undercover boss & mobilizing the talented

I freely admit that this idea could already be widely used by some campus ministry groups in the U.S.; in fact, if you use it, I’d love to hear nuts-and-bolts of how it’s done. In my explorations, I might have missed this one.

Still, I was pretty excited when this idea hit me a few weeks ago. Maybe it’ll help some ministries out there.

I really enjoyed the first season of “Undercover Boss.” But while there’s much to be gained from that show about management and service, one idea in particular seemed to pop up a lot.

Often the boss (while he was undercover) would stumble upon an employee who was extremely talented at his job – even though it might be a standard job that hundreds or thousands of employees do within the company. One guy, for example, was phenomenal at keeping a good attitude – and moving very fast – as he pulled items from the shelves of the warehouse in the middle of the night.

Another guy was an outstanding Duck Boat driver. Though he was generally rather serene, when the families came to ride the boat, he turned into a jolly, jovial, blow-everybody-away (including the boss) tour guide.

During the “big reveal” at the end of each show, the boss would often turn to such an employee and say something like this:

“We want to send you around the country to train other employees.”

Pretty simple – but perhaps shocking to those individuals. Because they were often simply naturally talented; their creativity or outlook or personality lent itself to being strong in some pretty menial tasks.

talented at the skills of college ministry

This got me thinking about how we train our student leaders in our ministries. And honestly, it might equally apply within regional or national organizations, regarding various college ministry staff members.

I’m not sure we recognize enough just how many areas of college ministry come down to some basic, specific skills. Speaking is an obvious skill-helped area – but designing an announcement sheet well involves serious skills, too. We may recognize that setting up the ministry’s web page requires specific talents and training… but do we recognize that the same is true for successfully leading a small group, disciplemaking, giving announcements, inviting people to an event, advertising, Facebook ministry, and setting up for events?

I could stop here, because that in itself is an important notion. But one reason we don’t realize that specific, basic skills are powerful is because we don’t realize they exist – until some student quietly, naturally, surprisingly shows incredible aptitude in greeting visitors or designing T-shirts.

And with that I wonder, could we make use of talented peers to actually teach the basic skills involved in college ministry?

my sister

From what I can tell, my sister seems to be a really good collegiate small group leader. I know she led a successful small group Bible study while a student, and she seemed to have another one recently in the church she’s involved in.

How often does an “Erin Hines” in your ministry get to formally teach or “show” her very specific – and perhaps very natural – skills to other small group leaders? Does she get to do it ASAP, or only if she happens to be chosen as a VIP Leader next year? Does she get to talk about icebreakers, getting dialogue started, handling tricky group members, good ideas for community-building, taking trips with a group, how to prepare for a meeting, how to work with a partner, and the tiny tricks she’s learned that made her all that more successful?

Or does each round of student leaders simply rely on what their leaders did before them, or perhaps on the same training that we’ve offered year after year?

We may teach skills from our own wisdom and the collective wisdom of others – and that’s good. But some of our students will be more naturally talented at certain tasks than we ever have been, even after all these years! It seems we could allow our students to learn from both perspectives.


I’m toying with the application of this, and wondering… How do you help someone share something they’re naturally talented at? Would it be worth actually sending students to other ministries to train their leaders, too? How could this apply with skilled college ministers within denominations and national orgs – beyond the “bigger skills” that are taught at conferences?

And do we even realize how many skills can be trained – and how many skills should be trained – within every single activity our college ministry does?

Written from Longmont, CO

Road Trip 14 recap, Day 4
yesterday: attended 2 churches, including some grad student and college ministry-related activities
today: visiting with college ministers from Flatirons Church, exploring CU, taking Mark to the airport, and ???


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