Here’s a quick idea that has nothing to do with the series I’m in the middle of:

Have you developed some way for spontaneous hang-outs to happen within your college ministry? It’s easy for everything to get “calendared,” but does that mean we’ve lost some sense of friendship within our community? When’s the last time you sent out a text like this to your ministry, your leaders, or some group of students?:

Headed to a movie. If you’re interested, come on!

Of course, the goal isn’t just for you to hang out with students, but for them to hang out with each other. So setting up a group text might be the best avenue there, at least for some ministries.

Can this get out of hand? Sure. In a larger ministry, putting it somewhere online (like tweeting it) might make more sense – if students want to see what’s going on, they can check the “bulletin board.” I don’t know what will be best for you. Maybe have a student set it up! But whatever you do, if you foster it, you’ll likely be fostering community.

Another vital need for those in the “core” of your ministry is community. Are there people they regularly connect with who hold them accountable, mull over big decisions with them, pray for them, and would likely know if weakness was creeping in to their lives? Can they help your leaders process next ministry opportunities within your college ministry, or encourage / exhort in the ways they’re leading now?

Sure, your core students may be in a small group – many of your core students are probably small group leaders. But that doesn’t mean those things are taking place – or the small group leader may be least challenged or least cared for of all.

If this community culture hasn’t been built within the entire campus ministry, we’d do well to foster it for those in our core. Even if that means college ministers or other adults need to jump in to provide that, it’s worth getting your core students into intimate, Christian community.

Yesterday I asked just how sure you are that the “core group” of your campus ministry is participating in the vision for your ministry. There can be a lot of “vision leak” between the college minister and his lowest-level leadership!

But not nearly all vision leak comes from insubordination, arrogance, or even just slacking. Plenty of it – especially with college students – comes from not having a clear grasp of what that vision is.

So that brings us to this week’s first “checkbox” for assessing your core students (whether they have a leadership position or not). Have you presented a vision that is memorable, and can your core students remember it?

When I say “vision,” I’m not talking here about something pithy, like a smoothly crafted mission statement that inspires but might not convey much. I’m talking about the practical vision for your ministry, which may involve several notions about underlying principles and main methods.

Have you ever put on paper those principles and actions you believe are central to your collegiate ministry? Once you do, you might find it’s not so easy to put them succinctly, clearly, and concisely – what I mean by “memorable” in this case.

But once you have crafted a well-worded statement, then it isn’t too much to ask for your core leaders (and hopefully others) to be able to share them – and explain them well.

When’s the last time you cast vision for your ministry, with those who are most fundamental to helping your ministry run well? When did you last talk “foundationally,” explaining the pillars of your ministry? How well are you assessing each of your programs and activities?

For many college ministers, the last time those things were a high priority was likely in the beginning. But our students (including our “core”) are consistently changing; every two or three years that core experiences complete turnover in most ministries.

This week, I thought I’d post some ideas around tightening the core, making sure that the foundations you intend for your ministry are, indeed, the foundations you’ve still got. For today, though, I just want to present the question, because it’s a bit of a haunting one: How well are your core principles AND your core purposes being lived out throughout your college ministry… and how do you know?

Can students find you? If someone really needs to talk, has a theological question, or wants to confess a moral failing, is there a clear time when they know you’re available?

Just as many professors have “office hours” – times each week when they’ve promised to be in their office – college ministers can make themselves available in this way. Sure, students can always set up an appointment for coffee or connect with you via email. And maybe this idea isn’t for you.

But for some students (and some college ministers), a little less formal arrangement may fit best. You can announce that you’ll always be in the Student Center on Friday mornings, that you’ll always eat lunch at a University District restaurant on Wednesdays, or that you’ll be at your building (if you have a building) a couple of times a week.

Whatever makes sense.

If you’re doubtful, give it a try. The nice thing is that you can always get things done while you’re there (so it might improve your productivity, too!), and you might be surprised at who takes you up on it.

Tonight I have the chance to talk to about 20 parachurch ministry organizations. They are preparing to participate in a ministry fair at our church. I’ll begin our conversation by noting my background in college ministry, where attention to “kingdom-minded competition” is needed at least once a year (and in reality takes place all year long).

My points are applicable to all of us, and here are some of the things I plan to say:

Bringing it: Nobody likes the word “competition” when we’re talking about ministries, and that’s fine. But whatever we call it, my point is that in our recruiting, we should BRING IT. Every time you have the opportunity to share your ministry with potential recruits, you should exert some major effort and present that with excellence. In other words, it should feel like you’re competing because of the level of attention you’re providing.

(Not to get too deep here, but in some sense you are fully competing against all the other stuff that can steal students’ attention. They should see the Christian ministries on campus as ALL great options, and hopefully better options than the variety of things of less import.)

In the middle of the metaphors: I’ve been struggling to come up for a good metaphor here… but I know what “Kingdom-minded Competition” isn’t.

It’s not like the car show at our local state fair, where everyone’s in the same building but wants you to look at and buy their car and only theirs. But – and this is what we sometimes think unity has to look like – it’s also not supposed to be like the local Chevy dealership… where every car is nice and shiny but nobody cares too much about which one you pick. Our goal for recruitment should be somewhere in the middle, a real mutual desire for students to end up where God wants them, alongside a belief that we’ve got a fantastic ministry to offer them.

Reflecting your ministry: Part of “bringing it” should be that you present your ministry with not only your “best foot forward” but also in a way that reflects what your ministry offers. Honesty is vital!

Your recruitment tools (a booth, fliers, ads around campus, even word of mouth) should reflect your ministry – are students getting what they’re expecting to get, based on your recruitment?

I believe I’ve touched on this before, but it bears repeating – and connects with a conversation I had with a college minister yesterday.

Whether you’re a church-based college minister or not, it’s likely you have a plethora of programs available for your students through the local church. Whether it’s Christ-center recovery or mid-week Bible study, special seminars or a men’s retreat, the churches in your town may offer something for your students.

Have you ever considered making a list of what’s available, either in your church or among churches in your town? This seems an automatic change to buttress your ministry to various niches and various needs, without finding the student leaders or staff to do it. And in many cases, getting students in an intergenerational context would be a win on its own!

A couple of weeks ago, I challenged you to aim to create full-fledged “indigenous leaders,” students who truly function as college ministers to their own tribe.

One element of that – for those whose ministries are ready – is giving students ownership in identifying new paths of ministry. This could be identifying great international partners; this could mean pushing forward with a ministry in the city; it could involve students locating excellent opportunities for new outreach on the campus itself.

But how often do college ministers or their staff keep this job for themselves?

At our church, we describe our body as our only “missions committee.” We rely on the members to locate, engage with, and begin to draw others to potential ministry partners. This happens before we corporately partner, and we simply have decided to trust the Lord to speak through the body in this way. (Obviously, there are other ways to do this – we don’t think we have “the” right way. But it is a good example of giving ownership to someone other than staff!)

How often do your ministry’s members “light the way,” “lead the charge,” or even lend a hand in the process of finding new ministry avenues? What if you gave them this sort of ownership?

One of the loftiest goals a college minister has is to help students grow in wisdom. There’s plenty that can be done (more easily) to teach theology and piety and personal disciplines and corporate disciplines. But teaching wisdom isn’t so easy. Nor should we assume it comes automatically while we’re teaching everything else.

So if we’re going to set out to teach wisdom, one of the things we should be teaching is that compelling shouldn’t equal convincing.

Let that soak in for a second.

For many people (students or otherwise), it’s simply second nature to hear a compelling statement – from a politician, from a professor, from a celebrity, from a theologian, from a friend – and assign it a level of authority simply because the notion is compelling. Maybe it is said in a compelling, winsome, “sticky” way. Maybe it’s simply an idea that feels so right.

But whatever the case, a statement or idea being compelling actually has NO bearing on whether it’s true or not. True statements can be said in boring, annoying ways. And false ideas can be spread with really compelling narratives or wording. Of course, we want to present the truth in compelling ways… but the fact that it’s said in a compelling way doesn’t make it more likely to be true.

The problem is, we’re liable to fall into this trap ourselves in a couple of different ways:

  1. We ourselves are too quick to let compelling ideas seep in, as though “compelling” gives any hints at all as to veracity. For ministers, this happens a lot in theology AND methodology. (How often do we hear about a new approach, presented in a compelling way, and fail to ponder how wise it would really be in our own context.)
  2. When we try to train or convince, we substitute reason and evidence for compelling statements. They’re often easier (and more fun) to relate, and (as I’ve argued today), they work. But in the course of doing that, we train our audiences to look for “compelling” and let it be “convincing.” If we train students to do that, then the next compelling person will draw them easily, too.

Sorry to take a couple of days off – I was on a (great) all-staff retreat with tricky internet availability!

For many of you, the school year has just started; for most others, next week is the beginning of spring 2015. So here’s something great to ponder as everything ramps up yet again, and it’s something I’m learning myself.

It’s valuable for you to determine the resources, activities, focuses, or certain conversations that particularly energize you for the other (many) tasks of being a college minister. For me, I’m particularly strengthened for my work by reading – books on business strategy or “operations” light my fire especially well.

(Of course, our most vital fuel is our time with the Lord. This whole post is written with the assumption that we’re prioritizing that first.)

When my schedule is consistently full, day after day, I can easily go weeks without taking those “vitamins,” as it were. And yet in the midst of that everydayness, I can easily start feeling drained. So it’s a good discipline for me to carve out time – even when there “isn’t time” – to let God energize me through those things. He wired me that way, and while I always need to be willing to be stretched and to lay aside my personality as He sees fit, it also makes sense to determine what most energizes me… and to take those vitamins when I can.

If you haven’t pondered WHAT those vitamins are, you should.

And if you have, why don’t you figure out a way to make accessing them easy? That could mean…

  • Putting those kinds of resources on one bookshelf (that’s in your eye-line at work, preferably)
  • Scheduling time to spend “taking your vitamins” on your calendar
  • Setting an alarm to remind you to participate in those activities if you haven’t already, by a certain point each week
  • Getting people to hold you accountable on this
  • Scheduling some “time away” every once in awhile

…or whatever works best for you!

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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