I’ve written recently on the opportunity to learn this summer. Hopefully you’ve got college ministers, a conference, some books, and/or additional resources lined up to help your ministry skills deepen between now and August!

But as you do, a note: It’s generally much more valuable to learn tools and principles from other college ministers than it is to try to apply large-scale models or “rules” to your ministry.

I sat down last week with some national and local staff of a college ministry organization that works to strengthen college ministry practice nationwide. They told me they’ve recently been realizing that even though they strongly believe in their (pretty complex) model, they’re learning to offer the individual components of their model as various tools for college ministries to use.

Instead of focusing on the “machine” that they’ve seen work really well in one campus context, they’re trying to offer their philosophy as a “toolbox” – various components that can work together or separately, depending on what any other campus context most needs. From what I’ve known about this ministry, this is a dramatic shift (and a needed one). I hope they find success offering these various tools, because they’re useful – as long as each ministry can decide which ones it needs.

But this principle applies to ALL the ways we learn about college ministry. Far too often we look to duplicate another successful ministry’s effort (the “machine” or the “model”). We assume their organizational structure, their Large Group Meeting format, or their multiplication strategy must be the “trick” to growing big or impacting well.

Instead, we should be more interested in discerning the factors of that model – from larger methods to subtle nuances – that could make a difference in our own context. Collegiate ministry is far too contextual to find our best possible impact by copying “machines” place-to-place. But each ministry has a “toolbox” to offer, and many times you can find the next tool you need by taking a peek inside the toolbox of another college ministry.