Often we – or at least I – get into a rut of aiming to inspire people to action without giving a good dose of practical how-to. Sometimes people need good examples – not so they can simply “check a box,” but to get their heads around exactly what obedience might look like.

For instance, I’d imagine it’s a goal of yours for students to be inspired to connect with their dormmates and apartment-mates. Right? It’s a ready-made mission field. And even if you (or others) have established great dorm Bible studies, etc., you still hope your students are intentionally growing their relationships organically, too.

If that’s the case, have you provided a roadmap? I know it’s easy to castigate people who don’t get to know the guys on their floor or the girls in the suite next door: “They must be radically self-absorbed or simply not interested in God-advancing conversations.” But some students – many students – might have a mix of a little real fear with a big lack of vision for how such an action might look, or how it might be accomplished. Whether it’s because they’re introverts, went to Christian high school, or simply haven’t experienced a situation where they lived in tight quarters with hundreds of non-Christian classmates while balancing a surprising schoolwork-load (i.e. all your students), building relationships with dormmates may not come naturally or easily.

Here are some ways you might provide a roadmap (which, you might notice, could apply to any activity and not just building relationships):

  • Testimonies by students who have done this well
  • A very straightforward ideas list
  • A combo of the two above – a list of ways their fellow students have actually connected well in their dorms/apartments
  • A challenge to do one thing (or one thing out of a few choices) in the next week
  • Accountability (once you’ve made this otherwise very practical and shared the biblical why)

Like I said, this is coming from someone who doesn’t it find it easy to think about discipleship this way. But I’m getting better.

For each “big pillar” of a college ministry, like evangelism or justice or Bible study or “life together,” a roadmap that gently shares expectations while providing concrete ideas accomplishes the “lifting a finger” of obedience-assistance we’re called to do.

An oldie but goodie, updated and important to ponder…

Since first exploring college ministries, I’ve discussed the role (and value) of complementary college ministries, and I covered those unique efforts in Reaching the Campus Tribes, too. My hope is that eventually all the individuals aspiring to “do college ministry” or to plant a ministry for a specific organization (such as Cru, the Southern Baptists, Chi Alpha, or the church starting a college ministry) would consider the complementary route as a real possibility that can achieve amazing results.

In case you’re unfamiliar, here’s how I describe complementary college ministry in the book:

Some college ministry efforts will best help reach campuses by approaching those mission fields with an eye toward complementing. In fact, a fully complementary college ministry may focus on only one area of students’ discipleship, allowing for specialized impact in an important area. Other ministries may not limit their work to this extent, but complementing may still be a key component of their structures and activities. – Reaching the Campus Tribes, page 115

(You can see more there on pages 115-116.)

But here’s something to consider: If you’re already at the helm of a large, “classic” college ministry, how do you feel about a new ministry coming to town? Wouldn’t it sometimes be preferable for a new ministry to get set up in this way – complementary – especially if there are already several healthy, impactful college ministries on your campus? Why simply recreate what everybody else is doing?

So the question for the launcher (whether an individual college minister or a supporting organization) whether you’ve considered complementary college ministry.

But here’s the question for those with established ministries: How good are you at allowing our own work to be “complemented”? Would you be okay with some of your students learning top-level leadership – if it was taught really well – from somebody else? What if your students were being discipled by a local church elder (instead of by your fellow staff members)? Can you see the value in a “paraministry” with specific expertise in training students for young adult life after college? Or a Christian fraternity that raises up Christian men in a way that complements their involvement and leadership in your ministry?

It’s not that I believe that every possible complementary college ministry effort is needed. Not at all. But I’m a big fan of the approach itself, and I hope you’ll consider being a fan, too. But for this to work, it will require current, more “traditional” campus ministries having a Kingdom mindset, a shepherd’s heart, a missional approach, and an openness to what God wants to do through other works.

Here’s a question for you:

If someone new visits your college ministry this week, how likely are they to become regulars? Are they more or less likely than if they’d visited last September? That assessment is this week’s Fridea!

There are plenty of variables here, but it might be useful to think about each one: Is this theoretical visitor a freshman, or older? Did they come with a friend, or not? These two variables alone greatly affect their likelihood of returning. (And I’m sure you can run this scenario with a few other variables, too.)

And the question this week is how likely those students are to keep coming.

In some college ministries, nearly everything is set up for success at the beginning of the year: lots of explanation, easy entry into next steps (like small groups), student leaders and others whose hospitality efforts are turned up to 11, even a system for contacting visitors ASAP. Fliers are abundant, excitement is abundant, directions are abundant.

In others, I’d imagine, it’s far easier to get well-connected later: easier to feel like you know the leadership, less confusing and hubbub-filled, easier to find answers to questions, less likelihood of falling through the cracks – like slipping out un-greeted, and so on. Ten on-their-game leaders for every visitor might just make connections and hospitality inevitable.

Ultimately, you’re looking for ways to make the whole year visitor-welcoming, and you can learn from the strengths of each season.

How well have you taught your students to think Christianly about “everyday” things, like the media they consume?

If you’ve got some students (as a result of your leading or otherwise) who are thoughtful about music, the latest Netflix series, movies, etc., could they take that thoughtfulness a step further by writing reviews for your ministry? (Or could you combo with other college ministries to produce this?) (Or could these reviews come in the form of videos, or within a special portion of your Large Group Meeting?) (And could these reviews ever impact the campus as a whole, through the student newspaper or via other means?)

The increasing options for “binge-worthy” shows on a variety of TV platforms has led to new prominence for this category, and (depending on your campus) this may be a primary media mode for your students. But anything from music (of course) to internet sites can be reviewed.

A “Christian review” of such subject matter can mean a lot of things. It certainly doesn’t only mean a “content review,” though Christian thoughtfulness has to brought to bear here. But getting students wrestling with not only what should be watched but also how to watch – including the deeper spiritual themes (whether pro-Christ or anti-) – is an enormous discipleship win. And if you have students whose callings – to the Arts or to Communications or to other relevant careers – make this a particular fitting task for them, then this is vocational discipleship they really shouldn’t miss during their time in your college ministry.

(If you need a place to start and good examples for your students, look at the work of Alissa Wilkinson.)

A few weeks ago, our fearless leader announced that we wouldn’t be having our normal weekly all-staff meeting. Instead, he encouraged us simply to spend that time with the Lord, in whatever way(s) worked best for us.

It was fantastic.

Have you ever considered doing something like that for your students, in lieu of a Large Group Meeting? Of course, you could still offer something for students who are freaked out by that idea, come for the first time, etc. You wouldn’t even have to announce it until everyone’s there. (You’ve got to watch out for bait-and-switch, so ponder this one. Maybe it’s even a half-evening or something.)

Another option would be offering this to Student Leaders. For even some of them, spending the normal hour or two just “with the Lord” would be intimidating. And that’s a teachable moment all of its own.

Our entire church staff has been asked to read Onward by Russell Moore, which we’ll be discussing at a staff meeting soon.

It’s something you could try too – an inversion on the normal book club – encouraging everybody to read a certain book, and offering a study (or a party?) to chat about it… for everyone who actually reads it.

You might be surprised at the mix of student leaders, brand new attendees, and those in-between who get drawn to something like this. (You’d have the same sort of fun nmix if you offered an elective “lunch chat” about culture issues or a book of the Bible, too.) And that’s a win – anytime you can gather collegians who aren’t normally running in the same circles, you’re deepening the community of your campus ministry.

And of course, you get students reading a great book.

Some of your students don’t have a “home church” because church wasn’t even on their minds before they came to college. But other students definitely do – with various levels of involvement in their histories – and will be back around this summer (again, with various levels of planned involvement).

This is one venue, though, where college ministers can train collegians in churchmanship – through the “lab” of church involvement during school breaks (and especially summertime). The same is true for those students who get an internship in an unfamiliar city, or who study abroad.

If students haven’t exercised their church-going (and sometimes church-finding) muscles in the midst of college, those muscles won’t be poised for use the day after graduation.

So how are you helping students practice, coach?

College ministry is one of the easiest platforms for teaching missional living – at least on a residential campus – because students have been pre-immersed in “life on life” with all sorts of people. And this takes place to a degree they’ll never see again – even apartment living has nothing on the missional opportunity of dorm living, class sitting, and college club participating.

And yet as college ministers teach this kind of living – and I hope you do – there’s a balance shouted at us from Psalm 1:1:

“Blessed is the man” who doesn’t play too deeply in the counsel/way/seat of wicked/sinners/scoffers.

How are you training students to be in this world but not “of this world”? Because training in missional living without training in the Lord’s law-leading (Psalm 1:2) is incomplete.

A simple but practical assessment of how discipleship is playing out in the “real world” for your students:

Is whatever discipleship students are undergoing in your college ministry making them the very best participants of any group projects they do? Or for those on Student Government teams, in other campus organizations, and the like – is their walk with Jesus translating into “favor and good repute” on those teams?

And is the level of cooperation – and the level of conflict – within your own ministry teams or leader pairings indicative of believers who have been soaked in the principles of Proverbs 3 or Philippians 2 or Romans 12 or…?

One day nearly all of your students will be known as “coworker” by somebody. And if a walk with the Lord doesn’t “translate” here, then how real is that supposed walk?

An oldie but a goodie, this time about energizing yourself, O college minister…

Here’s something great to ponder as your semester starts to even out, and it’s something I’m learning myself.

It’s valuable for you to determine the resources, activities, focuses, or particular conversations that especially energize you. What fuels you for the (many) other tasks of ministry?

For me, I’m particularly strengthened for my work by reading – books on business strategy or “operations” or even applicable social psychology 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 “enjoyable 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 to be energized this 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 invigorates me… and to take those vitamins when I can.

Again, for you that could be movies or particular conversations or a retreat to the mountains or a night of board games. It could be seeing how another ministry “does its thing” or prayer walking the campus or teaching a class to someone other than college students. I may be ministry-ish; it may not be. But it’s energizing for your ministry “day job.”

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 resources or reminders of those resources in your eye-line at work
  • Scheduling time to “take 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!

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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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