply encouraging the realize the magnificence of our opportunity in college ministry. And there’s a sort of “meta-metaphor” when you start talking about the college campuses themselves – not only are their breadth and beauty analogous to the enormity and impact of the task, but they are indeed the actual places we get to do this task.

If that blustery sentence hasn’t scared you off, I encourage you to take a moment to look at this amazing post and its excellent pictures. It’s simply well done… and could be useful for you or for others who need to be reminded of the magnificence of college ministry.

www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/the-25-most-beautiful-college-campuses-in-america

The past couple of weeks, I’ve mostly posted on the role “initiative” or “entrepreneurial ministry” can play in our college ministries. Here’s a Fridea to cap off that mini-series.

As you probably know, I’m a big fan of college ministers visiting other college ministries. There’s nothing quite like attending another ministry to stimulate thinking.

But the same holds true for your students – and they may have an easier time “getting away” from your campus (especially if they’re visiting a ministry that meets the same night as yours).

What if you encouraged some of your student leaders to explore other ministries on occasion? It might make the most sense for them to go to other campuses to do that, but honestly either way you could probably arrange it with the other ministry’s director and all would be kosher. (Perhaps they’ll send some students to visit yours, too.)

Any of these sorts of visits will teach your student leaders to be better at welcoming new people, and they’re likely to see some things that stimulate thought, like I said. But for our present purposes (generating new ministry efforts), I’d send students to visit ministries…

  • outside your own organization or denomination
  • at another campus

They shouldn’t just go and attend, of course. They need to look around. Ask questions. Even meet with the college minister or student leaders afterwards. The goal is to spark ideas for your campus and your ministry. (Whether this exploration provides actual methods you can “borrow” or not, the goal is to spur thinking about what would work in your context. Often the best ideas for one ministry are derivations of what someone has seen elsewhere – not all great methods are broadly transferable.)

Just a quick thought about the makeup of our ministries:

If you’re like a lot of college ministers, you “make the rounds” in any given Large Group Meeting. There are new (and old) students you meet, and plenty more that (you hope) are greeted well by student leaders or Greeting Team or just a friendly person in your ministry.

And through the random students you encounter, you get a “sense” of who’s coming to our ministry.

The same thing happens with the students we regularly encounter – like our student leaders. You’re likely to hear from them and learn about them far more than the rest of your students.

What we have to be careful about is what we do with the information we gain. If a college minister talks to three students, and two of them happen to be in fraternities, then it’s pretty easy to conclude that “We’ve been getting a lot of fraternity guys recently.” If four of his student leaders want to hear messages on Revelation, it’s easy to assume that lots of students do. If we act on that “information,” we may miss what God’s actually doing in a wider swath of students’ hearts and lives.

Conclusions can’t be drawn through anecdotal accounts. This is a good time in the school year to realize that – for some purposes – we need something more concrete. Like a survey. Or hearing from several students about the new students they met last week. Or whatever… as long as it’s more than just anecdotal.

This comes from a post from awhile back, but it fits nicely into my recent discussion of creating an “entrepreneurial” culture within your college ministry. Here are some niches and complementary opportunities that would be perfect for students to help your ministry pioneer.

Niches that seem obvious. Besides athletes, international students, and ethnic-specific ministries (which are fairly well established in our college ministry field), several others come to mind as strong candidates for niche-based ministry at many campuses. These include academic / honors students, apartment-dwellers, specific majors that have particularly stringent workloads (like Architecture), specific majors in which students struggle to see how they can live out their faith (because of busyness or anti-faith sentiments or something else), students drawn to or studying the arts, students who pursue “outdoors activities,” individuals from specific countries (rather than simply working with all internationals), gamers, and Christians considering going into ministry.

Complementary options. Any strength your ministry has could eventually be used to complement other ministry work taking place in town. But some opportunities seem more widespread than others. I wish we’d see more ministries helping with Leadership Training, campus-wide Service, Preparation for life after college, Missions Mobilization, and supporting the particularly academic students – just to name a few options!

Spin-off style. For both complementary and niche-based endeavors that start within a present, full-fledged college ministry, it’s always worth considering whether those efforts should eventually spin off into their own ministries. That’s not always the best plan, but it’s a valid – and sometimes better – option.

Last week I wrote a few posts on the role “initiative” plays in your college ministry, and I enjoyed it so much I’m going to keep those discussions going. From getting to know the needs of your campus (or city) to casting a vision for students to Start Things, we have the opportunity to inspire our students to entrepreneurial ministry.

One strategy for formalizing this pursuit is developing Ministry Teams dedicated to exploring ministry avenues. For instance, what if you discover that International Students are an underreached population, and in fact the campus itself would LOVE your help connecting with them?

That’s the perfect opportunity for a handful of student leaders (or potential student leaders) to explore that service avenue. Forming a sort of “Directional Team” for a possible future ministry, those students could spend a semester assessing the need, learning what other ministries have done, and developing next steps for YOUR ministry.

This is an incredible opportunity to show student leaders how ministry often happens in the “real world.” Many of your students will end up at churches that don’t have the panorama of ministries (or strategy) that your college ministry does. But they might just welcome a mature Christian young adult who offers to establish a new outreach. The same is true in their own personal ministry – from getting to know their neighborhood to discovering ways to impact their city, having experience in “exploration” will be powerful.

A couple of times this week, I’ve discussed the role students can be (should be!) playing in entrepreneurial efforts within your college ministry.

But while you may have a few students who will do this sort of thing “all on their own” if they sense any freedom at all, there are others – who could be just as great – who won’t do it unless you cast a vision for it. They know about all the present needs, the present ministry teams, the present ways to serve and impact. They’re doing a great job with those. So they won’t start something new… unless you ask them.

As I’ve been involved in ministry now for some 15 years, I’ve realized that “Starting Things” seems to be a role God calls certain people to, and equips them for. And some of your students may be those kinds of God-gifted individuals, ready to help you determine the needs of your campus (spiritual or otherwise), ready to lead some sort of “directional team” to figure things out, and ready to call others to the resulting vision and ministry. They’re Church Planters of the future, but right now they’re in your campus ministry!

You might be surprised who showed up if you held a meeting: “Anybody who would want to help reach new pockets of campus.”

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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