inclusion vs. wisdom

Here’s a challenge as you begin a new school year (and it’s on my mind after the long preparation for my recent Ethiopia trip)…

Be careful not to let your desire to involve students trump the wisdom it takes to build great experiences, great teams, and a great ministry.

Clearly, it’s good to be inclusive to the hilt when it comes to involving students in our ministry as a whole. But that doesn’t mean that every student is right for every activity or role. Here are some places the temptation I mentioned will arise:

1. Building teams. For the Ethiopia trip, it was vital that leaders guard the team dynamic; a bad choice or two could have really affected the entire mission. Even on more “casual” teams, inclusiveness needs to be balanced with an eye toward building good teams.

2. Choosing student leaders. College ministers differ on whether “potential” or “proven maturity” should be the focus when choosing leaders. Personally, I lean toward the latter – I think passages like James 3:1 and those detailing qualifications for church leaders seem to indicate leadership is reserved for those who have been “faithful in a few things” already.

3. Using freshmen. Here’s another place a wise balance is needed. It’s tempting to “lay hands too early” when it comes to freshmen and the roles we give them – before they’re ready, and/or before they’ve shown us how they fit best.

4. Advice / input. I love surveys and other ways to glean thoughts from as many students as possible. But I’ve been around ministers who seem to treat all input equally… and they let one or a few opinionated students (or even just students who happen to be at the right place at the right time) impact their decision-making too much. It’s okay – not just okay, but best – to “triage” those we listen to. Some students simply have more wisdom, and others have a better read on the pulse of their peers or their campus. Shouldn’t we listen to them more?

5. Bonus: Adult volunteers. While it doesn’t fit the original idea, this is an important area to mention. Not all of us receive a lot of requests from adults to jump in, but we have to be wise about them, too. This can be tricky, especially in a church-based context, or when the adult volunteering is a fellow faculty member at our Christian college. But our primary concern is the health and excellence of our ministry, so we need to weigh who we need to involve (and how we involve them).

None of this is to say we shouldn’t try to fit students (or adults) into our ministry, even if they don’t initially seem like a “fit.” There’s a huge counterpoint to all this. But it’s important for us to weigh this question, and beware the temptation to too quickly involve people in ways that won’t work out long-term.

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