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This is an old Fridea that hasn’t lost its steam – with a month to prepare…

October 31st is “celebrated” differently campus-to-campus, and many schools may not see much when it comes to the nearby weekend or the night of Halloween (this year it’s on a Tuesday, FYI). But other schools see quite a bit of Halloween-inspired activity – it may be the moment when everybody drinks, or when the costumes come out (and not unto holiness), or when debauchery is otherwise at its worst.

So my Fridea and encouragement this week is to respond as God leads you and your ministry. Five ways you could do just that:

  1. View what takes place, like a missionary would/should. Let it break your heart. Let it open your eyes and your students’ – and especially your student leaders’ – eyes. Let God use what’s actually happening – not just what you assume is happening – to provide ministry ideas for the weeks to come. (I’ve spent some time praying while I drive through the “scene” in a campus area before, and it definitely broke my heart.)
  2. Serve students. Like Spring Break mission trips or finals week, your campus might respond well to free midnight pancakes or van rides. Maybe you need to create an “alternative Halloween” that’s a blast… without the debauchery. Yes, you’ll need to think through what’s best (and what’s in fact “enabling”), but it’s worth considering how you can serve – and build relational bridges to – students.
  3. Think long and hard about how you can best serve, impact, and encounter your campus at the Halloweens to come. This means getting students together to brainstorm, talking to other college ministers, asking advice from your overseers, etc.
  4. Pray. Pray for your campus, even that very weekend or Halloween night. This might be a night for all-night prayer, or it might be something you intercede about regularly, leading up to Halloween.
  5. Teach. The issues raised by Halloween – and not just the occult issues, though those are real, too – are worth discipling students about, right? Why shouldn’t a girl “dress to impress”? Why wouldn’t a college student drink to excess occasionally? What’s so wrong with a night or weekend of debauchery? How can students serve their peers when they’re wrapped up in these things? Have you taught your students about all those issues that will come up during this one season?

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.

Most of this post was penned four years ago, but it asks a great question – and one that the summer provides time for answering, I’d imagine.

Our church, though it’s big, has tended not to construct our own outreach entities. We don’t have a clothing closet or a food pantry; while we did establish a clinic, we opened it in partnership with others in our city and as its own non-profit. Instead of focusing on starting efforts, we prefer partnerships: Long-term, deep partnerships. And that’s true locally as well as overseas.

So I’m regularly reminded just how powerful and effective long-term partnerships can be.

Case in point: Our church has been involved in regional church-building efforts in Ethiopia for several years now, taking a few trips each year (with the leadership of e3 Partners). So while any of our members may only take one trip (myself included, a few years ago), each person or each trip is clearly part of a growing history of impact. When I went, my particular trip got to travel to a brand new area because of earlier teams’ success permeating our usual region! Because our groups have faithfully returned, the Ethiopian disciplemakers, church leaders, and church members have received “development,” not simply guerrilla-style “help” that may not last or may not even help.

So continuing with the Ethiopia example… Not only is partnership powerful for our partners “on the ground” in Ethiopia, it’s powerful for trip participants, too. Our church calls our short-term engagements “Discipleship Trips” for a reason, and this is one aspect of that: Our hearts are drawn to this nation and its people (including the nationals we work with year after year) because of perpetual partnership. Even though these particular trips only happen each summer (unlike trips to our other international partners), our church’s awareness is engaged all year. And there are many who do return; over a third of my trip’s members had been before. For those people, Ethiopia is an ongoing (and growing) passion in some sense or another. And for us “newbies,” we were influenced to love this particular mission field all the more because some of our peers are so passionate – with the passion that multiple trips and long-term engagement build.

Long-term partnership affects recruitment, too. Whether I return in the future or not, I’m so glad that this wasn’t a one-off opportunity. As I share trip stories with my circles, their chance to participate in the future will always be in the back of my mind. I’m talking about something past (my trip), but I’m also talking about something future others could participate in.

Of course, there are numerous other benefits practical and spiritual: planning trips, helping people consider longer-term missions callings, deepening fellowship with those in the field, and so on.

And everything I’ve just noted about an international partnership can play out locally – and sometimes even more dramatically: Impact on the partners and those they serve. Impact on the participants and the “sending church.” A passion that grows over time. A history that helps recruit new people to serve. Easier planning. Going deeper into the underlying issues the partner is addressing. And so on.

What long-term partnerships does your campus ministry have? Whether international, national, or local… whether for trips, for service projects, for fundraising, or for events… whether involving your entire ministry or small pockets… are you taking advantage of an amazing opportunity?

I hope you’ve got students who participate in campus activities with a large part of their motivation to build relationships with nonbelievers, to influence the campus for the common good, or to see a segment influenced for Christ.

(Of course, there’s something to be said for participation with other motives, too. But if students are ONLY padding a resume, acting on ambition, or “just having fun,” then that’s not what you’re probably seeking.)

What if you helped them think about opportunities?

What if you examined the list of student organizations, got a list of student government positions, even talked to administration about places they could use student help? What if you publicized these potential roles with your students this summer, encouraging them to look at their present commitments and weigh whether they could intentionally do something else.

This may mean stepping away from something else. It may not. It may only be a thinking exercise, without a lot of active fruit (yet). Whatever the case, it’s a bold way to remind students that their time on campus is (1) limited and (2) a huge opportunity. Teach them to number their days… and give them great ideas for investing here and now.

As Easter approaches and you make your corresponding plans, I just wanted to remind you of something that should encourage your students – and give them something to pass on to classmates.

If you haven’t browsed over at the Veritas Forum page recently, I encourage you to do so. They’re very generous with the content they generate on campuses, allowing you and your students to hear real-life debates and seminars that speak directly to the educated masses that are your mission field… and topics like The Incarnation are particularly pertinent around Easter.

That’s all. I hope you take a look.

Often we – or at least I – get into a rut of aiming to inspire people to action without giving a good dose of practical how-to. Sometimes people need good examples – not so they can simply “check a box,” but to get their heads around exactly what obedience might look like.

For instance, I’d imagine it’s a goal of yours for students to be inspired to connect with their dormmates and apartment-mates. Right? It’s a ready-made mission field. And even if you (or others) have established great dorm Bible studies, etc., you still hope your students are intentionally growing their relationships organically, too.

If that’s the case, have you provided a roadmap? I know it’s easy to castigate people who don’t get to know the guys on their floor or the girls in the suite next door: “They must be radically self-absorbed or simply not interested in God-advancing conversations.” But some students – many students – might have a mix of a little real fear with a big lack of vision for how such an action might look, or how it might be accomplished. Whether it’s because they’re introverts, went to Christian high school, or simply haven’t experienced a situation where they lived in tight quarters with hundreds of non-Christian classmates while balancing a surprising schoolwork-load (i.e. all your students), building relationships with dormmates may not come naturally or easily.

Here are some ways you might provide a roadmap (which, you might notice, could apply to any activity and not just building relationships):

  • Testimonies by students who have done this well
  • A very straightforward ideas list
  • A combo of the two above – a list of ways their fellow students have actually connected well in their dorms/apartments
  • A challenge to do one thing (or one thing out of a few choices) in the next week
  • Accountability (once you’ve made this otherwise very practical and shared the biblical why)

Like I said, this is coming from someone who doesn’t it find it easy to think about discipleship this way. But I’m getting better.

For each “big pillar” of a college ministry, like evangelism or justice or Bible study or “life together,” a roadmap that gently shares expectations while providing concrete ideas accomplishes the “lifting a finger” of obedience-assistance we’re called to do.

It’d be a good time to remind your students that NOW is the time to greet, meet, and start getting to know those in their world around them. In their dorms, in their apartment complexes, in their classes.

 

The longer they wait in the semester, the weirder it will feel.

The longer they wait in the semester, the less time they’ll have to build relationship.

Remind them that the window’s closing. Challenge them to meet 2 people, or 10 people, or 25 people this week.

You’ve probably noticed the “stats” that Facebook, Twitter, etc., offer about what kind of “reach” or how many “impressions” a particular entry has achieved. This simply shows how many people saw (or possibly saw) your words. And if you were aiming for impact with that entry (rather than just commenting on a sandwich), it means you might have impacted that many people.

Have you ever thought about the “reach” your ministry has, if your students are your ministry’s “Tweets”? In a week where I’ve explored some new viewpoints for assessing your campus ministry (here, here, and here), this is simply one more intriguing one.

Do you even know all the ways your students are involved in the rest of campus or your city? That shouldn’t be hard to figure out – but it also should probably be one of those things a college ministry stays somewhat abreast of. And when you add all that up – the dorms and streets where they live, the majors where they spend a lot of time, the clubs and sports they’re involved with, the odd jobs (or less-odd jobs) they’ve taken, and so on – you find out how strong your college ministry’s “potential reach” might just be.

It might be a fascinating (and pretty straightforward) study. And it might give you ideas on places to expand next year – or places to double-down because of God’s favor in that particular area already.

Of course, the actual impact here depends very largely on how invested your students are in making Christ known / loving others / inviting friends / etc. in their circles. (Just as a Tweet’s actual impact depends on the value of its words.) It also depends on how well you’ve resourced students to do those things – from evangelism training to invite cards to purposefully helping them remember the themes of weekly messages.

But knowing where you have potential impact is a great way to motivate you (or your students) to be a little more intentional in maximizing the specific reach God has entrusted to you.

The Major League Baseball season began this week, and it’s likely you’ve got some baseball fans in your ministry. As they face the next 162 games (assuming they’re only fans of one team!), they might find time to watch a healthy number of those games.

Across your campus, there are a number of other baseball fans, too.

So have you been progressively growing your students to see their passion as an opportunity to build relationships with the unchurched and de-churched?

The same would go for your Dancing with the Stars fans. Or those who really like going to your school’s wrestling team’s competitions. Or those who enjoy the symphony or theater in town. Or those who get a kick out of reading the latest young adult fiction.

Just about any “fandom” can be used strategically for ministry (whether it’s relationship-building or even more) – from watching parties to book clubs to actual “fan clubs.”

That’s what missional thinkers do. Not that we have to lay a legalistic requirement on our students, that anything they enjoy must be enjoyed evangelistically or not at all. But are you growing your students to see the opportunity?

You’ve got a variety of areas in which you want students to be “ready to speak”: Evangelism opportunities, of course (and not only those creatively “engineered” by the students). Standing up for the faith, too – especially in the areas of hot-button issues like homosexuality, race, anything that seems “political,” etc. Even offering someone compassion in a moment of grief is much better when it’s truly an “apt word.”

So with various arenas in which Christian students can impact their campus through timely words… how often are your students going in with experience?

“Role play” is used in plenty of contexts where saying the right thing matters – like counseling or (in my wife’s case) social work. But how often do we offer those opportunities in ministry? But whether students are preparing to easily spit out their 3-minute testimony or to answer why they take a (wildly unpopular) biblical stance, role play is a perfect training opportunity. And these aren’t things they shouldn’t be discussing for the first time “on the front lines.”

Help them practice. Role play it out.

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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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