college ministries, please recruit!

As I got ready to board the jet to return from the Urbana conference, I encountered a fellow Urbana attendee in the line. It turns out he had flown from Southern California mostly to visit the exhibits at the conference; he has an interest in pursuing foreign missions, and Urbana’s exhibit hall was chock-full of missions agencies. Not an unwise way for him to work through his decisions on the matter!

But now that his conference experience was over, this guy noted something fascinating about his time amongst the missions agencies. His verdict? He said he wished the missions agencies tried to recruit him more.

With SO many organizations to choose from, he really hoped for help in the decision-making process – including hearing arguments for each group. The way he put it was something like, “I wish they had helped me find out if they’re what I’m looking for.”

This guy was a missions-motivated individual – enough so that he had paid for a plane ticket just to visit missions agencies gathered halfway across the country! Even more than the average Urbana-attending student, this dude is likely to do what it takes to help deliver the gospel to a foreign country. A prime candidate for any of those agencies. But he wasn’t willing just to “stumble upon” some group that would take him through some process to get to some place. He (wisely) wanted to do the important work of discernment in such an important, life-altering matter. And, in his opinion, they didn’t step up to the plate.

Collegiate missions mobilizers do engage in one type of campus ministry, but so do the rest of us. Do we provide the information students need, to help them discover “if we’re what they’re looking for?” If I walked up to your recruitment booth or checked out your ministry’s web page, could I easily get to know your ministry? And would my view be accurate, helpful, and (ultimately) complete?

Second, does our recruitment process encourage students to make a conscientious decision about the ministry they join? Are we helping students become more like my airport friend – in all areas of their lives?

In a way, many college ministries might not be recruiting enough – not providing lots of info, not making the argument for why their ministry might be a great fit, not helping students see that this is a real decision, not giving them wisdom for making that decision well, not bringing our A-game (while begging God to maintain in us a pervasive Kingdom-mindedness).

While there can be occasions when a college ministry should avoid recruitment… in general… Please recruit!

For more on campus ministry recruitment as discipleship, the first of three posts can be found here.


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  1. Great post Benson. A topic I’ve been thinking about as I prepare my talk for Jubilee on considering college ministry as a vocation. I wonder if the guy you met was looking for a lightning bolt or something. From the ministry side, I’m sympathetic. Especially in a setting like Urbana–you don’t want to look desperate or over-eager, like on “The Office” when Dunder-Mifflin goes to the HS career fair.

    My experience with recruiting/hiring is limited to working with and supervising a handful of people. But what I’ve found is that the knowledge gap doesn’t usually lie with the candidate’s knowledge of the organization, but the candidate’s knowledge of THEMSELVES. Organizations have to be cautious. They just don’t know enough yet, and it’s rash and costly to charge ahead blindly.

    If I was working a booth at Urbana, initially meeting people would only be step #1 of who-knows-how-many. The dude you met wanted to get to know the ministries, but they also want to get to know him. Should they wine and dine him when they don’t know a thing about his character, his ministry experience, his calling, his giftedness, his life skills, his finances? It’s very costly to make bad hiring decisions. Even more than the corporate world, we need to be careful because our resources for recruiting, training, and development are limited.

    I sympathize with the guy who obviously has a heart to do missions and didn’t feel courted enough. But I also sympathize with the people working the booths (who are not always the decision-makers, anyway).

  2. Good words, though we might be using “recruitment” in different senses. I don’t mean recruiting to staff as much as recruiting to participation. In the case of those agencies, I agree they don’t need to recruit-unto-hiring but should be intentional about recruiting-unto-attention.

    It seemed like my friend, more than anything, just wanted DIFFERENTIATION. If those groups (and ours) do a good job sharing about our distinctives, we’ll help students fill in the knowledge gap you talked about. When they see how groups define themselves, it will cause them to reflect on their own “distinctives.”

  3. As an academic nearing the end of one career and looking forward to a ministry career, I can see both sides of this situation. In an increasingly competitive landscape for recruiting students or for students trying to find a job in a down economy, I have been an advocate for “branding” the educational experience via social media. Whether the provider or consumer of educational services, the brand can differentiate its holder in a competitive marketplace.

    As a Christian, I had been feeling conflicted about advocating branding because it seems to be about “self” rather than others. I was even more convicted:

    by a photo from my Urbana social media aggregation

    Steve’s comment reminds me that even students practice personal branding :

    and when they’re deliberate about it, they reveal a lot about where their heart is! So, for example, if someone blogs about a people group, we know they have a heart for that people group. That sounds like a great candidate for reaching that people group!

    At the beginning of this comment, I said I’m looking forward to a ministry career in which I hope to harness social media not only to help ministries to brand themselves, but also to use social media to identify a promising missions candidate who reveals “his character, his ministry experience, his calling, his giftedness, his life skills, his finances” in order to “get to know him.” I don’t know how many people are blogging (and tweeting) their passion for missions, but I certainly would like to TRY to find them in this cost-effective way!

    I could tell my own story from the point-of-view of a prospective missions candidate, but I’ll save that for a different forum such as my own blog.

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