I was a part of two quick college ministry discussions this past week that spoke to the same theme.

In the first, a college minister told me he’s had a surprising number of people approach him from his church. They want to know if there’s a way they can participate in the ministry next semester.

A few days later, I met someone who had asked his church’s college minister about getting involved in their work with students. I don’t know all the circumstances involved, but he basically heard back, “We don’t need the help right now.”

Both cases reminded me of one of the trickiest aspects of college ministry: figuring out how to use non-staff-member adults in our ministries. And while this certainly applies to church-based college ministries, it doesn’t – and shouldn’t – only apply there. Campus-based ministries should be thinking about using adults, too.

But finding volunteer spots for people who haven’t fully dedicated themselves to our kind of missionary work is often tricky. It’s certainly messy. And I’ve run into this question more than many others in my examinations of collegiate ministry.

So what are we to do? Well, it probably won’t be the same for every ministry. I can throw out some ideas for using volunteers, of course, and you could, too. But I think the biggest hope for answering this question lies in a thinking shift first: We have to allow for the possibility that those volunteering their help ARE a “nudge” from the Lord to use them.

I’m certainly not inferring that every person who wants to join your ministry should. We have to be wise, and the Bible’s clear on being slow to “ordain” others to lead.

But I think we sometimes swing too far the other way, too. We assume that the need, the position, the opportunity must be identified BEFORE we go a’hunting for a volunteer. But what if God sometimes brings us volunteers to point out a need? Or to provide for a need we don’t know is coming soon? Or for our ministry to be used in the volunteer’s life?

Should we use every adult who raises his or her hand? No. But should we take every “hand-raising” seriously, being open to God speaking through that circumstance, and being willing – if God should lead – to add volunteers even though we don’t see a perfect “fit” for them yet? Maybe.