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.

I remember a summer during college when I consistently looked forward to being back on campus, and back attending a big on-campus college ministry I’d enjoyed.

How can you inspire that feeling in your students?

If you’re not interested in inspiring your students to look forward to the fall – and to return to your campus ministry – than you may have gotten too comfortable, too unfocused on practical concern for students, or a little of both?

Maybe that’s harsh – though worth considering – and the point is that all college ministers of course have a great opportunity in giving students a heart-tug to remember the greatness of God’s work and look forward to much more when the summer ends.

Now’s the time!

Not a new post. But a vital idea.

Unlike many of the Frideas, my goal today isn’t to provide something new or “get you thinking.” It’s to remind you to do something you’ve likely already thought about. It’s normal, and it’s simple. But I’ve also realized how evasive this activity can be.

It’s the debrief. So I urge you, before the day is over, to schedule time for a debrief of the semester, quarter, or school year.

An intentional time with intentional questions and honest answers is one of the most powerful ways for you to improve your collegiate ministry. The 2018-2019 school year will be better because of it.

But that impact only happens if you do it.

And by the end of June, you won’t remember everything nearly as well as you did.

This is one of those posts where it will be impossible for me to provide enough examples, since I don’t know the particular context of your school. So I’m not going to put too much effort into that. If this is a useful notion to you – and I think it could be if you’ve got a few minutes to brainstorm – great! And if not, hopefully the next post will be more useful.

As a guy who’s paid to think about “mobilization” (which means “volunteer recruiting” a lot of the time), I’ve come to learn the value of “outside the box” efforts in helping move people to their best next step. Sure, a college ministry needs to place a lot of its energy into obvious wins like organizational fairs, big events, facilitating word-of-mouth, fliers in certain places, or whatever you’ve seen work for your college ministry. (You are tracking how students hear about you, right?)

Yet it’s worth holding some “chips” back to spend in experimental ventures, especially experiments with a lot of potential benefits and not a huge investment requirement. Who knows if dressing up an engaging student in a cow costume might draw more people to your kick-off event? Who knows if fliers in an apartment complex – instead of just the dorms – might work? Who knows if a parent-oriented booth during New Student Orientation could pay off? Who knows if sometimes advertising only one part of your ministry – instead of the whole thing – might bring a bunch of students interested in that niche? Who knows if advertising in a venue outside of your denomination or organization might expose you to students/parents/leaders who otherwise would overlook you completely?

And it’s even better when an effort could reveal a type of advertising that might work for the future. Maybe the costume thing only works okay, but you realize having people out-and-about (perhaps in T-shirts next time?) seems valuable. And so on.

The point is: Could you give a little thinking time to advertising outside of your normal venues? What might you learn… and who might actually respond?

You’ll want to read yesterday’s post to get the full context for this, but how can you “produce” students who will influence and impact well as post-college young adults? Here are eight examples of ways students need to be ready to have a ministry in their next church – some specific, some pretty broad.

(And no, this isn’t exhaustive by any means. But it should get you started with your own brainstorming!)

1. Know How to Serve on a Team

If students can’t function well alongside others – when they’re personally not in charge – there will be a lot of potential volunteer opportunities they just won’t be a fit for.

2. Know How to Lead a Discussion

Plenty of young adults are drawn to lead with youth ministry, where small group leadership ability is vital. But that’s true for several areas of the local church. Can your students lead a discussion?

3. Worship Leaders Who Shepherd

Helping talented musicians learn that Worship Leadership involves shepherding is a huge opportunity for any college ministry. Will your graduating musicians provide a shepherding boost if they’re afforded worship-leading opportunities at a church?

4. Can Interpret the Bible Faithfully

You may not have called it “hermeneutics,” but faithful biblical interpretation should be familiar to every college ministry student by the time they’re graduating. The Church needs – and local churches need – those folks.

5. Respect for the Church

If they’re not willing to submit to, honor, and love the local church, they’ve lost even before they’ve played.

6. Patience in the Proving

Sure, churches can be ridiculously slow when having potential leaders “prove themselves.” But today’s students are more likely to get frustrated they’re not used immediately. Are your students ready to be patient, do good, and dwell in the land for a bit? (See Psalm 37)

7. Knowing Themselves (Enough)

Yes, students will continue to learn themselves, their strengths, and their weaknesses throughout their young adult years. But if they haven’t started on that journey, then they’re going to have a hard time expressing to a church just how they can be used… or they’ll waste everyone’s time trying to “be used” in areas they’re not strong in.

8. Focused

Hopefully by the time they’ve graduated, each of your campus ministry students has learned the value of going deep rather than wide. In other words, they shouldn’t be over-committed but should be making a big impact in one or two key things (at least that’s the hope, right?). They’ll need this skill when they find themselves in a new ministry environment – especially if that church is a big one.

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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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