now, pick a hill to climb

I wanted to revisit one of my favorite recent posts today, encouraging us to consider – strongly – spending time this school year building a stronger college ministry. My encouragement back in August, as it is now, is to pick at least one of the following “hills”… and climb it this semester.

Now that we’re past those invaluable first weeks of school (at least if your school is on the Semester system), I urge you to ponder these ideas.

How much better will your ministry be in November or March than it is in August?

Ministry improvement should be a year-round endeavor, not just something we tackle in the summer or at an occasional conference. In fact, many avenues for growth are only or primarily available when school’s in session. So hopefully you’re considering how you can move your ministry from a “7″ to a “8″ (or even from a “2″ to a “4″) well before next June.

As we stand at the base of a new semester, we have the choice to keep our ministries here for nine months… or to carry them toward new heights! So as you look at the possibilities for improving your college ministry, consider tackling at least one or two of these hills.

Strong small group leader training. Most small group leaders (students, adults, or even staff) aren’t naturally great small group leaders.

There are small-group-leadership skills (practical and spiritual) that can be taught, trained, tried, tested. While plenty of your leaders might be useful and impactful, if they’re untrained… they’re still untrained. Yet small groups are, for most college ministries, the “front lines” of discipling students – why leave this area underdeveloped?

Want to see your college ministry improve quickly? Significantly training your small group leaders might make the biggest difference of all.

Evaluating effectiveness (instead of impressions). If your big evaluation questions are “What went over well? What fell flat?,” then your effectiveness is suffering. (Even worse, of course, is not evaluating at all.)

The impressions we campus ministers take away from a big event, a message we deliver, or an entire semester aren’t of primary importance. Even less important are the impressions our students walk away with. OF COURSE impressions matter… but they simply don’t matter as much as overall effectiveness matters. Our biggest question for every activity has to be, “How well did we accomplish the purposes we planned around?” …which of course implies some things about how we planned in the first place!

Make this your primary assessment after every activity, and every aspect of your ministry will benefit.

Tailoring your ministry. If your decisions and activities aren’t particularly campus-specific, you’re not succeeding (or loving!) like you could be.

Another hill to consider climbing this Fall? More consciously tailoring your work to your specific campus. I’ve seen how different campuses are from each other, but college ministries don’t share nearly that level of variation. But just like with loving individuals, adapting our work to the campus will provide the best impact. You might even invent brand-new forms of ministry, after you notice the necessities and opportunities around you.

You have a unique mission field. Is yours a unique mission?

Learning your calling. If you’re not a learner, you’re not the college minister you should be.

Please notice that I didn’t say, “If you’re not a natural learner…” Not nearly all campus ministers have a personality bent toward regular learning. But if God has called us to college ministry, he’s called us to get better at college ministry – a field full of skills, aptitudes, areas of inquiry, and better methods to be explored.

So if you’re hoping to “up your ministry’s game,” it might have to start with… upping your game as a college minister. There are resources to learn from, and there are people to learn from. If you make it a priority, you can be a better college minister long before next summer.

Building barns. If your semesters aren’t building on each other, why expect a better ministry in the future?

The principle of Barn-building (taken from Tim Elmore’s Habitudes) teaches us that given two choices, we should choose to build our barn before we build our house… because the barn helps pay for the house! In our college ministries, we should be investing in a better future; though “Barn-building” may exist behind-the-scenes, it’s paving the way for greater impact.

This may mean training future leaders, choosing to teach on foundation-building topics, exploring support-raising avenues, spending months exploring a new ministry avenue, or building “quality” into your ministry before aiming for “quantity.” Even the four other ideas in this post have an aspect of Barn-building within them, too.

Barn-building isn’t as flashy or fun as our more obvious programs, but it makes all the difference for future semesters. So while Barn-building may not fit perfectly under “Ways to Improve Your Ministry for Fall 2011,” your College Ministry of Fall 2012 will thank you for attending to it now!

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