This “leadership nuggets” series looks briefly at powerful basics I learned in my first year of campus ministry. Hopefully it’s useful for you OR your student leaders / adult volunteers as a new school year begins (for most of us).
I’m extremely analytical, so I personally really enjoy diving into, discussing, and even debating the finer points of a Scripture text or even just a book. (Remember, my Master’s thesis was 100+ pages on half a verse.) But during my first year of college ministry, I realized that this wasn’t always the best path for teaching students. We had limited time to meet together. And limited attention. And there were a limited number of most important things our group needed to hear.
So it was good for us, as leaders, to determine what we believed our group most needed each week. Though there are always many things worthy of hearty discussion (especially when working through Scripture directly), we needed to pick what we would highlight MOST each week. So if we were looking at Galatians 5, for example, our main emphasis might be freedom (v. 1-11), it might be fruit (v. 22-23), or it could even just be a couple of those fruits. (Certainly, there might be some nights when working verse-by-verse evenly through the chapter was the best choice, too.)
I think I remember making sure we caught the flow of the chapter, even when our main focus was only a portion. But by narrowing our particular emphasis, we had the chance to spend time diving deeply together, with room to discuss and cross-reference and question and wrestle. This was better than simply trying to “make it through the material” and cover everything equally, or taking two hours for teaching time each week.
During that first year, “selective emphasis” was simply something we did, not something we thought about too much. As the years went on, though, I came to grasp this idea better and better. Still, there have been plenty of times when I didn’t whittle down my emphases enough. But from that very first year, I’ve at least kept in mind the fact that a group might sometimes need to process one big thing more than an hour’s worth of little ones.