Sorry for the late notice, but the wife and I are on vacation this week. So I’m going to take the week off of blogging, too.

As always, you can enjoy old blogs using the categories – you just might find something awesome you’ve never thought about before!

Freebie: Among other things, I’m reading Switch by the guys who wrote Mad to Stick. I think I’m going to like it. But Made to Stick is a “modern classic” in my book – and radically useful for college ministers.

You might have students (maybe much of your group) heading out for a mission trip at Spring Break. Other students may be “mission-ing” this summer overseas or in the states, and still others may have their own mission at a Christian camp, etc.. You may have some graduates participate in a longer mission experience after graduation, too.

In all these opportunities, how are your other students following the mission?

So that’s this week’s Fridea: Encourage and facilitate “reports from the field” via blog, email, or other avenues.

Not only is it good for those back at home to hear from their friends on mission, it’s also great for the “missionaries” to include others. The “senders” get to feel like they’re truly sending their friend, and they get to be part of the experience and get exhorted from afar. They’re also more likely to do something like that in the future.

And for the participant, this is a form of “debrief”, encouraging them to process what they’re learning. It also reminds them that even by stepping out, they’re leading - for many, they might feel that burden more when they know their friends are “watching.”

In a couple of recent posts, I’ve written about how God guides us through our students (here and here). This post continues the theme…

It’s easy to be in the throes of college ministry activity, blowin’ and goin’ with weekly activities and deep discipleship, and forget there’s a campus that our students are part of, too. In fact, their identity is likely more shaped by that environment than it is by a ministry, whether or not that’s a good thing.

Since it’s easy to overlook that, it’s easy never to find out what they’re a part of on campus. We may not be familiar with their majors, their clubs, their extracurriculars, their service to others.

And yet this info can help us impact our students better – paying attention to how we can guide them to be Christians in these spheres – and be used by God to guide us in our teaching, our activities, and in our new outreaches.

Once a ministry is big enough that you don’t know everyone – and sometimes even when it isn’t – getting to know things like this becomes a matter of intention, not accident!

Just a little question: How well are you teaching students to bring their time under submission to the Lord?

This is a season when some of them have a whole lot of it, and – despite what they think – most of them probably have more “discretionary time” than they will in ten years. And not only “discretionary” time needs to be submitted, of course.

It’s a little bit different than the principle of teaching students about a Christian approach to money “before they’re actually making much.” So teaching about time presents unique challenges, including not being able to offer certain practical “threats” if they don’t follow the Lord here. They won’t be hurting their spouse or kids, and they’ll probably have plenty of time to get that project done even if they use time poorly for awhile beforehand.

But maybe that’s a happier place to teach self-control and relational obedience, when obedience comes simply from a heart that wants to follow the Lord – in everything – even when we don’t know His plans for us?

Adding to a past post, here’s one principle for considering what God might have for the future of our college ministry.

The principle? As God draws individuals into your ministry, He could often use their attributes to help set the course for your ministry.

For example, an influx of fraternity students into your ministry this spring might indicate you should explore opportunities within their frat houses. If God brings a student with disabilities, that might be a chance not simply to meet individual needs, but also to pray about how that community might be better reached for Christ. If upperclassmen begin to choose your ministry, it’s worth praying through whether you should begin to recruit with special emphasis among the Juniors and Seniors.

Whom He brings to your ministry is no accident, right? We say that a lot – “God brought everyone here tonight for a reason” – but don’t always think about the ramifications for us. Certainly, this doesn’t mean that every type of student needs to be met with an entirely new focus or niche-based ministry. But while avoiding the “knee-jerk response” and snap judgment (as I wrote last week), we also consider whether a new student or a group of new students might be used by God to point us in a certain direction.

And one more note: From a hospitality standpoint, it’s yet another reason to get to know people enough that we can see ways God might be directing us through whom He brings our way. A party host surely tries to get to know her guests at some level; are we at least offering that same level of hospitality within our ministries? Would we even know if God was bringing 10 people from the same sports team?

I know our church isn’t the only church that traditionally foregoes a Sunday evening service for Super Bowl Sunday. And I doubt we’re the only church that encourages its members to use that moment missionally, purposely hanging out with neighbors and others.

Plenty of college ministers use the same opportunity. But beyond that most famous of gathering days, are you either…

  • looking for more opportunities to get students together (and invite lots of others)?
  • or raising up students who look for opportunities to reach out via events like this?

So that’s today’s double Fridea. And it’s on my mind because of the Oscars this Sunday and the opening of NCAA Basketball Tourney season in a few short weeks. Either of these present opportunities to hang out with students – whether it’s an “all-in” moment like the Super Bowl or a (somewhat) smaller niche like the Oscars (where you might be surprised at how many come just for the hangout factor).

And again, the alternative is probably even more exciting: raising up students who do this, in their own dorm rooms and their houses and on-campus, too.

The topic I broach today will probably be something I come back to a little next week, but I’ll touch on some assumptions today.

Here’s how the “theory” goes:

  1. God can guide us through the counsel of students in our ministry
  2. God can guide us through who He brings to our ministry, both individuals and groups
  3. But an individual or group’s comments, preferences, or ideas aren’t automatically God guiding us

I’m a big believer in God using the students in a college ministry to show us how to proceed. (That’s what I’ll be writing on next week.) But before we’re prepared for that guidance, we’ve got to make sure we’re not muddying the waters.

Too often we’re quick to accept a single piece of input as “what we need to do next,” whether subconsciously or consciously. Making a snap judgment because of one or two people isn’t wise. Weighing feedback – even from a single person – is wise, but the key is weighing it. We process those things and don’t (even accidentally) treat them more mystically than we should; God can (and sometimes does) allow for a timely word from a student, but we also receive feedback all the time that we shouldn’t act on, too.

Counsel is counsel. Guidance is guidance. We’ve got to be careful about assuming the former is automatically the latter.

I’ve long been impacted by the writings of Seth Godin (though we use the word “tribes” in different ways), but it’s been awhile since I’ve regularly read his blog. I might start again; it’s always extremely invigorating and has all sorts of principles to use in ministry.

In any case, a recent post hit a topic he taught me long ago (maybe in The Dip?). It talks about being willing to walk away from “sunk costs,” from those decisions we’ve acted on that required investment but aren’t worth sticking with. He explains:

Simple example: You’ve paid a $10,000 deposit on a machine that makes widgets at a cost of a dollar each. And you’ve waited a year to get off the waiting list. Just before it’s delivered, a new machine comes on the market, one that’s able to make widgets for just a nickel each. The new machine will pay for itself in just a few weeks… but if you switch to the new machine, you lose every penny of the deposit you put down. What should you do?

It’s pretty clear that defending the money you already spent is going to cost you a fortune. Ignore the deposit, make a new decision.

Which makes perfect sense until it gets personal. And the work we do, the art we make, it’s personal.

There’s more fleshing-out there (especially of that last point), and I’d encourage you to read the post. But the principle is vital for us in ministry.

It’s very natural to avoid letting go of sunk costs – it’s incredibly painful. We’ve laid down a new methodology for the year, advertised to the hilt, and less than a year in need to make a change. Awful.

We’ve spent a lot of money and time on a rebranding, or a new staff position, or developing an international partnership. But sometimes things change, and we have to decide to stick with something rather than move forward.

It’s also hard letting go of snap judgments about methods or people, hard(er) letting go of long-studied arguments when new factors arise that (should) cause us to discount what we once thought.

In any case, sunk costs stink but should weigh very little when making the decision about the future. Read that again – sunk costs aren’t a (good) reason to keep moving with that thing, whatever it is. And yet we use it all the time, whether in our own heads or when we talk to others.

Last week here at work, an article made the rounds about the role a church’s Executive Pastor plays. As you might expect, it talks a lot about how an XP (as they like to be called) complements the senior pastor – although beyond that, from what I can tell there’s a lot of variation in that role across churches.

In any case, it got me thinking about the field of collegiate ministry. We’re probably a long way from seeing “XCMs” as common in the world of college ministry; we have a hard enough time getting some people to realize the value of one full-time missionary to a campus.

But the principle of having someone (or a few someones) complement your work as college minister is still available to follow. This could come about in a few ways:

  • Purposely raising up student leaders who, at least for a year or (better yet) 2-3 years, function in this high-capacity, high-responsibility way
  • If you do have staff under you, being willing to give them a large dose of oversight responsibility, in ways that complement you
  • Bringing together a team of volunteers who really work as an “executive council”

The big point here is that you purposely raise up people to complement your own focuses in the ministry, strengths, and weaknesses. This is more than just honoring someone who’s a major leader in your ministry; it’s about finding that certain type of leader who can help take ground in ways you need him or her or them to!

My church is hosting a conference today, which always reminds me of just how many conferences, seminars, concerts, worship nights, guest speakers, and other events happen in a city like ours. But I imagine that’s true in plenty of cities and certainly regions, too.

So how often do you take advantage of these for your students? Why wouldn’t we?

So that’s where this week’s Fridea comes in: Spend time (or have some students spend time) researching the various conferences and other events taking place nearby. This is just a matter of calling churches (which may be more effective than looking through web pages) and asking what they’ve got coming down the pike. And probably not just churches, either – Christian colleges, large parachurch ministries, and anyone else you think of.

Yes, it’s some work. And no, you wouldn’t choose to advertise all of them – let alone making them official group events. But I bet you’d find some that would dovetail well with your ministry’s needs and your particular audience. And it might just be another good excuse for a road trip!

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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