Not sure I can explain this one extremely well, but here’s an attempt.
If you lead a college ministry of a particular size (and I don’t think it takes too many students for this to be true), then there are likely students whose leadership potential is disproportionate to their relational connections within your ministry.
Student A’s Leadership Potential > How “Connected” Student A Is
“Student A” might be a freshman or transfer. They might be new to your college ministry for other reasons. They might have been really busy in the past, so they didn’t get involved as much as others. Maybe they’re just introverted. But for whatever reason, they’re simply not all that well-known – at least not by student leaders, staff, or anyone who would provide the “definitive reference” on a leadership application.
I believe this happens in churches all the time. College ministries – and this is fortunate – are a bit more of a “closed system” (usually), plus they tend to try really hard to encourage assimilation (which helps with this). But I would still argue that this is an ever-present possibility in, as I said, any campus ministry that’s bigger than a handful of students.
If that’s the case, what can be done about it?
Like it or not, some students are going to need a shortcut – not always a shortcut to becoming leaders, but certainly a shortcut to being known. If becoming better known reveals the character/chemistry/competence that would make a great leader, then they can get evaluated like anyone else. If a Sophomore transfers in to your school but spent a year being discipled in a fantastic college ministry across the state, does that Sophomore really need to “start over” as though they were freshmen? (And while we’re at it, does a freshman who’s been walking strongly with Christ for ten years have to stay in the shadows for a year or two before people are willing to invest in them?)
As I believe I’ve written before, there’s a balance here. It’s understandable that a student might need to hang out for a bit before you can corroborate their character/chemistry/competence. But if no one’s watching, then that corroboration isn’t happening. And that’s my point. Somewhere, somehow, the student who’s interested in leadership has to be able to shortcut (momentarily) any assumed “getting to know you process” to at least make it clear he or she wants to get involved. Once that’s made clear, they may simply return to general population… but now someone knows to keep an eye on them.
And in the hard cases (which happen often, and are probably one of the major reasons ministers don’t like offering a relational shortcut), a college minister or student leader has to tell a student they’re not ready to lead. But isn’t that the job of discipleship? If a student is frustrated they’re not known and don’t have chances to lead, wouldn’t it be better to work with them (even if some character-shaping or competence-building is called for) than to leave them withering, dithering, or complaining?