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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!)

I thought I’d write this week about ways to prepare a college ministry’s student leaders for those about to walk on your campus or (especially) walk through the doors of your ministry. With some basic readings, discussions, or other resources, those student leaders can be much more prepared to welcome, connect with, and hopefully shepherd the diverse crowd that’s coming… as well as to avoid any unnecessary early debates before people get to know each other.

First thought: Help students understand the varying theological backgrounds of Christians who will try out your ministry.

It certainly seems more common for college ministries to position themselves as non-denominationally as they can… even when they do, in fact, come from a denominational heritage (or even a specific church). And I don’t mean they’re deceiving or baiting-and-switching; they simply don’t choose to wear those particular theological commitments on their sleeves, and they are happy to welcome students from other traditions. (Some do. But most don’t.)

And even truly non-denominational college ministries generally have theological commitments of some sort, in some stream of Christianity that differs from other streams. If your ministry is “a little more Charismatic” (or less), has a Calvinist bent (or bends the other way), focuses on building a diverse membership (or generally attracts certain types of students), focuses heavily on international missions (or doesn’t), etc. … then you too have some specific commitments.

But welcoming all-comers – and even deeply believing they can be shepherded well in your ministry – doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare well for the welcome. Good disciplers get to know their audience.

So how well will your student leaders interact with someone, say, who grew up in a Pentecostal church? A Fundamentalist Baptist one? A heavily Reformed upbringing? A Church of Christ, a very mainline upbringing, or a King James-Only spot? And how well will they interact with any of these people who bring up their own unique theological commitments, or hope to “vet” your ministry through this lens?

You may not need to set student leaders up for success on all of these types of people… or there may be several others you need to consider. You know who comes to your ministry (I hope). But it’s also not hard to prepare a number of FAQs or – even better for this purpose – Talking Points to help student leaders navigate those conversations – and any differences – well. (In fact, a few theologically-minded students could probably knock out this task for you!)

What happens at your campus during the summer?

Is it “business as usual,” albeit with a bit smaller attendance? While hundreds or thousands of students might indeed be taking classes this summer, even then there’s a good chance some irregular things are taking place, too – from summer camps to campus construction to offices moving to new initiatives getting underway. You’ve got new student orientations, high schoolers visiting with their parents, athletic team practices, and community events or even conferences taking place on a campus that usually doesn’t have room for them. And on and on.

So why bring this up? Two reasons:

  1. College ministers should know these things. If you’re not quite sure what’s taking place on your campus(es) this summer, then that’s an opportunity to get to know your campus better. At the very least, the missionaries to the campus tribes should be vaguely familiar with those tribes’ goings-on, even in “out of season” moments for your college ministry.
  2. You might find opportunities in these activities. Besides new student orientations, it’s easy for college ministers to overlook these particular chances to impact (and I’m not sure Orientation is always utilized, either). This is where brainstorming comes in – but fortunately you’re brainstorming from a list of events. “How could our college ministry connect with visiting high schoolers?,” you might ask. Or, “Could we serve our school somehow as they host cheerleading camps?”

Between ways to serve the school, ways to serve outsiders, and some chances to help future students think about joining a college ministry, you’ve got some pretty obvious possibilities. But you may also have the chance to learn about new campus initiatives, make new relationships with staff or faculty, or even share Christ with those on campus for one reason or another. Your students might staff the welcome desk for an incoming conference, bring snacks to the football team, move boxes for the Psychology Department as it changes offices, or sign up en masse as tour guides.

And on and on. And on and on. You get to brainstorm. But first you have to know what’s happening.

Who’s coming to your college ministry to ask for assistance?

Would campus officials, local churches, community non-profits, or anyone think of your ministry as a resource for volunteers, “owning” a special event, Help in a crisis or with a pop-up need, or other help?

Getting there requires relationships, availability, and a history of helpfulness. So the knocks on the door serve as a little bit of an assessment. While every context is different and you probably shouldn’t expect fifty asks a year (and I’m not suggesting you should say Yes to every ask either), a college ministry’s role in the campus community should lend itself to being a help.

I hope you’ve got students who participate in campus activities with a large part of their motivation to build relationships with nonbelievers, to influence the campus for the common good, or to see a segment influenced for Christ.

(Of course, there’s something to be said for participation with other motives, too. But if students are ONLY padding a resume, acting on ambition, or “just having fun,” then that’s not what you’re probably seeking.)

What if you helped them think about opportunities?

What if you examined the list of student organizations, got a list of student government positions, even talked to administration about places they could use student help? What if you publicized these potential roles with your students this summer, encouraging them to look at their present commitments and weigh whether they could intentionally do something else.

This may mean stepping away from something else. It may not. It may only be a thinking exercise, without a lot of active fruit (yet). Whatever the case, it’s a bold way to remind students that their time on campus is (1) limited and (2) a huge opportunity. Teach them to number their days… and give them great ideas for investing here and now.

Is there any niche on your campus where you’re known, simply because you’ve been present?

A college minister’s ministry of presence can successfully grow in common spaces, in student centers or dining halls or dorm lobbies.

But God has created you as more than just a minister, too. And it’s likely you have passions that you could feed while developing a very focused ministry of presence, too.

Could your ministry’s next great inroads come at the spot where your own enjoyments and the campus intersect?

What if you began watching soccer games regularly, while developing relationships with fans and athletes? Are you into art? I know there’s a whole artistic community on your campus that could get to know you through your recital attendance, gallery browsing, or other patronage. Maybe you’ll regularly attend guest seminars in the Business school. You could join a book club with Lit students. You could offer to help with Alternative Spring Break, volunteer caddy for the Golf Team, or help prepare Mock Trial teams. Or maybe you’ll even connect with the School of Religion in a participatory way, because, you know, it is your line of work.

But I’m just guessing. You know your passions (don’t you?). And it’s possible that connecting them with your campus – and building relationships through them – is something God has had in mind all along.

What if the next time you got together with other college ministers on your campus (or even just grabbed coffee or lunch with one other), you purposely limited yourselves to the discussion of ONE topic?

General questions/discussions can be great: “What’s new in your ministry?” “What are you seeing in students this year?” “Tell me about your biggest changes this year.” But if you really want to improve in an area that two (or more) college ministers share, spend some time digging deeper, not wider.

Thirty minutes chatting about How We Do Small Groups can be far more valuable than 3 minutes talking about 10 topics. Or go even “smaller”: Small Group Curriculum (What We Use and How We Choose). I recently watched a bunch of ministries go for an hour on Tracking Volunteers… not recruiting, but simply tracking and connecting with them.

By limiting the questions to, well, one, it forces everyone involved to think beyond their normal spiel, whatever’s top-of-mind, or the paragraph they wrote in the most recent supporter letter. And don’t worry about filling the time: New sub-topics produce new questions, producing new lines of inquiry and edifying rabbit-trails in turn.

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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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