This is a post from the past, but it’s an important fit for this series. While these methods may not seem to upgrade your leaders directly, they will indeed lead to substantially better leaders – both now and in the years to come.

I had the awesome chance to speak to a church’s college ministry student leaders a while back, and I aimed to raise the bar on their ministry this year. I told them they are truly college ministers in their role – and therefore each a missionary to their own campus tribe.

It’s valuable to do what we can to help our student leaders understand the weight of their task. At the same time, we should be letting our whole ministry know how highly we regard their peer leaders.

Here are some methods that might help:

1. Hold a commissioning ceremony (even at a church)

You might make a real impact in leaders’ lives by performing a commissioning ceremony at the beginning of the year – with all the solemnity, instruction, and even “pomp” that gets the point across (without overdoing it) for your group. And even if you’re not a church-based college ministry, consider holding this ceremony in front of a gathered congregation of believers. (Regardless of where you hold the ceremony, you could even have students invite friends and family!!!)

2. Write letters (and let students know)

You could take the time to send a letter to students’ back-home contacts: parents, pastors, youth pastors. Announce the student’s leadership position, the roles they’ll be playing, and prayer requests. While this is a good idea anyway, it will also raise the bar for the student himself – especially if you give him a copy of the letter and the recipient list.

3. Honor in front of peers (even regularly)

I’m a big believer in the “You cultivate what you honor” principle. But not only does putting your leadership in front of their peers help raise up new leaders, it also helps “raise up” those present leaders even more! Of course, while this might look something like the commissioning ceremony, you could also honor/terrify your leaders through pictures on the wall, names and contact info on the web page, or other regular, obvious means.

one last note

If this whole idea of “commissioning” leaders in front of a church, letting their home base know about their role, or publicizing their role with their peers seems really uncomfortable… are you sure you’ve got the kind of leaders you want to cultivate more of? Always good to think about.

A fitting Fridea for Inauguration Day:

Once per collegiate “generation,” you get a prime teachable moment – another U.S. Presidential election.

So how did you do this time around?

If there’s any weekend to debrief how you took advantage (or didn’t) of this teachable moment from late 2015 until now, it’s this weekend.

Write yourself some notes. Ask student leaders for ideas for next 2020. Weigh what you wish you’d done, what you wish you hadn’t done, and what you would change for next time.

(One bonus of debriefing now: It will help you keep your own interest/excitment/annoyance at next time’s candidates from affecting your shepherding approach.)

Continuing the Student Leader Upgrades series…

Have you ever assigned your student leaders an academic undertaking?

Here they are, in an educational environment, and yet by and large our collegiate ministry efforts don’t present a faith that seems quite as relevant to the skills and efforts required in that world. And while every college ministry chooses its focuses (and a particularly academic approach certainly isn’t for all of them), student leaders in particular could still be called on to exercise their little gray cells in regards to Jesus.

What if you asked various student leaders (or at least upperclassman leaders) to research either

  1. A biblical topic that comes up enough in your ministry that it would be helpful to have a blog or article about it, OR
  2. A ministry topic that would help your college ministry improve

#1 could also be along the lines of what we discussed yesterday – researching one of your ministry’s pillars and writing a sort of “knowledge base article” on the topic. C.S. Lewis and others have wisely noted that putting something down on paper proves (or disproves) our understanding.

In #2, this could include contacting other ministries to interview college ministers – or other activities that would be incredibly valuable but require time that’s sometimes hard to find.

But those are just a couple of thoughts; there’s a world of possibilities for this. But it’s an excellent discipleship measure, an upgrade for any of your student leaders, and a potentially large upgrade for your ministry.

Continuing the Student Leader Upgrades series…

Simple one today: How well-versed are your student leaders on the “pillars” of your ministry?

Whether you’ve been extremely concrete (no pun intended) about your pillars or not – that’s a post for another day – are your leaders the best at articulating and practicing what your ministry presents as most important?

For instance, if you asked each what your campus ministry’s mission is… How close would they get?

And on the practice end of things, if Evangelism is a core principle of your ministry, how well can each leader walk through a solid gospel presentation? Are they extremely familiar with their own testimonies?

If your leaders aren’t exemplary here, time for an upgrade… right?

Continuing the Student Leader Upgrades series…

In the world of ministry – and not just college ministry – there’s often no better way to ensure that solid believers lose their biggest opportunity to be stretched and continue to grow: Make them leaders!

It’s a caution for student leaders, though, and it’s worth asking: Do your leaders have access to community that still stretches, challenges, and grows them? Do they have people who will actually hold them accountable, both morally and ministerially?

Hopefully your student leaders (even those leading small groups) find their community experience to be exactly what they need (and all they need). But all in all, it seems that’s probably rare. It can be lonely when you’re the most committed, most mature, and most intentional one in your groups – even if you have the best possible mindset and humility about it.

So how do you fill this lack? Well, that’s probably your call (for your context) more than mine. You could decide that your community groups need to be more intentional, including with their own leaders/facilitators AND with other student leaders within them. You might put co-leaders in place who can play some of that role. You could decide that – at least partially – leaders need to play that role with each other, gathering in additional gatherings just for this purpose. Or you might feel that staff needs to push this challenging community forward themselves, holding one-on-one meetings or small group meetings that do more than just chat about how the ministry is proceeding.

Whatever the case, the point is examining any needed upgrades. What do you need to improve here?

We’ve been talking about Student Leader Upgrades this week, and here’s a concrete one for this week’s Fridea.

What if you challenged your student leaders to begin a “ministry of presence” on campus, just like their college ministers (hopefully) have?

Of course, being “purposefully in the midst” of their campus is different for those who spend every day there. But it could play out in some key ways (see the bullets below).

But first, what’s the purpose of this? You want to be teaching your leaders to have vision in the midst of their campus that goes beyond their status as tribe citizens. They need to become college ministers without leaving the other identity behind. And time spent among their fellow students with an eye open for ministry opportunities, hurting people, and deeper knowledge of their campus will add to their missionary understanding. But more than affecting the students themselves, these kinds of purposeful moments will actually invite ministry, both with students they don’t know and with students they do.

A few examples:

  • Posting up regularly in a location they wouldn’t normally inhabit – studying in a public lounge instead of their dorm room, for instance, or sitting at a certain table in the Student Center each Monday afternoon
  • Joining a (passive) activity to connect with participants and those around them – like becoming a basketball fan for a semester, or attending various art programs
  • Actually joining a program, for the potential to meet and minister (an opportunity for a “ministry of presence” an adult college minister doesn’t have) – from an intramural team to academic competition to a club for their major.

Remember, this can sometimes start as ministry to students your student leader already leads… like telling small group members they’ll have regular “office hours” in the cafeteria or attending the recitals of one piano-playing member of their ministry team. And honestly, that may be enough – or God may enable ministry to more students, too. And either way, if they’re watching, He’s likely to show them some things about their campus.

It’s the purposefulness of the presence that matters here – the purposeful lens of a college minister and not simply a student.

Find the whole series here!

If there’s anybody who needs to be forever-growing in their knowledge of and love for their campus, it’s your student leaders.

And if there’s anyone who’s more in danger of aloofness from the campus as a whole (now that they’re invested so deeply in your awesome campus ministry), it’s your student leaders.

I was heavily impacted by college ministers on my yearlong road trip who described a missional wariness towards models that called students completely out of their contexts in order to serve the “higher good” within a college ministry. I would argue that students need to be pointed “back” to their campus and should learn to love it more and more, becoming indigenous leaders in reaching their tribe without losing the “indigenous” part.

This means, too, that you might lose some student leaders next year, because they’ve decided to invest in ways other than leading here: They’ve joined the Mock Trial Team to get around non-believers, or they’re running for Student Government because they can impact best there, or they believe they should spend as much time as possible connecting with dorm-mates whom they have one last year with.

Trust God for more leaders, but teach your present ones to fall in love with their campus.

Do your student leaders see that the point of their function is discipleship?

Just like us older ministers, your students are liable to think of the program as just the program. They’re helping set up for Thursday nights or they’re organizing social events or they’re faithfully facilitating small group discussion. But they may not recognize that the main goal is disciplemaking (yes, even in that last role I mentioned).

If you can overlay the lens of discipleship on every function your leaders perform, it will change everything. And that includes not only impacting others through their “main assignment,” but also discipling the “incidental” students they rub shoulders with in that effort.

So someone setting up Large Group Meeting should understand their role in the discipleship that takes place that night. They should also perform their role in ways that maximize discipleship. But they should also personally look for opportunities to build relationship with and impact the sound guy, the gal who clicks through the slides, the chair setup crew, etc. – anyone on their ministry team. When discipleship is the focus, then primary and secondary avenues will present themselves.

Do your student leaders see themselves as primarily disciplers? How does this manifest itself?

How many of your student leaders have the chance to delegate tasks to other students?

We’re not talking about creating little tyrants, or getting students mired in arrogance. But delegation doesn’t have to lead to those things, does it? And I know – even in my own life – delegation is a skill that would have been great to learn early on.he question is, are there activities your current student leaders do that could be handed over to other students – potential future leaders, or just students who have been part of the group but haven’t taken ownership like they could have?

This doesn’t only apply to ministry team student leaders either (like someone leading large group set up or an outreach to the athletic teams). It could just as easily apply to small group leaders – who need to plan get-togethers, might love a “prayer champion” for the group, or could use help leading discussion on occasion.

But the point is not what help is needed, as much as what opportunities exist for additional students to take ownership in your college ministry. Meanwhile, pushing this skill will take your present student leaders to the next level, because this will (rightly) help them see themselves as college ministers and leaders of people – not simply leaders of activities, which student leaders can often become by default. And of course, this is a phenomenal way to start raising up your next round of leaders.

It could be a challenge to figure this out. I bet you’re up to it.

And… we’re back.

January is a great time to think about student leadership, since many college ministries’ leadership cores are well-established by this point in the school year. So I figured I’d create a brief series around this vital topic.

I say vital, but is it possible for even that word to be an understatement? Many (most?) college ministries stand or fall on the strength of their leaders. (Not that you can’t draw a bunch of students to an unhealthy, poorly-led college ministry. But that’s not what I mean.)

To kick off the series, I wanted to revisit a topic I’ve brought up occasionally. Believe it or not, I think one way to upgrade a campus ministry’s student leadership is to avoid the once-a-year “changing of the guard.” If you only recruit leaders in August (or in May, for August), then I think you run some risks:

  • Missing potential leaders
  • Frustrating potential leaders
  • Growing stale
  • Disrupting the ministry too much with all-or-nothing turnover moments

But wait – there’s more! Here are a few blurbs I’ve penned before, curated around this topic.

What’s Happened Since August?

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.

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?

Who’s Frustrated?

My theory is that in any large college ministry – and very likely some smaller ones, too – there are several frustrated potential leaders. They truly are spiritually mature. They have real potential – or even skills developed in another ministry, other student activities, high school, or a summer experience. God has given them particular spiritual gifts…

…that they’re not getting to use. These students are unknown to the right people, they’re a little introverted, they transferred in from another school (or another campus ministry), or they just haven’t “paid their dues.” And so that vital piece of their discipleship – letting them lead – isn’t happening.

Who’s slipping through in your ministry? Who’s frustrated – not because they’re arrogant, but because they really aren’t being used as God has designed them to be used?

At Least to Do Something

Even if your student leadership backbone is rebuilt only once a year, there should be occasional opportunities for new leaders to jump in to do something. … Think about if you were in their shoes: mature enough to lead, excited to make an impact… and told to wait until May. Ugh.

At least there’s a good chance you’ll need new small group leaders mid-semester or mid-year. And there’s always an event to be planned, a new initiative to be directed, or an idea for next year that needs a good “directional team.” Each of these are opportunities for old leaders AND new ones.

A Staggered Approach

[T]oo often we “default” to using student leaders from August to May. January might be a great time for some fresh leaders, though. They can either replace outgoing leaders, begin to serve alongside (or apprentice under) present leaders, or help with newly formed ministries / ministry teams. Another important aspect: This means qualified students don’t have to wait a full year to take the step of leadership.

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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 others who want to reach college students better. To learn more, explore the header links or the tools below.

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