Friends!

Whether you’ve been reading for awhile or just stumbled upon this blog, I wanted to share an exciting new chapter in this blog.

Over the next couple of months, I plan on pursuing a long-awaited “reboot” of the Exploring College Ministry blog. It will be weird taking that much time off, after spending the last ELEVEN years blogging about campus ministry at least a few times a week (and often nearly every day). But it will be good for me to pause before rebooting – a “sabbatical” of sorts to make sure I’ve prayed through and thought through all the aspects of the rebooted blogs.

I’ll send you more information about what’s coming and how YOU can potentially take part – especially to those who have subscribed to the blog. (So if you’re reading this on the blog itself, be sure to subscribe in the top left corner.)

I’ll miss this for the moment, just like you miss your students when they’re gone for the summer. But we’ll all be back together for the new semester!

Thanks for reading, friends. I think what comes next will be even better!

Do you want your students to be counter-cultural?

Of course, you can inspire them to hold truths in the face of relativism, to fight for righteousness when sin is celebrated, and to hope when all seems hopeless. Any of those actions will provide an awesome witness-by-contrast, as the watching world wonders about the peace, conviction, and hope that these Christians have.

But you can also teach them to apologize well (and often).

Your students will likely come across many more opportunities to offer heartfelt, humble mea culpas in any given month than they will have the chance to make public stands against the culture or to trust God through great tragedy. And yet it can be easy to overlook teaching the simple (and yet oh so hard) spiritual discipline of apology.

Training this well means encourages phrases that express vulnerability – “I apologize,” “Please forgive me,” and the even harder “Will you forgive me?” are all generally more important (and less cliche) than “I’m sorry.” And students can be trained not only to be “quick to listen” but to combine good listening with both “keeping short accounts” and true repentance, which will cause them to apologize faster and more emphatically than expected.

It’s not just apologies for sin that will shock people in your students’ lives. Even simple ownership of mistakes can work wonders. “My bad!” or similar (less dated) phrases should fall regularly from believers’ lips – and will surprise non-Christian classmates, workmates, family members, and neighbors throughout the years.

Few things are quite so pleasant but provocative as this sort of ego-forfeiting humility. How well do your students apologize?

This summer, you’re likely taking stock of your college ministry – or at least the last year’s worth of college ministry activities. But here’s one avenue worth taking that evaluation down:

What niches does your college ministry cover in the campus ecosystem?

Nearly every college ministry covers some sort of “niche,” if all that means is that each ministry has an identity, geography, or focus that means certain kinds of students are more likely to participate than others. Even a giant ministry tends to skew in some direction – even if it’s simply skewing away from students who want a more “homey” or “personal” experience.

Maybe we should call this a “quasi-niche.” It’s not that leadership has chosen to focus on athletes (like FCA has) or on International Students. It’s simply that, over time, one or more “pockets” of students have tended to drift toward your ministry. There may be plenty of involved students not in those pockets, too, but it’s clear the ministry has found a foothold among a certain population or two.

For many college ministries, the quasi-niche can get pretty specific. The ministry may be more likely to draw intellectual types. Or athletes. Or socially awkward people. Or students of a particular ethnicity. Or students who truly prefer a smaller community. Again, the campus ministry (in this case) didn’t set out to draw only this type (then it would simply be a niche-based or niche-focused college ministry from the start). Instead, it has become that way, probably for a variety of factors.

The point of this post is: Have you gotten honest about your quasi-niche(s)? Just like an individual is encouraged to “know themselves, like themselves, be themselves,” so your college ministry will be much more effective as it “knows itself” – and comes to appreciate what God has wrought. So whether it’s through outside observation or really honest introspection, how about taking some time this summer to consider who populates your campus mission? You may realize more about its identity than you ever have, and that’s a great foundation to build a new school year on.

When’s the last time a college student was involved in a budget meeting for your ministry?

That’s this week’s Fridea, not coincidentally because it happens to be Budget Meeting Week here too.

Whether you even have a formal “budget meeting” or not, including students in on the financial aspects of your ministry – from budgeting to expense accounting to fundraising – could be a great part of shepherding. For both students who are finance-minded and students who seem headed toward “vocational ministry,” seeing this aspect of what you do is a win.

So let them in!

If you’re among the large number of college ministers who has a more relaxed schedule in summertime, I’ve got a challenge for you.

Do a few things you would do if you were starting your college ministry from scratch.

What could you learn/relearn about your context? What members of the college staff might you build relationship with? How familiar are you with the incoming freshman class? When’s the last time you prayer-walked the campus, or surveyed the other campus ministers to see where the needs, gaps, and opportunities lie?

It’s too easy to forget that a college minister – whether inside a church, campus-based, or even employed by the school itself – is fundamentally a missionary. But because you are, thinking “like a missionary” or “like a church planter” should never stop. And yet unlike most missions contexts, the campus changes rapidly – often at the highest levels, but always among the students. So not only do you need to think like a church planter or missionary, but you also need to think, at times, like a new missionary to your campus tribe.

Learning and relearning the campus, then, isn’t really optional. And summer is a great time to attend to that practice.

What are your plans for connecting with students over the summer?

You may be in a position to contact most or all of your students, but chances are you’re not. There might simply be too many of them to reach, or your summer ministry work may need attention that keeps you too busy.

But what if you called one student a week?

The title of this post comes from the old, now-cliche story about a kid throwing starfish – a few of the thousands on his beach – back into the ocean. (If you’re somehow unfamiliar, google it… the punchline is “It mattered to that one.”)

It’s human nature (at least for some of us humans) to prefer “all or nothing.” Either I can get in touch with all my students, or I’ll focus elsewhere. But often its wiser to do something – for the sake of ourselves and the sake of the people we can minister to.

I think you’ll benefit if you chat with 2% or 10% of your students this summer. You’ll remember what summertime in the middle of the college years is like, your heart will be warmed toward the many students who are “out of sight, out of mind,” and you’ll be forced to do practical, “present” ministry in a season when so much energy can be focused on theorizing about the future.

And of course, it’ll matter (a whole lot) to that student too.

Hopefully you’ve got student leaders serving in your ministry. Whether you’ve simply got small group leaders, you have a wide range of ministry teams, or you’ve informally assigned oversight to things like “large group meeting setup” or “greeting newcomers,” those leaders usually have a specific role. Or even if some leaders’ “specific role” is “Do whatever’s needed,” they still have an assignment.

So here’s the weird question of the day: Have your student leaders ever met their “counterparts” in other college ministries on campus?

In the working world, professional associations allow for collaboration and skill-improvement. When doctors or engineers or teachers connect, everybody’s better for it (or at least that’s the hope).

I’m not suggesting you start a professional organization for student leaders (although if you’re in a position of regional or national leadership, you definitely should consider this!). I’m suggesting you connect with the RUF guys or the BCM folks or that church college ministry, and bring college ministry student leaders together. If you bring all student leaders together, that’s a win; if you bring “like” leaders together with their counterparts – small group leaders with small group leaders, sports ministry team leaders with other sports ministry team leaders, and so on – then it might be even better.

Summer’s a great time to work out this “scheme,” even if you don’t actually attempt it before October.

College ministry is an ideal time to work on biblical conflict resolution. Like so many areas of growth, this is one that can be worked on well in an environment where people have more autonomy than they did in high school but are still “learning the ropes” on young adulthood (and often realize they are).

And I don’t think anyone would say this isn’t a vital life skill.

Even if all the above is true, though, I don’t know that “conflict resolution” makes it into the teaching rotation within college ministries all that often. If I’m right, then that’s a shame.

So by way of reminder and with a little “curation,” here are some paragraphs from a few brief posts to encourage you to think about this more.

Conflict resolution is something I wish I’d learned on campus:

“Leaning into conflict” is one of the pillars of how my present church talks about this, and that principle alone would have helped me at a few key junctures in my life since college. So would have great examples – from college ministers or other mentors – of how they had successfully navigated conflict in their own relationships. (Read more)

You can package the discussion in various ways:

Maybe this is weekly meeting fodder, maybe not. An “elective” offered at a separate time might work better for you – and might be a chance to draw from the rest of campus. Or maybe small groups could cover a lot of ground here in just a few weeks (or less). (Read more)

Here’s another argument for teaching conflict skills:

Are you giving your students the tools and wisdom they need to face the conflicts they will face during the next 2, 10, or 50 years? They will face relational conflicts, and many who are now friends as students won’t be friends in ten years because they haven’t learned these skills. (Read more)

…and students have an opportunity this summer:

So what if you pushed them to clean the slate over the summer? To think back either to mutual conflict or to ways they may have sinned against people – roommates, friends, classmates, family members, even professors? (Read more)

This Fridea was first posted way back, but it’s the perfect way to start the summer.

Some of your students – most of them, I’d imagine – will have more discretionary time this summer than they usually do. That might not apply to those spending time abroad, those working at a camp or other ministry, or those in a hard-core internship.

But surely you’ve got some students simply going home, or working a casual summer job, or taking a few classes here and there.

For that more time-blessed crew, the hope – as their college minister – is that they’d spend that time intentionally and productively, right? And that’s where this week’s Fridea comes in, even if it only applies to a handful of your students:

Call students to undertake a specific “personal growth project” this summer.

Right now, it’s likely even your most spiritually mature students have only a hazy plan for growing this summer. What if you urged them make it concrete ASAP, and to get started ASAP? And if you have time, what if you or your staff members even offered to provide accountability and coaching this summer? This “growth adventure” could include a wide variety of things like:

  • Reading a certain number of books (maybe on one particular topic the student hopes to grow in)
  • Deeply studying a book of the Bible
  • Purposely working through better understanding their strengths, gifts, and personality
  • (Re)connecting with old friends to share the Gospel
  • Discipling someone (like a kid at their home church)
  • Learning and practicing the spiritual disciplines
  • …and whatever else, through prayer, a student can come up with.

Can you imagine the impact on students and on your ministry, even if only a handful of students diligently did this? And really, wouldn’t it be pretty fun to check in on students who are actually doing this thing? And wouldn’t they have some great testimonies when they came back?

Have you ever considered recruiting a leader for a specific need in your college ministry?

Sure, if you have ministry teams and not only small group leaders, you probably open some narrowly defined leadership opportunities once a year or so. But what about a very specific need that arises mid-year?

Let’s say, for example, you’ve realized that the number of international students on your campus is increasing every year. What’s more, the administration has shared that they’re ramping up their efforts to draw students from other countries and expect the increase to accelerate. What would your college ministry’s response be?

One option: Recruit a few student leaders to lead an International Students team, right now, and let those leaders (and teammates) loose to welcome, serve, and build relationships with international students.

Of course, a first effort would come among your present students, sharing with them the opportunity and asking (1) who might want to serve on such a team, and (2) who might want to lead that team. But there’s more you could do to recruit.

Maybe there’s a current international student – who’s a believer – who would help in this regard? Could you find out? Or could you advertise on campus for this particular role, especially among clubs or apartment complexes or events where international students, students who love international things, or other niches abound? Don’t forget, there are plenty of strong believers on your campus who simply haven’t joined a full-fledged campus ministry.

(Remember, this international student effort is just an example – you might be looking for any sort of specific leader.)

Wilder still: What if you actually went outside your own collegiate ministry to recruit a leader for this particular spot? I know that’s unusual. But there may be a mature student, already primed to serve international students (perhaps already serving them in some capacity) who just hasn’t found their way to your college ministry. They might be well-known to their church in town. Perhaps they’re even involved in another college ministry. And yet the fit – this particular leadership role – might in fact be God’s best next step for them.

It’s crazy – for most college ministers, at least – to think about putting the word out among their fellow Christian leaders, sharing that they’re looking for a few student leaders that might currently be in their ministries. And it’s crazy to think that someone might help in this regard, offering to share your need with a leadership-caliber student currently in their ministry.

But this is what Kingdom-minded campus missions looks like. Deep down, I hope you’d be willing to share a particular need with a particular student, even if that need took them away from your ministry, because your own ministry didn’t offer the same opportunity.

So if there’s a need that has arisen, consider recruiting for that need. And if you see a place one of your students could find their best possible “fit” – whether it’s a campus role, a job in town, a different church, or a different college ministry – be willing to shepherd students in that way.

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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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