Our pastor’s preaching through Acts, and yesterday’s message centered on the front of Acts 6, when the Hellenistic widows complain about the distribution of the foodstuffs.

That issue, the decision by the apostles, and how they carried out that decision are all useful ministry notes. But it’s also important to note the complaint: “a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1 ESV). Even in the earliest versions of the Church, somebody felt short-changed, underserved, discriminated against.

I appreciate that the apostles didn’t take it lightly, shrug it off, or cry, “Negative interpretation!” In fact, they called a big ol’ meeting and did something about it (even though we never find out whether the perceived affront was, in fact, grounded in fact).

Leading to this question, for college ministers: Who in your ministry might be feeling underserved?

This isn’t as easy to answer as we’d like for it to be. Not only are those we’re discriminating against – or who feel discriminated against – very often unknown, some of those who do publicize this concern are clearly off-base via oversensitivity or, yes, negative interpretation.

But Christian leaders of all stripes often move too quickly to dismissal of such concerns. We should be willing at least to hear – and often to act – even in those cases where the affront is only “felt.” Let alone cases where someone really is overlooked!

In a college ministry of any size, it’s likely someone is feeling left-out, let-down, or belittled. Maybe it’s the introverts, those new to campus, those new to the ministry, the transfer students, those of a unique ethnicity, seniors who aren’t “fresh blood” or are soon to graduate, and on and on. Only you can know your ministry… but do you know your ministry in this way? Do you know who feels like those widows did? And what could/should/will you do about it?

Usually when we think of delegating to student leaders, we’re looking to delegate necessary tasks – the regular efforts of a college ministry.

But how often do you delegate  “goals” instead of methods, letting students run with a theme, to accomplish something the ministry needs, in whichever ways they think might work?

For instance, what if you told a student leader you feel community should grow among the guys in your group? What would that leader (or those leaders) come up with? A “Man Feast”? A video game night? A fishing trip? A project to serve the females in your ministry?

College ministers have to be training students not only in the skills of ministry, but also in loftier qualities: taking initiative, forming a plan, effective brainstorming, project management, and so on. By delegating goals – without attached methods – to the right leaders, you’ll be offering a second level of leader training. This doesn’t only have to come through raising up Ministry Teams (for a semester or year of such initiative-taking), but it can come in one-offs, too, as you raise up individuals who seem ready for this next level of leadership.

 

Yesterday I ran into a guy who I’d known out in Abilene, while I was doing college ministry in that unique West Texas town.

And as has happened several times before, he assumed we’d been in school together there at Hardin-Simmons University. (I’d actually graduated from Texas A&M.)

But like I said, that’s far from the first time. Why? Presumably because I spent numerous hours on campus.

I would go to campus when I had other things to work on. I would go to campus to meet with students, too. I spent many hours there, working or reading – but also open to the various students who would drop by. One booth in the student center even became known as my “office.”

I wrote earlier this week about college ministers not doing activities that they should be delegating. But with the time you have, I think you could do a lot worse than spending time on campus – even enough time that you’re mistaken for a student. This is a diligence, a discipline, a practice that may only show fruit after awhile. But it’s worth it.

But it puts you around students you might not meet otherwise. It gives your ministry’s students organic access to you. And – don’t underestimate the importance of this – it lets you get to know your mission field in a way only a “ministry of presence” really can.
So as you think about the school year ahead, go ahead – get mistaken for a student.

If a college minister can’t point to ways his or her context (the particular campus) has influenced the design of their college ministry, there are likely a few possibilities.

  1. That college minister is really new to their post.
  2. They haven’t gotten to know their context.
  3. They haven’t gotten to know other college ministry contexts, so they don’t realize their ministry has become unique.

To the first group, I’d encourage: I hope you haven’t started putting too much in place. I’m not a fan of planting a model before you know the field, just as farmers would tell us that field-knowledge comes before crop-planting. It’s far harder (and ruder) to plant a “successful model” and then try, over time, to tweak it back toward context.

To the second group, I’d exhort: You probably think you know your campus. So you probably don’t even think you’re in this group. But if you can’t identify pretty significant differences between your approach/methods/whatever and other college ministries in your organization/circles, then you’ve got work to do. Doesn’t mean you’re not bearing fruit or seeing God do awesome things. He does great things. But knowing who you’re trying to impact is part of caring about who you’re trying to impact (any parent can tell you that), and every campus (like every child) is too different to be treated the same as the next.

To the third group, I’d push: You may not realize you’re in this group, but I applaud you for creating a ministry, under the Lord, to fit a specific audience. But you will learn a lot by learning other college ministry contexts, even if they often make you simply realize that what you’ve chosen is good.

A few weeks into the semester is a great time to examine whether your level of equipping and delegation was top-notch, terrible, or somewhere in between.

I’m writing this assuming you’re the top college minister – or at least on staff – at a college ministry. Maybe your role is different, and you can definitely read accordingly! And the question is this: Did you end up doing a lot of things during the first weeks of school that students (theoretically) could have been equipped for? And what have you set up for the rest of the semester?

This includes even vital activities like discipling students. This might be controversial, but in my missionary/church-planting model of college ministry, I’d argue that most college ministers shouldn’t be filling the majority of their week with one-on-one discipleship of individual students, with a very potential caveat of discipling your student leaders. (But even then, if that’s filling a large percentage of your time, you’d want to add an additional discipleship layer ASAP.)

Yes, disciple-making is a huge win. No argument from me. But directed disciple-making, strategic disciple-making, effective disciple-making – those come when someone wise is spending time in the harvest fields doing more than the actual harvesting. They’re prayerfully thinking about new fields, for one, but also about making sure the harvesters are as effective as possible.

(This is dumbing down the role of the college minister, although plenty would fit into those two categories – considering opportunities and maintaining effectiveness.)

The same could be said for lots of roles that college ministers often tend to assume: Recruiting freshmen. Social media. Leading small groups. Developing messages, even, although I recognize many feel this needs to be their main focus (and other college ministers regularly speak only a handful of times a year, which would surprise the other group).

It’s actually really valuable when college ministers participate in all these areas on occasion, reminding themselves of all that’s learned “on the front lines.” But college ministers who are filling their time in delegate-able areas need a plan to move some of that to students – for the students’ sakes, as well as the ministry’s. The strategic ministry work, from exegeting your context to discipling top leaders to assessing the effectiveness of everything you can – these can and should take a larger share than I fear they often do. But you have the chance to equip others for the rest, leaving yourself room to do what only you can do.

If a student approached you asking for ways to “help out,” what would you tell them?

I realize you might not have a lot of students approaching you. But I’m also not sure you’ve have some great options for them. If you built a list, however, and then publicized it, you might find individual students or small groups are willing to fill needs they actually know about.

This list could include one or more of the following:

  • Helpful tasks for the college ministry itself
  • Ongoing service chances at local churches
  • Ongoing service chances at local non-profits
  • Places around campus where admin, staff, or faculty have said they have an ongoing need

You may not be thinking about student leader recruitment, but you can be. And not just for December or May, but even for right now.

These couple of “oldie-but-goodie” posts are perfect for this time of year.

The Frustrated but Gifted

I’m in the camp of those college ministers who believe we should vet our student leaders well. I don’t believe we should promote students to actual leadership (as opposed to service opportunities) based on potential success but on displayed character and commitment. Though I do believe skills can be on-the-job trained, I believe in a high bar for leadership in collegiate ministries.

That being said, I think there can be a variety of ways a student can show themselves ready to lead. And that doesn’t always require…

  • multiple semesters of involvement,
  • being a certain age, or
  • knowing the right people in the college ministry!

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?

How will you find them?

Finding the Willing

Here are a couple of ways to minimize frustrating those students and missing out on how they can impact our ministry.

An open call alongside personal requests. It’s tempting to raise up leaders only from students you know or whom your present student leaders know. And while referrals and hand-picking are effective ways to find new leaders, they can’t account for every gifted, mature student in your ministry.

So alongside that, I think it’s always important to provide some sort of open call – whether by offering an application, holding an interest meeting, establishing an explicit pipeline (“if you want to lead next semester, you need to come to this study for six weeks”), or spreading the word through your small groups. Yes, you’ll get some unqualified people applying – and some of the best discipleship college students can get is through the word No (especially with the conversation that follows). But you’ll also find out who wants to lead, and you’ll likely stumble upon some excellent candidates. (You’ll also run across people who shouldn’t lead now but are ready to be built up.)

Mid-year opportunities alongside annual ones. 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. (And I think there’s a pretty good argument to be made for staggering your leadership opportunities, raising up some positions each August and some each January… but that’s not for every ministry.)

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.

I keep harping on it, but it continues to be true: You won’t have another teachable moment – in the subject of politics, government, etc. – as strong as this one, with these college students. They’ll be gone by 2020.

That’s the point of my haranguing. Not that we need to be all politics all the time, but that we should take the teachable moments as they come.

But you know your own campus – maybe students aren’t talking about the election. Or maybe your students aren’t talking about it. (Although if the campus is abuzz but your own students are apathetic, that might be reason to talk about it all the more.) This is even the sort of thing that a well-planned campus-wide discussion could address; I’d be so excited to hear that numerous college ministries were holding “Does God Care about Elections?” events.

And one more thing: Can you imagine having future elections provide more topics than this one?

You’ve got a gold mine here. I urge you to mine it.

I’ve first unwrapped the notion of Asset-Based College Ministry in April of this year. The notion is about mobilizing our students – and our ministry as a whole – by starting with the question, “What do our students bring to the table?” It’s not the only way to determine how you’ll reach your campus – you can look for need too, of course – but it can be a great way (maybe even a better way) to decide what you’re going to do next.

On the other hand, the “asset-based” approach also works well for recruiting volunteers within your ministry. No matter the size of your college ministry, you’ve got a lot of talent. What if you brainstormed possibilities for delegation to students… starting your brainstorming not with what you’d like to delegate but with what students are really good at.

If you successfully sussed out your students skills and experience right now, at the beginning of the school year, it would present all sorts of opportunities for your ministry. The trick is figuring out how you’ll determine your students’ talents.

And then the second trick is to remain thoughtful about whether students should serve in areas they can serve. A student with killer writing skills still may not need to lead your ministry’s blog if they’re not following Jesus all that well. You’ve got to work through that.

But with those points in mind, it’s likely high time to tap into the glut of talent you’ve actually got.

While this applies differently if you’re a church-based college minister, it’s a Fridea for anybody. And it starts with a question:

What will you do to facilitate your new students finding a church this weekend?

You (as college minister) are (hopefully) plugged in to a church. Let’s presume your staff and student leaders are too.

That presents plenty of chances to invite students to tag along.

Or this can be as simple as providing – and highly publicizing – a list of churches you know are solid, with clear directions and times.

If you’re a church-based college minister, you can get the ball rolling on this too. Reach out to local college ministers and let them know how you’ll facilitate freshmen getting to know your church. Get together with other church-based ministers to organize a multi-week “tour.” Create a useful directory of churches. Something.

Whatever the case, claiming to be “pro-church” means (since you’re a shepherd) you’ve got to shepherd on this point, too.

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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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