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With Thanksgiving just two weeks from today, I thought I’d repost these notes on last-minute T-Day ministry…

College ministry rarely gets to jump into Christmas in the same way that churches do; even church-based college ministries don’t necessarily expect big crowds or much opportunity on (or near) December 25th.

But Thanksgiving is still a season college ministers have, even if most students won’t be around on the actual Thanksgiving Day (or the weekend that follows). What could you do for Thanksgiving, even if you haven’t planned something already?

  1. Last-minute service projects. Find out some ways to impact local ministries, and throw those ideas out to your students. Students often schedule last-minute anyway, so the fact that you haven’t brought it up may be no big deal… they may not even notice!
  2. Last-minute meals or other fun. Students who are in town during the Thanksgiving weekend would probably be especially blessed by being offered a chance to get together – they’re likely bummed they can’t be home with family (or want to get away from their family that’s in town). This includes international students! If you’re going to be around, consider inviting students into your home, or find a place (like a local church or somewhere on campus) where you could hold a meal/games/football-watching/etc. day.
  3. Point to other orgs’ planned opportunities. What are the local churches (including your own) doing? Does the campus have any official plans? Do any local organizations – even other college ministries – have plans for Thanksgiving week? (You might be surprised what you can find.) Service projects? Serving meals to others? Holding festive meals for church members (and possibly student visitors)?

One more tip: Talk to campus administration (including the office that looks after International Students). Not only might they have ideas, they’ll likely love the fact that you’re hoping to serve students during the weird week of Thanksgiving.

So here’s a wild idea:

What if, each week, two or three different student leaders had the chance to serve as “pastor on call” for your college ministry?

They could plan to tag along at meetings with students (or others) they wouldn’t otherwise be in, meet with any students who reach out for encouragement or support, or help accomplish other hands-on discipleship tasks. You’ll have to fill in the blanks with areas these students could “do a little more” in your ministry context – maybe their hours include extra prayer, time hanging out in your building, fielding phone calls to the ministry, or simply “ministry of presence” in the dining hall. I don’t know.

But I do know this can be a powerful way to push students, while asking for a little sacrifice too. A week “on call” isn’t the easiest thing, but it offers a taste of life as a college ministry, plus allows some of the “messiness of ministry” to get delegated to students (as it should be).

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?

Long ago when I was attending Texas A&M, a meteorology student had constructed a simple – you might say “elegant” – little site to report that day’s weather on campus. You simply logged on to “weather.tamu.edu” – if I’m remembering correctly – and the cartoon stick figure would be wearing appropriate clothing for the day. Whether he wore a sweater, shorts, poncho, etc., you knew what you faced outside the doors of Aston Hall.

In one sense, that’s no big deal. (Although I hope the student counted their hits and visitors and included this web-venture on their resume.) But in another sense, that was a bigger contribution to the common good of the campus than 95% of A&M’s students made during their time.

All this backstory leads to today’s Fridea: Once a year, challenge your students to design a project or process that will benefit the campus. 

Can you imagine holding a yearly contest each October, then funding and deploying for tthe winning effort? (Maybe even Shark Tank style?) Or maybe an “innovation Saturday” ministry-wide, facilitated brainstorming session would culminate in a powerful idea. Maybe you’d organize a student team each fall to investigate what’s needed or scour the campus for great ideas.

Whatever the case, this is both discipleship and relationship: Teaching students to benefit the world they’re in, and offering yourselves to the campus as active, beneficial citizens. It doesn’t have to be HUGE; think about the random “Donated by the Class of” structures that adorn your campus. All those took was a good idea and a little organization.

What if?

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.

In my visit awhile back to Texas A&M Corpus Christi, I got the chance to chat with Clint Hill, the local Church of Christ college minister. One of the things he pointed out about their ministry is their effort to participate in a bunch of the activities organized by the Student Organizations and administration of the school.

Is the campus holding a dodge ball tournament? Then Christians in Action will field a team for that. Have they organized freshman move-in? Then CIA will be out there, serving. All. Day. Long.

And so on.

I’ve certainly heard other college ministers espouse this same “doctrine”: that there is great value in plugging in to what the campus as a whole is doing. Some of the whys:

  • Connections with the lost and other non-involved students
  • Participation as valuable members of the campus community
  • Endearing ourselves to the administration
  • Serving the campus by helping it thrive
  • Serving students tangibly in ways we might not imagine on our own
  • Recruitment to the ministry

So the Fridea, in a nutshell: Find out what the campus is already doing… and show up!

For some of you, this might be as easy as taking the Campus Events calendar and making its entries a major part of your calendar, too. For others, it might involve choosing 4-5 important events this semester and attending them as a group – and purposefully. Sometimes it might simply involve encouraging, pushing, and helping students to be present and active within their campus, and to know how to do that with Jesus-purposes in mind.

In any case, I’m not sure it’s best practice for our ministries to be “islands” within (but not really with) the larger collegiate community. And I’m happy to have been reminded of that fact by a guy who just happens to serve among the Islanders tribe at Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

What students would lead the way, if a disaster struck close to home?

You serve in the midst of lots and lots of zeal. College students can be mobilized to do something in an instant! But the something they do when tragedy strikes may not correspond with what’s actually needed.

Have you ever thought about developing a disaster response leadership team? Composed of students who actually read books like When Helping Hurts and learn from groups like Samaritan’s Purse and are ready to teach others – and to lead when needed?

This doesn’t have to be a “standing team,” in the sense that it meets weekly. It could even run across multiple college ministries (what an awesome way to unify). But as gunmen and terrorists and hurricanes make headlines, a college ministry can respond… but they’ll only respond well if they’re ready to do so.

Perhaps your ministry already serves incoming freshmen – a move-in day, for instance. But have you considered other ways to add value for incoming students, to serve them (even when the “return on investment” has more to do with actually serving them than wooing them to your ministry)?

We don’t have to pick one or the other, but hopefully you and your current students do have a bent toward “giveaway” service that doesn’t have to receive something back in proportion to what you’ve given.

So in no particular order, here are some opportunities that come to mind:

  • Campus maps with “the places Freshmen really need to know”
  • Campus tours
  • City tour
  • Tour of churches
  • “Off-the-Map Orientation” session
  • Study skills session
  • Dorm organization session
  • “Catalog” of what you really need in a dorm room (written by students)
  • Session for parents
  • “Rest stop” for students and parents as they move in, do orientation, etc.
  • Any of the above things for parents, or for parents to do with students

This week’s Fridea is an idea from the past, but it’s a goodie – especially as I’ve mentioned ways to use Seniors this week, and as you’ve got room to add some student leaders to your roster for the coming fall.

One intriguing model for promoting service opportunities and “causes” is something we use at the church that employs me.

Our system relies heavily on having a “point person” for each of our 20 ministry partners. So for the homeless ministry we connect with, there’s a point person. For the refugees ministry, there’s a point person. For the mentoring program, there are a couple of point people.

Ideally, the Point Person:

  • Champions the cause to others in our church
  • Helps strategize our involvement
  • And helps shepherd volunteers

Couldn’t student leaders (or adult volunteers) function that way within a collegiate ministry? Instead of the college minister OR a dedicated “Service Team” handling all the outreach… what if each ministry outlet was “handled” by a champion? (Of course, you might choose those ministries in the ways I’ve outlined here and here.)

And that means you’d have the opportunity to “let loose” a few students who have proven themselves and invested in the ministry. It may be that you’d even select a few seniors and offer them this chance – to find an organization or a cause, vet it, explain to staff why it’s a “win” for the college ministry, and then spend a semester or school year promoting it within your ministry.

Would it mean students might appear to “compete” a little, as they recruit other students to their cause? Perhaps… but as long as they’re first and foremost Kingdom-minded and excited about their peers serving somehow, a group of students each rallying can be good for your climate of service overall.

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.

To pair with the last post on partnership, I thought I’d repost some key partnerships you might pursue.

Here are a few options for whom we might consider partnering with for our various activities:

1. Another college ministry. We might partner with another ministry on our campus for annual events, for instance. Or we might connect with a ministry far away, in the “sister campus” situation I’ve talked about for the past two days.

2. A church. If we’re a campus-based college ministry, there still might be a local church (whether students attend it or not) which would love our ongoing service. But we also might establish an ongoing relationship with a church in a far-off land, a state away or thousands of miles away. This gives us an opportunity for impact through regular trips.

3. Another ministry. Lots of major cities (in the United States or otherwise) have ministries that regularly receive groups and allow them to participate in impactful service. And partnership with them doesn’t have to feel like “just another drop in the bucket” – as your group impacts through the years, you may find options to deepen that involvement in ways that build both your students AND that ministry.

4. A missions mobilizer. Your best partnership may not be with a ministry “on the ground,” but with an organization devoted to helping

groups serve in a particular place. And a mobilizing entity will likely introduce your ministry to on-the-front-lines partnerships, as well.

5. Individual missionaries. This option may overlap with one or more of the options above, but as we think through partnerships, it’s always helpful to consider the actual people we know – and especially those who have gone out from our ministry in the past. Is a former student serving as a campus minister somewhere else? Has a graduate devoted themselves to long-term or even lifelong service on a foreign field? Is someone employed by a great church in another city? Have you considered what partnership with them and their ministries might look like… and how it might inspire other students to examine their own callings?

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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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