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As a college minister, you’re probably creating something all the time. You plan a weekly message, you write a blog post, you craft emails to everyone. You write outlines for your leadership meeting, write curriculum, design discussion questions for small groups, or craft fundraising letters. Maybe you edit videos, post on social media, make newsletters for parents or supporters… or you’re even writing a book!

It’s possible you do none of this, but most college ministers create on a pretty regular basis.

And you’ve got an army of potential editors (your college students).

Not all students would be great at editing, of course – but “editing” doesn’t only mean carefully looking for grammar and spelling issues, either. The varying personalities and abilities in your campus ministry would actually work for you here, because you need different points of view for a phenomenal editing process.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you pull students into your process simply to help you make things better. (But they will help you make things way better!) I’m also saying it for their benefit: for their growth as leaders or potential leaders, to expose them to whatever you’re working on, even to honor them as your co-laborers.

You’re all in this little campus mission together. Why not let them partake in what you create?

Your student leaders would gain a lot by watching what you do all week. Even if you don’t have a special viewing room with a two-way mirror.

How often do you bring them along for what you’re doing? I’m talking about just about everything, like:

  • Planning a message
  • Spending time on campus / “ministry of presence”
  • Planning out the semester or summer
  • Budgeting
  • Chatting with other student leaders or ministry teams
  • Sharing your fundraising appeal
  • Discussing the ministry with your boss
  • Editing a video
  • Preparing announcements
  • Meeting with your staff or adult volunteers
  • Visiting another college minister (on your campus or otherwise)

Any more options? I’m sure there are. The point is, you’ve got the chance to bring students along for all of it. Sometimes – sure – you shouldn’t. But more often, you should be asking yourself, Why not?

I’m no expert on delegation, neither an expert in understanding nor experience. But I want to be better.

One thing I’ve learned is that quality delegation will nearly always hurt, at least for a while. If you’re only delegating to student leaders the very parts of your campus ministry that

  1. you hate doing
  2. the students will do the same as you would

…then you’re at the bottom rungs of the delegation ladder. That’s fine and all, and it’s good you’re saving yourself some time and energy and giving them “at bats” in execution.

But you’re training ministers (whether they’ll ever be paid for it or not). They need at-bats on strategy, on actual leadership, on decision-making, and even on delegation themselves. For your benefit and (perhaps even especially) their benefit, consider loosening the reins on areas students might do differently than you would. Assign them the chance to come up with strategy, then actually let them run that out. If it’s obviously terrible for reasons they don’t understand, fine, maybe redirect before it even gets off the ground.

But otherwise, you’ll have to face some anxiety while you wait for their strategy to play out.

The same is true for delegating leadership, delegating speaking, delegating ministry functions (like setting up for Large Group Meeting or making a video), and so on. If it doesn’t hurt you to delegate, you’re probably not delegating enough.

How would you know?

The truth is, even your college students probably haven’t had enough exposure to “bosses” – and certainly not ministry leaders – to know whether you’re a good one or a lousy one. It’s scary: You could honestly be pretty bad and still gain quite a following (and see lots of fruit in your campus ministry), especially because of the age group you’re serving. They’ll follow lots of different kinds of people, including bad ministry leaders. (Like I said – scary!)

But you can change your ignorance of your current excellence fairly easily. Not by asking, “Am I a good boss,” but by breaking down “good boss-ness” into components and asking for student leaders to talk about those elements. Do you listen well when students express issues in their ministry arena? Do you treat various leaders without partiality? Are you open to new ideas? Are you open to critiques, confrontations, pushback?

Even questions that don’t seem personal can shed light here: “What do you believe our mission is?” “How overwhelmed do you feel by your role?” “Are your strengths being used regularly?” These indicate something about your leadership, but students may be more likely to answer really honestly here.

And a few objective questions can help, too: How often do students share new ideas – or even critiques? (If it’s rare, something might be wrong.) How often do students share about their personal lives? (If they don’t, why not?)

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list. There are leadership tools and Google searches for “good boss” and other ideas that can move you down the path here. But now would be a great time to find out, because it’s always a great time to get better.

Yesterday’s post provides an example of what so many shepherds – of all kinds – can miss. There’s great value in caring about the flock’s everyday sort of needs, the small trials and small blessings that pop up throughout a life. If shepherds are only really interested in “making great strides” – fighting particularly onerous (or scandalous) sins, getting a grip on spiritual disciplines, witnessing to non-believers, etc. – then they’ve revealed a disproportionate interest in these things (versus loving the people).

When I say “shepherds of all kinds,” I do mean college ministers, but I also mean student leaders (and adult volunteers if you have them). It may even be these leaders who are slower to recognize the glories of “daily bread” care for people, the great beauty in providing sheep with the “everyday feed.”

If helping students in their “underwater weeks” (for instance) just doesn’t really seem… like it makes the priority list?, then maybe your student leaders (or you yourself) need to be reminded of the greatness of simple care and simple love and weeping/rejoicing with those who do the same. So help them see it!

When you confront student leaders, how often do you push them on behavior, and how often do you push them on character?

That question immediately suggests a few tangents…

  • Do you intentionally and diligently seek to shape your student leaders? I hope so.
  • How often do you confront student leaders about sin? This should probably be a pretty regular occurrence, depending on your numbers.
  • Are you more likely to confront about a specific behavior than to point out patterns? That’s the point of my question above.

Certainly, confronting sin often means saying only, “I noticed you did this action.” It’s about a behavior. It’s straightforward and simple. And the person can deal with the Lord on any deeper issues connected to that behavior.

But I wonder if sometimes ministers are tempted to stop there. Maybe that’s a personality thing; it’s certainly possible that some people prefer never to point out individual behaviors, only “lowering the boom” when a pattern is suspected. That’s not a great balance, either.

But some shepherds only point out individual behaviors, never quite willing to discuss the patterns and the character flaws they’ve noticed while working with this person. Yet it’s there, in the underneath, in the heart, that God’s greater concern lies. These students’ opportunity for abundant life, future ministry, great marriages, life-giving friendships, raising up a next generation, and God-glorification all hinge on what’s inside.

Are you confronting enough about the inside?

It’s a post from the past, but it’s a little bit of a zinger…

Here’s the question for today: Are you an expert on your own campus ministry?

It might seem easy, if you’ve been there more than a few years, to answer a quick Yes. Or it’s easy to think “expertise” equals “full understanding” and offer a humble No. But in both cases, the question I’m asking is meant to be more subtle. So let me ask it another way:

Have you spent SO much time thinking, praying about, and discussing your ministry that you can clearly express the what (activities), but also with the how and the why? In light of all the other college ministries, can you chat about your ministry in ways that differentiate it from other philosophies of college ministry and other methodologies that might exist? Can you catalog the “aha moments,” turning points, and specific strategy choices you’ve made along the way?

If there was a conference about “Campus Ministry at Your Particular Campus,” would you be qualified as a 2-hour seminar speaker on your particular model of ministry?

It’s funny to realize that plenty of college ministers would struggle to discuss their ministry among their peers for two full hours, or create a PowerPoint presentation that outlines its development. But our field needs lots of workers who become true “experts” in what they’re doing. We aren’t unlike church planters or missionaries, reaching “tribes” that have their own unique contexts and situations. And college ministers are always reaching newer generations that haven’t existed for all that long. The work should include lots of strategy development and time spent deep in prayer, with counsel-seeking and book-reading and conference-going and methodology-refining.

Your organizational or denominational leaders (if we have those) can’t do all this work for you. They may offer a backbone for your work, but they can’t put contextual flesh on those bones. You’ve got to be an expert.

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.

Through 2 or 3 different media recently, I’ve heard once again that leaders have to be willing to irk people.

Of course that’s true.

The leader will simply make decisions that bother somebody.

There’s a danger for college ministers to put a finger to the wind a bit too much, or to let individual voices serve as rudders way too often.

And if it’s hard for college ministers to rightly balance collaboration and making difficult choices, how hard is it for college studentsIf you’ve got student leaders, this whole issue can’t be easy for them, and in both directions! For some, they couldn’t care less about others’ feelings. For others, they care far too much.

So how are you teaching about this balance? Are you evaluating your leaders in both directions? Are you evaluating your staff, and yourself?

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.

Is your college ministry already so planned for this semester that it will be nearly impossible to react to new opportunities in the new school year?

I was at a college ministry conference where I heard these two stories:

  • The first came from a college minister who responded to the opportunity of numerous Nepalese students coming to campus. She commented that that opportunity might not persist, but for the moment, they’ve chosen to pursue this niche-based effort.
  • The same college minister (I think) noted that she and her husband had also noticed that a local Christian camp drew lots of collegians to counsel youth during the summers. But very little disciplemaking seemed to be taking place. So their ministry has taken on these college students each summer.

Both of these are examples of taking advantage of surprising opportunities that arise. And here’s the scary truth: Your campus will very likely present new opportunities in the first months of the school year.

So we have to ask ourselves some scary questions. And we have to examine this week’s Fridea seriously: Leave room (mentally, verbally, even structurally) for addressing new opportunities that arise after the year starts.

Opportunity may come very subtly: An article in the school newspaper. A campus rule change that seems small but creates an opportunity. An incoming freshman class that is particularly… smart or rowdy or secular or interested in spiritual things. A “theme” God seems to be stirring on campus that would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. And hard to respond to, if you didn’t have any wiggle room.

Or the opportunity may come very un-subtly: A tragedy. Surprising changes within another college ministry. New campus leaders that dramatically affect things. A scandal.

The opportunity may even happen within your ministry: A student who returns having had an absolutely life-changing summer. Students with ideas you hadn’t considered (and that they hadn’t thought to message you back in July). Multiple guys and gals whom God has been speaking to separately, but in eerily similar ways. Far more students showing interest in your college ministry than you expected.

Is your campus ministry already SO defined, SO planned, and – especially – SO certain that you won’t see the opportunities that arise in the First Weeks?

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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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