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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.

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.

We’re holding our big Church Leaders Conference this week. As a piece of that, tomorrow I’ll have the opportunity to tour some Outreach Pastors around town. But our goal isn’t to show them Dallas, because why would outsiders need to know Dallas? Our goals include using the tour as a platform to talk about our values in action, and also to provide them with a model so they can give their own tours back home.

Why bring this up?

Because it’s an easy assessment for college ministers: How well could you give a campus tour?

Or another is like it: Do you know your campus as thoroughly as a church planter knows his or her community?

That second question gets to the heart of the matter. Because it’s less important that you know the name of every single campus building, than that you know what the school’s top majors are, where its students come from (near and far), and what its leadership’s goals are.

These things are the stuff of good ministry planting, whether it’s in a city (as a church) or on a campus.

How great would your tour be?

Many college ministries have made overseas missions a priority. Whether by taking mission trips together, encouraging students to consider short-term or mid-term missions opportunities, or simply seeking to lift up students’ eyes to the (overseas) fields, international missions is a regular “push” for many college ministries.

So in light of yesterday’s themed reminder, I want to encourage some of that zeal to be channeled toward the campus tribes.

My wife and I are planning a vacation (to Hawaii, in fact), and as I often do, I looked for college ministries I might visit while we’re there.

And so far I’ve found… very little.

I’ll keep looking, but it reminded me that plenty of campuses remain largely “unreached” (from a missiological standpoint) – and in this case, that status may be applicable to an entire island or two. Hopefully I just haven’t found these ministries yet.

But my encouragement stands: Would you urge students to consider if God might call them to college campuses? “Unreached” campus tribes aren’t the point – though hopefully it’s part of the consideration. The point is recognizing that missionaries are needed all over the place, and that college campus offer one of the greatest opportunities for that very pursuit.

A very simple Fridea that I first shared eight years ago…

Share purposes with your students.

How often do you relate – explicitly – why certain things take place in your college ministry? Even weekly events or other very basic things? Have you ever shared, “This is why we have our Large Group Meeting,” or “Here’s specifically why we’re planning this retreat”?

Sharing what we hope to accomplish in a ministry – directly– might actually help those goals occur more readily. It also gives participants ownership and the opportunity to serve or lead to make sure those purposes are accomplished. And it holds us accountable, in front of everyone, to keeping our aim steady.

Sharing your purposes also might make your campus ministry more friendly to outsiders, who may legitimately wonder why you meet or why you sing or why you pray in groups or why you have crazy skits or why you play ultimate frisbee each Sunday afternoon. Some types of students will care more than others… but some, at least, will care. And whether they care or not, sharing purposes invites students inside, into the considerations of leadership.

What if every time you held a Large Group Meeting, you shared the purposes in a brief sentence or two (even on the screen)? Or what if for the next fellowship event, you (at least) shared the “method behind the madness” with your student leaders? How else could this methodology function in your ministry? Is it worth trying?

With college ministers, some of your purposes need to remain in your heads (but I hope they’re at least very clear there). But sometimes, student leaders should be privy to those details. And oftentimes, the whole group would benefit from knowing that yours is indeed a purpose-filled ministry, and that there are specific gains you hope to make in every step you take.

Last week I wrote a post about the kind of “boring data,” about your ministry’s students, that can be oh so valuable for shepherding the flock of God among you.

But another type of data is both more readily available and just as valuable to your college ministry: details about your mission field, the campus(es) you serve.

It’s already there. Someone on your campus (or possibly from outside your campus) has already been paid to learn all sorts of interesting things about the Crimson Tide tribe or Tarheel tribe or whatever tribe you serve. Hopefully this sort of data is something you made use of, just like a church planter, before you came to campus. But whether you did or didn’t, it’s something you’ll want to refresh yourself on regularly – and share with your staff, volunteers, and student leaders on a regular basis.

A once-a-year rhythm of reminder/reexamination seems like a good starting place here, especially since it’s relatively easy to find students who can help in this endeavor – and even some who would love poring over the data.

Few campus ministers would doubt they should know about their campus. This is one very practical – and much more objective that most – means of doing just that.

An oldie but goodie, updated and important to ponder…

Since first exploring college ministries, I’ve discussed the role (and value) of complementary college ministries, and I covered those unique efforts in Reaching the Campus Tribes, too. My hope is that eventually all the individuals aspiring to “do college ministry” or to plant a ministry for a specific organization (such as Cru, the Southern Baptists, Chi Alpha, or the church starting a college ministry) would consider the complementary route as a real possibility that can achieve amazing results.

In case you’re unfamiliar, here’s how I describe complementary college ministry in the book:

Some college ministry efforts will best help reach campuses by approaching those mission fields with an eye toward complementing. In fact, a fully complementary college ministry may focus on only one area of students’ discipleship, allowing for specialized impact in an important area. Other ministries may not limit their work to this extent, but complementing may still be a key component of their structures and activities. – Reaching the Campus Tribes, page 115

(You can see more there on pages 115-116.)

But here’s something to consider: If you’re already at the helm of a large, “classic” college ministry, how do you feel about a new ministry coming to town? Wouldn’t it sometimes be preferable for a new ministry to get set up in this way – complementary – especially if there are already several healthy, impactful college ministries on your campus? Why simply recreate what everybody else is doing?

So the question for the launcher (whether an individual college minister or a supporting organization) whether you’ve considered complementary college ministry.

But here’s the question for those with established ministries: How good are you at allowing our own work to be “complemented”? Would you be okay with some of your students learning top-level leadership – if it was taught really well – from somebody else? What if your students were being discipled by a local church elder (instead of by your fellow staff members)? Can you see the value in a “paraministry” with specific expertise in training students for young adult life after college? Or a Christian fraternity that raises up Christian men in a way that complements their involvement and leadership in your ministry?

It’s not that I believe that every possible complementary college ministry effort is needed. Not at all. But I’m a big fan of the approach itself, and I hope you’ll consider being a fan, too. But for this to work, it will require current, more “traditional” campus ministries having a Kingdom mindset, a shepherd’s heart, a missional approach, and an openness to what God wants to do through other works.

An oldie but a goodie, this time about energizing yourself, O college minister…

Here’s something great to ponder as your semester starts to even out, and it’s something I’m learning myself.

It’s valuable for you to determine the resources, activities, focuses, or particular conversations that especially energize you. What fuels you for the (many) other tasks of ministry?

For me, I’m particularly strengthened for my work by reading – books on business strategy or “operations” or even applicable social psychology light my fire especially well.

(Of course, our most vital fuel is our time with the Lord. This whole post is written with the assumption that we’re prioritizing that first.)

When my schedule is consistently full, day after day, I can easily go weeks without taking those “enjoyable vitamins,” as it were. And yet in the midst of that everydayness, I can easily start feeling drained. So it’s a good discipline for me to carve out time – even when there “isn’t time” – to let God energize me through those things. He wired me to be energized this way, and while I always need to be willing to be stretched and to lay aside my personality as He sees fit, it also makes sense to determine what most invigorates me… and to take those vitamins when I can.

Again, for you that could be movies or particular conversations or a retreat to the mountains or a night of board games. It could be seeing how another ministry “does its thing” or prayer walking the campus or teaching a class to someone other than college students. I may be ministry-ish; it may not be. But it’s energizing for your ministry “day job.”

If you haven’t pondered WHAT those vitamins are, you should.

And if you have, why don’t you figure out a way to make accessing them easy? That could mean…

  • Putting those resources or reminders of those resources in your eye-line at work
  • Scheduling time to “take your vitamins” on your calendar
  • Setting an alarm to remind you to participate in those activities if you haven’t already, by a certain point each week
  • Getting people to hold you accountable on this
  • Scheduling some “time away” every once in awhile

…or whatever works best for you!

Chance are you’ll be considering next semester all throughout the Christmas Break (although we should all remember that church-based college ministers may have an entire “other ministry” during this time!).

In any case, as you (and any staff) are making those plans, why not keep your student leaders looped in? It’s as simple as an email or text soliciting their input, and suddenly you’ve reminded them of their opportunity and highlighted their ownership.

If you’ve truly designed a student-owned campus ministry, why work without them when they’re “out of session”? U.S. Presidents may have that prerogative, but there’s no reason a college minister needs to!

While on vacation in SoCal (and our whole family has various degrees of sickness, as it turns out), I’m posting some good thoughts from past Novembers…

Every once in awhile, I get to sit in on brainstorming meetings – either for college ministry, or in other areas. One, for instance, involved several people sorting through a non-profit’s mission and vision statements, as this org sought to move forward in clarifying its identity. Whether or not they’re actual Board Meetings, groups like this – if they meet semi-regularly – can serve the function of a Board of Advisors.

In any case, these meetings are always messy, right? Even ones that go smoothly are tricky to navigate, can get contentious, and may lead to painful decisions.

But I’d argue they’re extremely valuable.

In our world of collegiate ministry, it can be tough to even find people who truly “get” what college ministers are doing. And even if you have overseers, they may not be available for a session like this.

But it could be very worth your time to find wise people you can seek regular refining from. If you have to teach them what you’re doing first, that’s great – even that process will force you into clarity you may have never had before. And once they “get it,” hopefully they get it.

Some of you have true Boards of Directors – but are they functioning in ways that regularly help you refine, prune, develop? And even if your organizational structure doesn’t require a Board, would it be worth seeking out a “board”?

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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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