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Here’s a weird one that could be quite applicable…

I don’t know what role “conflict resolution” plays in your ministry. I don’t know if you teach it or foster it or see it happen a lot. Hopefully it’s not needed all the time, but if you have more than a handful of students (and even if you don’t), it’s likely that students face conflict with each other… and certainly the students in your ministry occasionally conflict with others in their lives.

So what if you pushed them to clean the slate over the summer? To think back either to mutual conflict or to ways they may have sinned against people – roommates, friends, classmates, family members, even professors?

There’s something about summer break that gives space and time to think about this stuff – although it likewise breeds “out of sight, out of mind” too. Well, maybe it’s your job to bring it (back) into mind, encouraging students to get up to date on all apologies, reconciliations, and amends that remain outstanding.

It may not be composed of an actual scrapbook, but what will you do to memorialize your college ministry’s history from this school year?

This too would be a great job for students. And sure, it’s sad if you haven’t done this through the years. But why not start now? Whether it’s a page or two, pamphlet-sized, or a wall of remembrance (that you ultimately take a picture of), commemorating what God’s done – and simply what took place, good and bad – can be quite powerful.

And “powerful” works both now and later. Pushing your ministry to recall the recent past ties hearts together, reminds of truths learned (from the stage and from circumstances), and celebrates the Lord’s shepherding and sustenance. But later – a year or two or ten years later – reminders work powerfully to assure of God’s faithfulness, reveal a ministry’s progress over time, point current students to the students who have gone before them, and encourage leaders when they need the encouragement.

(Bonus points for how this might impact an alumni network, provide great fodder for support letters, and give one more cool chance to involve students around their passions for art or writing or photography. Or scrapbooking!)

Occasionally I’ve pointed out that Thanksgiving Break serves as an awesome warm-up for the looming Christmas break. Most of your students likely go home for just long enough to remember/realize what they’ll face when they go home for five-ish weeks in December.

But the same is true for Easter. Though not all students likely went home, I bet plenty did. And now, Summer Break is right around the corner.

One of the less-apparent but most valuable roles a college minister (or student leaders) can play this time of year is helping students intentionally prepare for the summer. Specifically…

  • How will they continue to grow in the Lord, not simply coast?
  • How will they respond to and minister to old friends?
  • How will they avoid old temptations?
  • How encouraging or discouraging do their family dynamics tend to be… and how will they respond there?
  • If they have a job, how will they work “as unto the Lord”?

I’m not sure this happened much when I was in college. While I remember offering prayer requests in small group settings, I don”t remember anyone helping me process the summer ahead – identifying the opportunities, identifying the challenges, developing a plan, and organizing mentorship or accountability.

But you can do this for your students. If they’ve just spent time home at Easter, then it’s an easy discussion based on that “experiment.” But regardless, they can recall Christmas break and look ahead to summer. And they can prepare for what the Lord might want to do.

I’m on vacation this week – but don’t worry, I’ve already visited Caltech. There might be another “campus tribe” visit or two now that we’ve moved up the coast. In the meantime, I’m reposting some great posts from past Novembers. Enjoy!

Today’s practical idea comes from a simple enough notion: It’s hard to imagine a good argument for not encountering your students between mid-December and late January. And yet that’s how plenty of college ministries will allow that month to pass.

Forget your calendar for a second: Isn’t this one obvious? For some campus ministries, the situation may be even larger – the last ministry event might occur in late November, and things might not start back up until the second week of school. Is that like 6 or 7 weeks?

So that leads to today’s idea: Plan several ways you’ll connect with your students between early December and when they return to your college ministry.

Schedule these community-building, encouraging, shepherd-like “touches” over those six weeks. Put it on your calendar; set alarms in your phone. Doesn’t matter if you’ll be paid for those hours or not, or if no overseer (and no student) is expecting it. They should hear from you or someone in the ministry.

Right?

Just a little encouragement/reminder as you’re Finals Week (or it’s coming soon):

Don’t forget that these closing days of the semester can still provide some awesome insight about your campus. In fact, there are many ways they can be better – opportunity to see students outside of their classes and normal routines, a more “accessible” campus, campus events, and often more time to spend on the missionary task of continuing to get to know your mission field.

For many college ministers, a well-used Finals Week could jumpstart your discernment about next semester more than any other time. So how are you using yours this time?

Obviously, there are plenty of ways to use Finals Week for ministry purposes, but many of them require a least a little planning.

But what if you (or some of your volunteers or student leaders) have some time during Finals Week beyond what you’ve planned? Here are some ideas:

  • Spend time on campus – maybe even a whole lot of it (God can provide an amazing adventure, show you insights, and provide ministry opportunities)
  • Serve in simple ways (donuts can go a long way!)
  • Play (frisbees in the middle of campus are a service all their own)
  • Encourage your students (an email or some verses can help more than you know, and individual outreach is even better)
  • Spend the week – while students are still around – starting on some of the big questions you plan to think about this summer
  • Encourage your students to be on the lookout for “on-the-spot service opportunities” – whether it’s encouraging a classmate, blessing a professor, helping out with something on campus, or meeting other needs (and offer to help as a ministry if needed)
  • Help people move out of the dorms
  • Collect info about your students’ summertime plans and contact info (if you haven’t already)

You may know the concept of having students write “letters to themselves” – notes to their future selves that outline who they want to be, that you hold onto a send a year (or many years) later.

But in light of talking about students summer with families this week (here and here), here’s a Fridea:

Have students write to their “June selves.”

The content of said letter wouldn’t just be an encouragement to love their families well – although that would make a good section! But the letter can include any goals for the summer, any motivational oomph, any encouragement to avoid particular temptations that come with home, and so on.

(And it’s a lot simpler for you to mail some letters in a couple of months than in a couple of years!)

It’s amazing how quickly the good intentions formed in April get wiped out by the busy and/or lazy days of summer. A note from themselves might just remind them of what they’re supposed to be about… and the letter-writing process, of course, makes them define those goals.

I believe I’ve noted before that Easter weekend – at least if yours is a campus where students travel home – can serve as a sort of “trial run” for their upcoming summertime at home.

But even if they weren’t home this weekend, many of your students will be with their families at some point this summer. So this is a good time for them to prepare spiritually for that undertaking.

I don’t know if I remember a college minister (or fellow student) urge me to prepare well for my summers, at least not if I would be spending them at home. We push students toward mission trips or Christian camps, but for many of them, “home base” for three months will be their actual homes.

What kind of environments are they stepping into? (Do their leaders even know?) Will they be among believers? Will homes be peace-filled or likely not? If students have grown, will their parents notice… or will your students slip back into “high school mode” when outside the environment that’s been catalytic this year?

This doesn’t even take into account the roles old friends, old hangouts, and their home church (if they have one) can play.

If students just got a taste of home this weekend, then it’s on their minds. But either way, you have the chance to help them plan for home, before they get there in a month.

Do you have time for one last upgrade to your college ministry before the semester ends?

It’s easy to put everything off until after the summer, when a fresh semester’s start does naturally provide a platform for change.

But there’s a diminishing return on “big changes,” too – too many of them, and you’re fighting the subconscious feeling that this “isn’t the same campus ministry anymore.” And you’ll have a harder time switching back if you’re early in the semester (and if new students have come in knowing nothing but the Big New Thing). Then you risk alienating the new students by changing back, or your old students by staying put. Plus psychologically, if you’ve planned all summer for the New Thing, you and your staff won’t be as willing to switch back, either.

Or you can try out that change now. Fewer people will be turned off enough to leave, and you can measure effectiveness to plan for next semester.

Plus you can focus on that doing that New Thing really well. It’s the end of the semester, after all.

As we head toward April, now’s a good time to “know the condition of your flocks,” specifically in regard to those who have been coming but not investing. (And if you’re not the only shepherd, this is a task for your small group leaders and others, too.)

But with six to eight weeks left, now’s the time for those who have been slow to participate – but should be pushed to do so. Otherwise, even if they give it the “ol’ college try” for a couple of weeks, there’s no assumption they’ll be plugged in next school year.

This isn’t about keeping numbers up; it’s about discipleship. Some of those students who haven’t gotten connected shouldn’t; if they’d find a better fit in a different ministry, you can disciple them in that way, too. But for the rest, it’s worth helping them end the semester with friends, community, and something to look forward to in the fall.

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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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