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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.

My wife and I are in the middle of moving, which has reminded me just how much I hate upheaval. But it’s a common part of life – just one that’s uncommon for the person experiencing it.

Your students face upheaval, too, but the nature of college ministry may mean you’re not in touch with what they’re facing. This is all the more true in the summer break. And the functions that do connect with them on a more intimate level – like small groups – may peter out in May and not rev up until September… leaving a good four months for students to face things rather alone (potentially).

Of course, there are lots of ways to address this – including making small groups work a little more perpetually. But since the dawn of a new school year is upon us, my push today is simply to find out how your students are doing as they enter the new school year. Get people on your staff or within your student leadership to make sure every student is “accounted for,” and that anyone coming back to a hard new situation OR having faced toughness over the summer is known, encouraged, and loved.

Many of your students won’t be facing trials right now. But for those in the midst of upheaval, the early touchpoint will be enormous.

As you know, Dallas faced a tragedy last week when five police officers were killed in Downtown Thursday night. Since that time, I’ve seen our church and other churches step up to respond in some really great ways. In some cases, the opportunity presented itself because of an event that had been planned long ago, and we thank God for His providence. But sometimes quick planning had to be done, too.

If something happened on your campus that Christian ministries could/should respond to, what would your ministry’s “rapid response team” look like? Are there students, volunteers, staff, local pastors, staff of other ministries, etc., whom you would immediately pull in to get working?

Hopefully this wouldn’t all fall on the shoulders of one person in your ministry (like the lead college minister). Even if that person does have several of the skills or attributes needed – event planning, (quick) project management, pastoral skill, connections with campus leaders – it may be that he or she needs to continue leading the ministry as a whole, not running as primary lead on a public response like an event.

If you don’t already have students or others serving in these ways on a weekly or monthly basis – planning events, I mean, or connecting with campus leaders or serving other students pastorally – then this is yet another reason that’s valuable: Because when the moment comes and the campus is looking to you, you’ll be ready to lift up the Lord and help people.

Yesterday I highlighted an excellent article from Harvard’s student newspaper, a reflection by a student facing deep pain. I hope you read it!

It leads me to ask these questions, and it might bring even more to your mind:

  • Are you raising up college students who are looking for those in pain around them – not just in their friend circles, but even in their student organizations, classes, and other venues?
  • Have you developed community within your college ministry, such that any involved student couldn’t “slip through the cracks” when facing deep pain?
  • Do those in your ministry see your college ministry as a first place to turn to if facing deep pain? (There are plenty of exciting, fun, impactful college ministries that still might not be seen by their students – rightly or wrongly – as a great place for those facing deep problems.)
  • Is your ministry seen as the kind of place that’s “there for people” when they’re in pain, even if they’re outsiders or non-believers?
  • Would there be any way your ministry could offer materials, seminars, audio, or other resources for the campus as a whole? (This gets easier to imagine when we realize that college ministry is just another form of missions, and that college ministers are really just missionaries…)

In light of the recent stabbings and shootings near University of California Santa Barbara, I wanted to dust off some notes I first wrote following the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. I had the honor of visiting with college ministers only a semester after that tragedy, and I learned a lot through that experience.

We may not want to think about it, but we can take steps to prepare for possible calamities on our own campuses. And we should take those steps.

In my time with ministers at Virginia Tech, some clear strategies for dealing with campus-wide tragedies became apparent – not simply checklist items to pull out once problems arise, but even some actions we can take now to prepare for a possible then. In recent years, there have been plenty of campuses affected by accidents, natural disasters, and man-made evil; it seems wise to be prepared for God to use us to the utmost in these worst of times.

We can get to know the Experts now. Do you know who you would call if something tragic happened on your campus tonight? The foremost practical suggestion from those I talked to was to connect with disaster relief and “aftercare” people now, within your denomination or organization, or among other local Christians. Why not get to know them, and get to know their suggested procedures to follow?

Likewise, you’ll want to know locals who can counsel students, faculty, staff, and others in the midst of tragedy. Unless somebody on your staff has real training here – or you want to go back to school for a while – knowing experts in helping-through-counseling could make a big difference.

We should plan to look to Experts then. Besides disaster relief folks, my friends suggested calling in other experts, as well. For one thing, it was wisely noted that college ministry-types preside over a lot of weddings… but we’re not real accustomed to doing funerals. So if the time comes to walk through grief with family or friends, it can help to turn for advice to those who do experience both ends of life’s spectrum – namely, church pastors. These experts can give us tips on carrying out our own pastoral roles in the midst of pain.

Another “expert” worth connecting to will be someone who’s gone through tragedy before; this is one specific way that God’s past comfort is able to overflow to others. Darrell Cook, Director of the BCM at Va. Tech, told me he found help from someone who had experienced the pain of Hurricane Katrina while ministering at Mississippi College, for instance. We’ll have specific questions when tragedy arrives – and there are individuals who can give specific, seasoned answers.

Finally, employing students or other volunteers in a focused, “expert” capacity can be helpful in a crisis period. One example suggested to me was a “filterer” – someone ready and able to filter the many emails and calls that will come in during a well-publicized crisis. That way, you (as a ministry leader) can avoid well-meaning distractions while staying attentive to the contacts deemed most important. Delegating specialized roles can keep things running most efficiently at a time when wisdom and strategy are most important.

We should get to know the campus administration. If at all possible (and if you haven’t already), help the school’s administration see your ministry as helpful. In times of crisis, old lines and old walls can go out the window – but it will help if your ministry is already known and appreciated. Ultimately, it would be great if your ministry could be seen as a great “go-to,” even before it’s needed.

We’ve gotta be ready to “roll with it,” and teach our students to do the same. There’s a lot of “going with the flow” that has to take place in tragic times, too. We don’t know who God will raise up as leaders in moments like these, and we sure don’t know how His Spirit will lead or work or gather people together. We also don’t know what opportunities He will reveal. But He will.

Enabling students, ministries, etc., to respond to what God is doing – rather than trying to force our agenda – will be vital… even if it means canceling a Bible study, skipping a class, paying for a lunch with a hurting student, or missing some sleep.

But we’ll also need to lead. Even as we “roll with it,” we should remember God has called us leaders “for such a time as this,” and our campuses need us to lead in the Lord. Furthermore, there will be those functioning without wisdom in the midst of suffering, too. So sometimes our leadership will step on toes – even on other Christians’ toes – as we tend to broken legs.

So what can you do this summer, to prepare for tragedy that may strike your campus someday?

This week, I’m doing what we can all do: Noticing. Keeping my eyes open for College Ministry ideas in daily life, from a multitude of sources that have nothing whatsoever to do with college ministry.

When we look at the world through the lens of our calling, God might just put some ideas in our path.

A couple of days ago, an episode of Friends featured a suicidal guy (Jason Alexander of George Costanza fame, in fact). Yesterday on Cash Cab, somebody joked about having to kill themselves if they missed a question. Obviously, both references were played for comedic effect (and I promise I’m not encouraging that). But since I was looking for college ministry ideas, it led me to something very serious.

Are you prepared NOW for the day when you face the need for suicide prevention, or when the topic comes up in a serious way?

You might not have the time to search the internet for resources, or to ask around for a good Christian counselor or minister to refer a student to. You might not have the chance to find a book to help you know what to say to one of your students’ roommates, when your student calls in the middle of the night, freaking out. Somebody may be across the table from you and note that they’ve “been having some really dark thoughts” – it’s doubtful you’ll want to ask them to hold on while you search your phone for a Best Practice for that situation.

And when someone commits suicide – a student on campus, a family member of a student, or even someone in your ministry – are you going to be ready to shepherd? Could the campus even call on you as a resource in that dark time?

This summer, I encourage you to develop a simple expertise and simple plan for this area. Maybe share it with your student leaders and staff. Please be ready.


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Many of you are starting your new semester tomorrow. I’m excited for you. I hope it’s the best semester ever.

Last night, I sent an email to a couple of college ministers to ask them if they knew a good Christian counselor I could recommend for a student. It reminded me that there are probably a few pieces of information – like counseling resources – we (as college ministers) should have at our fingertips.

While, of course, we get many chances to counsel students ourselves on a variety of issues, I think most of us would agree there are situations in which it might be important to invite other, more seasoned counselors into those conversations.

And you don’t want to have to take 48 hours to find one when that need arises, right? And you don’t want to rely on the first person in the phone book, either, right?

Info on a good couple of counselors – of both sexes – should be immediately accessible to you. Ask the local churches (whether you’re a church-based college ministry or not), and find the kind of people you’d be happy to entrust your students to in situations of emotional troubles, grief, disaster, or other giant concerns.

I know this kind of blog post is boringly practical and simple and not particularly fun or creative or deep. But that doesn’t mean it’s not vital.


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One of the tough things about being on these road trips is not having enough time to interact much on the various college ministry blogs. But I do make a point to read ’em, and here are some of the discussions I found most interesting this week!

As I posted the other day, well-known D.C. pastor Mark Batterson is giving away free copies of his new book… to college ministers! Whether you get the chance to request a book, I encourage you to check out the comments written in response to that post – and to add your own, to let Mark know we appreciate him lending his visibility to our field.

NewChapter continues to impress me with their sensitivity toward what is really needed by the college ministries they hope to serve. (I highlighted their ministry here.) Nowhere better is this evident than in their blog, which continues to offer thoughts that not only explain their mission but also challenge us in our mission…

Guy Chmieleski discusses a tough situation in his ministry, after a student lost a parent this week. In his blog this week, Guy does what we should all do in ambiguous ministry situations: brings his own God-given wisdom to bear, and then asks others for theirs. Very good reading, and be sure to add wisdom if you’ve gone through this in your ministry.

Steve Lutz could also use your input – and offers some great thoughts of his own – on ways to “stay in the loop.” (Check it out to see what he means.)

Interested in solid discussion on theology for college ministry? (Shouldn’t we have more of that?) It’s not surprising that some of that might come at the RUF Blog, including a post this week that asks, “Where would Jesus hang?”

Speaking of theology, on Monday Keith Davy discussed Tim Keller’s take on communicating the idea of sin to postmodern people. Then on Wednesday, more discussion / linkage – this time on “communicating sin to an iGen.” Whatever you feel like calling this generation of college students, obviously it’s vital for us to seek to help all people understand why the Good News is, in fact, good.

And if you’re in the mood for even more great stuff: check out Bob Fuhs on a better definition of “failure,” Russ Martin on not being a “what you can’t do” intercom, and Brandon Smith on the ridiculousness of reinventing the wheel with our college ministry activities (a favorite theme of my own!).

written from Fargo, ND


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Road Trip 13: Day 28 recap
recap: meeting with a Lutheran campus minister on Reformation Day, among other things
T-shirt: the Vikings of North Park University
sunday: a big drive down to Winona, MN, then…? (see all explorations so far)

Additional quick notes from Northern Illinois University (earlier posts are here and here), then a couple of thoughts:

  • For anyone looking for purpose and answers in light of these kinds of crazy, crazy circumstances, Ravi Zacharias’s messages (and the Q&A sessions) from Virginia Tech last semester are helpful. Those are here.
  • The home page of NIU has been updated dramatically and is worth working through:
  • An official campus memorial will be held on campus next Sunday, the 24th.
  • Classes are canceled this entire week.
  • Immanuel Lutheran Church and their on-campus ministry noted that lots of International Students don’t have anywhere to go during this time. Obviously, they will need love from God and His family like never before.
  • Campus Crusade is organizing a multi-ministry campus prayer walk for this Sunday (the 17th) at 4pm Central Time. It will be a hard time to be back on campus for many of those students, but this is spiritual engagement like no other.
  • They are also presently planning a T-shirt outreach – giving T-shirts to everybody on campus they can, in hopes of both uniting the campus and spreading an evangelistic web site.
  • If you want to help with the T-shirt Ministry or otherwise donate to Campus Crusade at NIU, I have a mailing address. Just let me know if you want it – my email is on the About Benson page, or just Facebook me at Benson Hines. Or, you can find contact info for their staff here.

Obviously, the above things are all worth praying for. Pray for God to be good to these students during this time. It will be great in some ways – and hard in others – to have been away from school for a full 10 days before resuming. Pray for students as they walk the campus, pray, and heal. Pray for Christians as they deal with their own grief – to be there for others but not feel guilty for needing to heal, too.

I do remember Darrell Cook, Baptist Collegiate Ministries Director at Virginia Tech, describing the role money can play in times like these. It frees ministries and students up, because what needs to get done can be done – without worrying about financial provision in this crazy time. A lunch with a hurting friend. A T-shirt outreach. Postage. Materials. Even heat and light as ministry buildings are used for ministry purposes.

Written from Pacific Palisades, California

Yesterday, I brought up one of the bigger themes from the past month: A focus on striving for actually helpful help in our mission trips, service projects, and the like. At both Virginia Tech and here in Boston, ministry has recently been received from “outsiders” on a grand scale. Plenty of this service has been quite helpful – but not all. The question is, What kind of ministry actually helps those who receive it, and what kind might accomplish something else entirely?

I’d encourage you to read that introduction if you haven’t already. Today, I want to flesh out the theme with some practical suggestions, gained through observations and interviews on this trip.

This may not be a complete checklist, but hopefully it’s a good start! Read the rest of this entry »

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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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