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With Thanksgiving just two weeks from today, I thought I’d repost these notes on last-minute T-Day ministry…

College ministry rarely gets to jump into Christmas in the same way that churches do; even church-based college ministries don’t necessarily expect big crowds or much opportunity on (or near) December 25th.

But Thanksgiving is still a season college ministers have, even if most students won’t be around on the actual Thanksgiving Day (or the weekend that follows). What could you do for Thanksgiving, even if you haven’t planned something already?

  1. Last-minute service projects. Find out some ways to impact local ministries, and throw those ideas out to your students. Students often schedule last-minute anyway, so the fact that you haven’t brought it up may be no big deal… they may not even notice!
  2. Last-minute meals or other fun. Students who are in town during the Thanksgiving weekend would probably be especially blessed by being offered a chance to get together – they’re likely bummed they can’t be home with family (or want to get away from their family that’s in town). This includes international students! If you’re going to be around, consider inviting students into your home, or find a place (like a local church or somewhere on campus) where you could hold a meal/games/football-watching/etc. day.
  3. Point to other orgs’ planned opportunities. What are the local churches (including your own) doing? Does the campus have any official plans? Do any local organizations – even other college ministries – have plans for Thanksgiving week? (You might be surprised what you can find.) Service projects? Serving meals to others? Holding festive meals for church members (and possibly student visitors)?

One more tip: Talk to campus administration (including the office that looks after International Students). Not only might they have ideas, they’ll likely love the fact that you’re hoping to serve students during the weird week of Thanksgiving.

The husbands in my church small group meet weekly at Panera Bread, connecting with each other to chat about spiritual life, marriage, etc. But I’ve noticed we’re not alone… near our “chosen table” sits another group of men, who also seem to be engaged in biblical discussion of some sort or another.

So this week, I finally met them. Turns out they indeed attend another local church and are there at Panera for the same purposes we are.

I think they were a little surprised I approached them, which bums me out a little bit. (Why wouldn’t Christians want to connect with other believers?) But more importantly, the whole thing got me thinking about college ministry small groups.

While you may already think about “mixers” between your own college ministry’s small groups, what if you also decided to facilitate connections between your small groups and those of another campus ministry?

So often ministries strive for unity at the large-group level, but I’m pretty sure that’s often the least effective mechanism for unity. Smaller works better! On the one hand, college ministry leaders hanging out together and getting to know each other can be a HUGE win in this regard. And on the other end, at the grassroots level, I bet connecting small groups of your students with small groups of “theirs” might accomplish the same sort of semi-organic unity growth.

This was originally a Fridea awhile back, but since our church is hosting a Marriage Ministry Training right now, I thought it appropriate to repost…

I’ve recently been reminded of the roles marriage ministry – usually in its pre-marital form – can play in collegiate ministry.

One method – very accessible for most college ministers – could be absolutely revolutionary in certain students’ lives.

What if you pulled in “mentor couples,” Christian spouses specifically excited to hang out with seriously dating or engaged college students?

It’s easy to think of this only in terms of “premarital counseling,” and that could be one function here. But it could be much simpler than that, too. What if seriously dating couples simply had the chance to share a meal with an older married couple? You might be surprised by how quickly your students could jump at this chance.

And while we’re at it, let’s take this one step further: Could you ever offer something along these lines to your campus as a whole? What could that even mean?

I’ve spent the week at a “Big Data and the Church” gathering (which explains my blogging lack), and I heard lots of intriguing things.

It also made me realize that many college ministers have access to many thousands (or millions) of dollars worth of research on their mission fields – because their schools are paying for such research. Who’s doing that for churches?

There may be a variety of rules/strings attached to viewing the data your campus compiles. But there’s just as likely to be access that would surprise you – especially because schools seek student continuation… and participation in campus organizations is a key factor in that.

When’s the last time you at least asked? And what’s more important, when’s the last time you spent time with any data you do have access to – even if it’s on the school’s web site – and brainstormed what that could or might or should mean for your college ministry?

This isn’t about finding something profound or shocking. It’s about using data – whatever it is – to prompt discussion. If your campus has a number of Caribbean students, or Kinesiology majors, or junior college transfers, or National Merit Scholars… does that prompt your wheels to turn? At the very least, it’s a thinking exercise, and those can always lead to something.

How does your ministry (or how do you, as a spiritual leader on your campus) respond when “news breaks” about your school?

In light of the FBI investigation of some NCAA programs, it’s a good time to imagine how you might handle your own campus showing up in newspaper headlines. My fear is that college ministers, by and large, would automatically ignore the issue.

I’m certainly not suggesting every issue should be addressed. Sometimes it would even make a bad situation worse. But we’re called to stand up for justice, integrity, and other ideals at times, too.

So my problem is with the word “automatically.” My fear is that college ministers, by and large, would automatically ignore such issues, relegating them to the “not my problem” pile as a matter of course.

If college ministers don’t even give a thought to addressing larger campus issues (or larger societal issues, like the national anthem-kneeling issue), then they might miss a leadership moment. Sure, it can be tough to stand up to the athletic-industrial complex on campus, or to bring biblical wisdom in the midst of passionate support of various causes (and passionate arguments on opposing sides too). But it’s worth weighing whether God would have us make a response to each issue that arises, because once in awhile these moments might be your ministry’s designated leadership moment, too.

Long ago when I was attending Texas A&M, a meteorology student had constructed a simple – you might say “elegant” – little site to report that day’s weather on campus. You simply logged on to “weather.tamu.edu” – if I’m remembering correctly – and the cartoon stick figure would be wearing appropriate clothing for the day. Whether he wore a sweater, shorts, poncho, etc., you knew what you faced outside the doors of Aston Hall.

In one sense, that’s no big deal. (Although I hope the student counted their hits and visitors and included this web-venture on their resume.) But in another sense, that was a bigger contribution to the common good of the campus than 95% of A&M’s students made during their time.

All this backstory leads to today’s Fridea: Once a year, challenge your students to design a project or process that will benefit the campus. 

Can you imagine holding a yearly contest each October, then funding and deploying for tthe winning effort? (Maybe even Shark Tank style?) Or maybe an “innovation Saturday” ministry-wide, facilitated brainstorming session would culminate in a powerful idea. Maybe you’d organize a student team each fall to investigate what’s needed or scour the campus for great ideas.

Whatever the case, this is both discipleship and relationship: Teaching students to benefit the world they’re in, and offering yourselves to the campus as active, beneficial citizens. It doesn’t have to be HUGE; think about the random “Donated by the Class of” structures that adorn your campus. All those took was a good idea and a little organization.

What if?

This week, I’ll be posting (and occasionally updating) some solid ideas that you could pretty easily work on – or get students to work on – at this point in the semester. And if you’ve already done these things, I’d love to hear about it.

In my visit awhile back to Texas A&M Corpus Christi, I got the chance to chat with Clint Hill, the local Church of Christ college minister. One of the things he pointed out about their ministry is their effort to participate in a bunch of the activities organized by the Student Organizations and administration of the school.

Is the campus holding a dodge ball tournament? Then Christians in Action will field a team for that. Have they organized freshman move-in? Then CIA will be out there, serving. All. Day. Long.

And so on.

I’ve certainly heard other college ministers espouse this same “doctrine”: that there is great value in plugging in to what the campus as a whole is doing. Some of the whys:

  • Connections with the lost and other non-involved students
  • Participation as valuable members of the campus community
  • Endearing ourselves to the administration
  • Serving the campus by helping it thrive
  • Serving students tangibly in ways we might not imagine on our own
  • Recruitment to the ministry

So the Fridea, in a nutshell: Find out what the campus is already doing… and show up!

For some of you, this might be as easy as taking the Campus Events calendar and making its entries a major part of your calendar, too. For others, it might involve choosing 4-5 important events this semester and attending them as a group – and purposefully. Sometimes it might simply involve encouraging, pushing, and helping students to be present and active within their campus, and to know how to do that with Jesus-purposes in mind.

In any case, I’m not sure it’s best practice for our ministries to be “islands” within (but not really with) the larger collegiate community. And I’m happy to have been reminded of that fact by a guy who just happens to serve among the Islanders tribe at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

This week, I’ll be posting (and occasionally updating) some solid ideas that you could pretty easily work on – or get students to work on – at this point in the semester. And if you’ve already done these things, I’d love to hear about it.

I’ve visited Willow Creek Community Church a few times, and I found a little “study nook” tucked away in their large public space. It was stocked with some Bible commentaries and “Christian classics” for public use.

Have you ever considered curating a Christian “study library” for your students’ use?

On the one hand, offering some great Bible commentaries not only edifies students (including your small group leaders), but it would offer a great help for teachers’ teaching prep, too. Having a couple of great, accessible commentaries on each book of the Bible might be a great place to start. This wouldn’t be a scholar’s library, but you might want to go beyond simply having devotional commentaries, too. The new editions of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the Tyndale Old and New Testament Commentary, and the NIV Application Commentary would probably be where I’d start, since cost isn’t terribly prohibitive and the scholarship is good… without students needing to know biblical languages.

Meanwhile, collecting and curating a “spiritual classics” library offers visual recommendations of what students should read next. You’d probably need to loan some of these out – although if you’ve got a good space, maybe students would read the books on site.

So how do you build this thing?

If you’re a support-raising college minister, this seems like a no-brainer for a specific “special ask” – either a one-time request, or an ongoing line item allowing you to continue to build out the library for years and years. Even reaching out to current students or alumni – even if you don’t usually ask for gifts – might bring in some donations (or books).

(A well-constructed Amazon Wish List can be a beautiful thing.)

Another option is to “go in” with other college ministers, building something that can be used by students from any college ministry on campus. On a few campuses out there, this idea is wrapped up in a Christian Study Center of some sort (which is a fantastic approach). But all you need is space (and see below on that).

Of course, plenty of college ministers don’t have buildings available, or even if they do, they’re not readily accessible to most students on a regular basis. Never fear – there are a couple of options even if this is the case:

  • Work to ensure your school’s library has available, Evangelical commentaries. If they don’t, ask about getting some donated. Not only would that impact your students, it would be a cool way to be a great member of the campus community.
  • This may be one of the better ways Unity gets practical. If you don’t have a building but one college ministry does, is this something you could build together?

Surely there’s an introductory class you could slip into.

(I guess it depends on your campus.)

But what if you audited (officially or unofficially) a class this semester? What would it teach you (or remind you) about your mission field? How would it help you remember – and encourage – your students’ call to student-ness? And hey, if you picked well, what cool stuff might you learn?

I recognize that college ministers are awfully busy. And maybe it’s too late (this semester) to jump into a class anyway. But popping into class once in awhile – or all semester – really would make you a stronger missionary to the campus tribes.

(You could even solicit ideas from students about which class they’d love to see you take… or take with you.)

Just an idea. I hope you’re entering a semester of thinking outside the box – and deeply inside the campus.

If your student leaders have only gotten deeply involved in your college ministry, then how well do they actually understand your college ministry’s distinctives?

It’s like those adults who say, “When I was little, I thought every family drove to Nebraska every summer!” Your student leaders rarely have any context for describing your collegiate ministry in terms of its differences. They may not know how your programs are different, how you focus especially hard on one-on-one disciplemaking or small groups or interactive worship or whatever. They may not even realize where the theology runs in different streams from other ministries.

And one time knowing these distinctives really matters is when they’re connecting with new students who are checking out your ministry.

I’m not suggesting student leaders should constantly be pointing out comparisons with other ministries. They can highlight distinctives simply by saying, “These are the things our ministry especially focuses on” and leave it at that (most of the time). But it’s not wrong to point out differences, too, especially if they can do it in a way that celebrates other campus groups.

Knowing a campus ministry’s distinctives doesn’t just matter for basic “recruitment” purposes – although that’s useful. It also allows student leaders to help freshmen and other new students process this decision. They can actually disciple that person standing in front of them really well – if they have something to say about the factors that go into their decision.

This can all be done in a Kingdom-minded way, and far from being wrongly competitive can actually help students as they make this life-changing – yes, it’s potentially quite life-changing! – decision about the college ministry they’ll participate in.

(And by the way, if you lead a church-based college ministry, your leaders not only need to know the distinctives of your college ministry, but also the distinctives of your church!)

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Welcome to Exploring College Ministry

After ministering to college students for 8 years, I've spent the last 6 years trying to help push our whole field forward. This meant, among other things, a yearlong road trip, an e-book (Reaching the Campus Tribes), exploring 250+ campuses, consulting, writing, speaking, and more. I love any opportunity to serve college ministers or others who want to reach college students better. To learn more, explore the header links or the tools below.

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