I’ve been catching up on America’s Got Talent (it may or may not be on as I write this), and it reminds me of a few important realities for college ministry.

There’s a tricky balance – wherever ministry takes place – in handling the “talents” of those in our ministry. On the one hand, some ministries seem to err on the side of letting just anyone “take the stage” – leading others, running a small group, using skills those people believe they have – without much (or any) vetting, “proving,” or patience. On the other hand, many other ministries seem to require all attendees to spend months or years “just attending” or working their way through the same cookie-cutter funnel, despite the fact that these individuals may have many years of growth and ministry experience behind them (yes, even with some of our college students).

So what’s a ministry to do?

The “ideal process” likely looks a little different for every college ministry. And no, it doesn’t look like a “talent contest.” But using America’s Got Talent as the metaphor (and only a metaphor!), here are some thoughts:

  • Standing in a (long) line: It’s great to have a bit of a proving process, even when we only have students for a short time. A semester of servanthood and committed attendance isn’t asking too much from anybody.
  • Getting in front of the judges: It’s good to require something of students before they lead – an application process, a proving time, maybe even occasionally “references” from past experiences. And it’s good for a certain level – of skill and especially spiritual maturity – to be required, too.
  • An open casting call: But it’s also great to have some forum where “just anybody” can – at the very least – reveal how they would like to lead or serve. Even if someone’s a freshman, a recent transfer, or a senior about to graduate, how can students “become known” quickly enough to get them involved (if they are indeed ready and able)?
  • An inexact science makes for a better spectacle: America’s Got Talent isn’t American Idol; the former is a haven not simply for singers but for dancers, strongmen, magicians, musicians, comedians, and more. In the end, you might have to create “slots” because a leader steps forward – not simply force every leader to fit a preordained position.