Last night, I heard a message about living opposite of the ways of the world. Always a good exhortation… and there are many ways we can apply that to college ministry practice, I’m sure.

One way that came to mind is something that I’ve been pondering for awhile now: the notion that running a college ministry according to my own natural personality simply won’t cut it. If my natural likes and dislikes, quirks and qualities, preferences and pet peeves drive my decisions, I’m likely to build a ministry in my own image. And while that may be cute and even impactful at times, it won’t be anything like it could be.

God apparently prefers to, on occasion, bring strengths out of our weaknesses, call us to be “all things to all people,” and lead us to tend to our sheep in stretching (even annoyingly so) ways. The world may shout to “just be ourselves,” but that’s found nowhere in Scripture. We have to live opposite of that. Apparently dying to myself – even to my natural personality when it’s needed – is vital for the Christian life. And that includes my shepherding of college students.

As we approach the new school year – and some may in fact have jumped in already! – this is a good place to “check ourselves before we wreck ourselves”… or our ministries. And sadly, “wrecking” in the shallows of personality-driven ministry probably won’t be as obvious as full-out ministry implosion. At least for awhile.

Some red flags that MIGHT indicate a college minister is leaning too hard on his or her own personality:

  • Most of our students are a lot like us
  • Most of our student leaders or “core” members are a lot like us
  • Most of our college ministry’s activities are things we personally enjoy (or would have enjoyed as students)
  • For many of our individual methods, we can’t trace our decisions to anything more specific or skilled than “it seemed like a great idea”
  • We rarely – if ever – organize ministry activities (events, teaching topics, and so on) that we personally don’t enjoy or that bore us
  • We rarely – if ever – let the advice of our staff, students (especially those unlike us), or leaders “trump” our own inclinations

Will new college ministries often draw people like the college ministers? Of course they will. But as we grow the ministry, we have the chance to diversify. Unless there’s a very specific, purposeful decision to draw a particular type of people, I’d argue that most healthy college ministries will diversify along personality lines. But we have to fight the tendency to default to, drift toward, or be driven by our own personalities as we grow our groups.

What other indicators might suggest a personality-driven ministry? Add to my list!


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  1. I’ve always wrestled with this. I do see ministries on our campus take on the personality of their leaders. I see it in myself too. When I am looking for leaders, I naturally gravitate toward those who are like me (gifts and personalities). I’ve been trying (with mild success) to value those who are different then me in those ways and ask them to join our leadership team.

    That said, when it comes to finding people who share the same vision/passion (not gifts and personality) it seems really natural to gather those who are like me. I wonder how much the vision and passions students have are connected to their gifts and personalities. Does that make sense?

  2. That’s definitely a good thought and question, Justin. I think there are plenty of times when students’ visions and passions are far too derived from their personalities. That’s part of having “zeal without wisdom” – they (and we) assume that because they get fired up about something obviously “good,” it must be the best thing to pursue – or even a “move of God.” Students aren’t hard to get excited – even (and especially) about really difficult, high-commitment things. But their natural tilts, while worth praying about and investigating, don’t necessarily imply God’s callings.

    It’s a tricky area, to be sure.

  3. Pingback: another 10 reads for assessing your college ministry « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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