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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?

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.

A recent project for work brought the opportunity to scour our body for a handful of talented individuals (in this case, who have analytics skills or experience), simply to ask for input on the project. It was awesome for me – and encouraging for them.

This is akin to the old disciplemaking standby of “taking them along with you” – bringing the person you’re discipling along as you teach, do meetings, etc. What if most of your college ministry’s planning and most of your decisions included students in the process? Even times you have a good guess about what you’ll end up deciding?

Whether by email reach-out or actually bringing students to the brainstorming session (or hosting a special student-only brainstorming session before your staff makes the final calls), it can all benefit the students. Of course, you might also pull some students in for the final call, or have student leaders who function pretty much as staff members anyway. But this idea involves looping in others who will be encouraged – and benefitted – by being looped in.

Of course, unless you’re super-arrogant, it’s likely to benefit your college ministry too (and not just the students). Because ideas can come from anywhere.

College ministers can hide.

It’s not hard. Unless you’re a campus-based college minister, few of your overseers actually understand what you do. If you’re a campus-based college minister, they’re still not on campus with you.

Your students don’t stick around for oh so long, and they’re in your inner circle (as student leaders or similarly) for an even shorter amount of time. So they may not really have time to recognize oyour leadership (or character) weaknesses, at least not enough to coherently confront you.

And the students who do pick up on those weaknesses… well, they’re students. They’re rarely mature enough, ready enough, and/or brave enough to exhort this guy or gal who leads this successful ministry. They’re much more likely just to move on, and no one will bat an eye. (That’s just what students do.)

If you’re a college minister, then, you’ve got to have perhaps the most radical mindset about seeking evaluation/confrontation/exhortation of any minister (although we might lump church planters and missionaries and “celebrity” teachers into that bucket too). Entrepreneurial ministers – and college ministers are certainly that! – need to be entrepreneurial about seeking radical feedback. This includes plopping yourself into intimate community that you “don’t have time for,” asking for blunt feedback from students who “don’t know me yet” and who may not say things well or very precisely, and probably finding another college minister (or other minister) who will ask lots of questions so they can, intelligently and wisely, point out some of your mess and your messiness.

Because you’re not the leader you could be. No one is. And while God can shape you directly as much as He wants, He seems to want to use people to do that, oftentimes. So where, exactly, could that happen in your schedule and your relationships right now?

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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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