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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?

The rhythm of collegiate ministry is an interesting thing – hardly comparable to any other form of ministry. Even youth ministry, which does have to account for the school year, tends to have a continuing flock during the summer – as well as a steadier roster (because of the influence of parents).

College ministry’s unique rhythm, among other things, carries with it natural deadlines – particularly that yearly one called The Start of School in August or September. Perhaps the second most dramatic deadline is in May. And don’t forget the “shepherding deadline” for each student before he or she graduates.

These deadlines (hopefully) work for you, not against you. You’re forced to prioritize and push when asking things like,

  • What improvements will we make for the upcoming school year?
  • Are our recruiting materials ready?
  • What are the most important themes to teach before summer?
  • How will I prepare them for summer?
  • How will I prepare them for life beyond college?
  • What leaders will serve with us in the new school year?

And on and on.

I know these deadlines can feel like a scourge sometimes. But their presence forces, as I said, prioritization. And prayer. And practicality. And all those things are fantastic for moving along, improving year after year, “making the most of every opportunity,” “numbering our days.”

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. (3 Jn. 4 ESV)

As I write this blog, I’m listening to our 19-month-old play in the other room. It’s a joy to hear her busily poking and spinning the toys that are far higher-tech than mine were 35ish years ago.

I look forward to taking joy in her all her life. As I think is the case for many Christian parents, it gives me glimpses of how the Lord views us (and me!), how He takes joy in His children. But there’s another opportunity to reflect some part of that: in the joy we who shepherd get to take in our “children,” the various flocks/congregations/ministries/mentees God has given us some leadership in.

Until we forget to delight in them.

This post is an encouragement to make sure you’re spending enough time and/or emotional energy purely delighting in these college students God has allowed you to minister to. Go to recitals and games, talk with them about hobbies and dreams, watch them worship or teach. Enjoy them, smile to yourself about them, take the relational joys as part of the grand portion God has provided you in making you a college minister.

This coming school year, could you make more space – both in new calendar events and within the calendar events already in place – to delight in your college students?

An oldie but goodie – and there’s good room to do this in the summer if students are around.

When’s the last time you took a young collegiate couple on a double date with you and your wife?

That might seem like an awkward idea – and no doubt there would be some awkwardness – but I can’t think of a better way to call college students to date well… and marry well, too. (If you’ve got adult volunteers or want to recruit some – even just for this – that could be really great too.)

Whether you’re married or not, I hope college students get to hang out at your house on occasion. I hope they see you in your “work life,” too, even if that’s simply more college ministry work. I hope they rub shoulders with you in your other ministry habitats, too – like your church, your neighborhood, and your city.

Letting students into our lives is a chance to show them what they should aspire to – as adults (whatever our age happens to be), as spouses, as family men and family women, as employees, as church members. And even, right now, as really great dates.

I’ve posted this before but probably can’t say it enough.

Summer slows down for me a bit, so, for example, I might get the chance to press forward on the theory and strategy side of my ministry by reading a variety of books. I’ve attended heavy-duty conferences in summers past, or started working on something spring simply didn’t provide time for.

Crash-coursing can be a joy.

I don’t know what your summer looks like, but here’s one thing I can guess is true: There’s at least one portion of your college ministry which, if you improved during this summer, would truly (and forever) impact the ministry as a whole.

So the question is, can you take the time this summer to make that advance?

Could you take a few days, or an hour every day for a couple of weeks, or a weekend retreat, or some other “crash course” season to move the ball forward in that area? Sure, a crash course is not the only way to learn – maybe not even the best way. But it can work for certain topics – and even more importantly, it may actually be something you’ll actually do!

If you HAD to choose something to take a crash course on, what would it be?

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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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