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Pulled this in from a past post, but it could be a great time of year to work on this.

Whether you’re a church-based college minister or not, you have access not only to the leaders of your church home, but those in all the other churches in your town.

And one group of leaders that could particularly impact many of your students is the Executive Pastors.

XPs have become quite high-profile church leaders in the last decade. And I love that numerous churches out there have seen fit to bring on a “churchwide strategist,” which seems to be the role many of them play. (And nowadays, some XPs have a bit more strategically narrow orientation.)

And while there may be few (if any) of your students who will ever provide that role for a church, there are many of your students who are wired by God for strategy, project management, leading alongside (rather than from out front), serving behind the scenes, or some of the other ways Exec Pastors traditionally serve.

And all of them need to learn about leadership.

Not only that, but an Exec Pastor may very well be able to teach on things like time management, self-management, and learning.

If it isn’t clear by now, I think it’s good for us to look among the church leaders in our town for potential teachers, mentors, and role models. Again, that’s whether a college minister serves at a church, in a parachurch or denominational capacity, at a Christian school, and so on.

And who knows? For some student in your ministry, such an encounter might just awaken them to an amazing call for future ministry themselves.

I’ve mentioned this sort of thing before, but now is a great time in the semester to lean into this… especially through your small groups, if that’s a structure you use.

It’s easy for any college student to isolate their spiritual growth and spiritual learnings simply to what takes place in their current city. Certainly, the campus and town are chock-full of spiritual application moments: the classroom, the dorm room, the parties, the ministry experiences, the new friendships, the dates, students’ local job, and students’ chosen church.

But all this means students might consciously or unconsciously leave their families behind. Some are unwilling to “go there” because home wasn’t great. Others simply don’t think about it, with the hubbub of this exciting collegiate context.

So while students may learn to communicate better with their suitemates, they might still go home this winter and undertake screaming matches with their parents. Students may learn to witness to classmates they’ve never met… but stay mum with a nonbelieving sibling back home. Students may make great strides in learning to stand up for orthodoxy in the face of culture wars – but feel quite lost in dealing with sinful lifestyles or opinions back home.Or this may simply show up in students’ willingness to grow by “moving forward” (whatever that means), but not

Or this may simply show up in students’ preference to grow by “moving forward” (whatever that means), without dealing with the pain/hurt/anxieties/sin they faced (or sometimes caused) in their families. (Do your small groups and other disciplemaking structures dive in to students’ home lives and pasts?)

God may use students’ time away at college to help in regards to home. But small group leaders, college ministers, and others will need to lean into this question to make that happen. Right?

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.

I’ve visited Willow Creek Community Church a few times, and I found a little “study nook” tucked away in their large public space. It was stocked with some Bible commentaries and “Christian classics” for public use.

Have you ever considered curating a Christian “study library” for your students’ use?

On the one hand, offering some great Bible commentaries not only edifies students (including your small group leaders), but it would offer a great help for teachers’ teaching prep, too. Having a couple of great, accessible commentaries on each book of the Bible might be a great place to start. This wouldn’t be a scholar’s library, but you might want to go beyond simply having devotional commentaries, too. The new editions of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, the Tyndale Old and New Testament Commentary, and the NIV Application Commentary would probably be where I’d start, since cost isn’t terribly prohibitive and the scholarship is good… without students needing to know biblical languages.

Meanwhile, collecting and curating a “spiritual classics” library offers visual recommendations of what students should read next. You’d probably need to loan some of these out – although if you’ve got a good space, maybe students would read the books on site.

So how do you build this thing?

If you’re a support-raising college minister, this seems like a no-brainer for a specific “special ask” – either a one-time request, or an ongoing line item allowing you to continue to build out the library for years and years. Even reaching out to current students or alumni – even if you don’t usually ask for gifts – might bring in some donations (or books).

(A well-constructed Amazon Wish List can be a beautiful thing.)

Another option is to “go in” with other college ministers, building something that can be used by students from any college ministry on campus. On a few campuses out there, this idea is wrapped up in a Christian Study Center of some sort (which is a fantastic approach). But all you need is space (and see below on that).

Of course, plenty of college ministers don’t have buildings available, or even if they do, they’re not readily accessible to most students on a regular basis. Never fear – there are a couple of options even if this is the case:

  • Work to ensure your school’s library has available, Evangelical commentaries. If they don’t, ask about getting some donated. Not only would that impact your students, it would be a cool way to be a great member of the campus community.
  • This may be one of the better ways Unity gets practical. If you don’t have a building but one college ministry does, is this something you could build together?

Here’s a great periodic assessment question for your leaders (and fellow college ministry staff): Is there anywhere in our ministry where we might be sending students mixed messages?

This is a deep-thought question, which means you’re not likely to get a lot of answers when you actually ask it! But having this top-of-mind (or at least middle-of-mind) for all leaders could be really valuable, so they notice when things DO come up. And this has everything to do with producing a good, discipleship-focused “customer experience” for your students (which is what I’ve been blogging about this week).

Examples could abound, so ultimately the Lord will have to reveal this in your ministry. But a few potential mixed-messages include:

  • Not teaching the Bible in ways you’d encourage students to study it. Remember, every time someone teaches (from the stage or in a small group), one of their most important jobs is exemplifying how the audience should study Scripture on their own. Your approach should be one you’d want them to emulate in their own personal Bible study. So if you (or other teachers, including small group leaders) stretch passages to make applications, ignore the context, read into the text things that aren’t really there, rely on shoddy sources, switch translations just to suit what you want to say, skip over obvious difficulties, etc. … then you’re sending mixed messages about how to study the Bible well.
  • Championing students as leaders… who shouldn’t be. In some college ministries, it’s very easy for students who are known for lacking integrity, lacking focus, lacking direction, lacking commitment, etc., to ascend through the ranks if they’re popular or have a skill or two. So how certain are you that each of your student leaders is known for HAVING – not lacking – these things, among the students who know them best?
  • Professing certain “pillars” or values with no matching actions. We can claim we’re all for unity… but never actually do anything with other college ministries. We can say we want to be really welcoming… but not build structures to make sure people feel welcomed. We can say small groups are vital, but not make it easy to dive in (or only allow students in to small groups once a year). We can say we love our campus, but never actually do anything to serve it, support it, celebrate it, or spend time on it. We can say churchmanship is biblical, but never facilitate students finding a good church, never hold students accountable to significant participation, or never prepare them to choose a great church in their new city after graduation. Have you operationalized each of your collegiate ministry’s values?

Here’s a tricky one: How would you (as college minister) know if your students were having a bad small group experience this school year?

The truth is, students are less likely to actually tell you than to

  • not realize their small group experience is sub-par or ineffective,
  • simply scoot away from the ministry (or at least from their small group), and/or
  • keep coming but not prioritize their small group (by coming infrequently, only keeping those relationships at a surface level, etc.).

But if college ministers should care about the experience of current participants (and they should), then this is one of the most pertinent areas to that experience (if small groups are a pillar of the particular college ministry as they often are).

So what means do you have to gauge their effectiveness… including to learn about groups from their participants? It can’t just be word-of-mouth… right?

Earlier this month, I offered an idea for college ministries’ large group gatherings: a “monologue” of sorts, chatting through the issues of the day.

Today’s Fridea offers a spin on that idea (and mostly comes from the fact that I love ESPN’s Around the Horn).

What if – weekly or occasionally – you offered a brief panel discussion on current events of the day? You may already use a panel on occasion, discussing Dating or Finding a church after college or Deciding about joining a sorority or fraternity. But couldn’t you do something similar for current events? What if trusted local Christian leaders – or even some of your student leaders – discussed/debated how they’re processing what’s taking place in the world (or in the city, or on campus).

The point – probably – wouldn’t be so much to argue a certain point of view, as much as to showcase how Christians are viewing “hot topics” through a Christian lens. (As long as everyone keeps this mission primary, it will go well.) Depending on the wisdom of your panel members and the topic under discussion, a panel could be as formulaic or as freewheeling as you want it to be. Anywhere on that spectrum, your students will get a view of how they too should process everything through a biblical worldview – even if that occasionally means mature believers still differ on their conclusions.

And don’t miss how I started this idea. While some panels could indeed take your entire Large Group Meeting, my original notion was akin to the “monologue” (of sorts) from a few weeks ago. This is something that many of your meetings could provide for a few minutes – and it might best hit its stated goal in that timeframe, anyway. That format – a 5-minute panel – could also be used on video (whether or not you did this in the Large Group Meeting at all!).

I was reminded this weekend at church how fantastic a panel discussion can be. I know “tried and true” methods like this one sometimes (wrongly) get thrown into the “boring and dated” trash pile.

But if it’s done well, a panel can prove powerful. Varying takes on an important topic provide far more “handholds” for your varied audience – whether those are concrete ways to address the problem of poverty, testimonies from a variety of young adults about seeking God beyond college, or different ways student leaders have shared their faith on campus. Even if you’re the absolute best about including pertinent illustrations in every message you deliver, it’s still hard to touch the practical nature of a panel.

Something to think about working in this fall?

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.

Happy Good Friday Eve.

I’ve been blogging a few discipleship principles this week (here and here) – and especially discipling students toward self-discipleship. So I thought I’d cap it off (while taking a break for Good Friday) with a related Fridea.

One way to “lift a finger” to help disciples become self-disciplers is by presenting them with easy on-ramps, straightforward “next steps” that provide examples of how a self-discipler takes charge of their own spiritual walk. Before we get lost in that tangled description, here are concrete possibilities:

  • Providing an event calendar of possibilities for growth that aren’t in your ministry. From local seminars or conferences, to various (trusted) churches’ upcoming Membership Classes (if you’re a campus-based college ministry), to on-ramp service opportunities with non-profit ministries in town.
  • Offering “electives” or other optional growth opportunities within your ministry. Whether you’re giving people their choice of small groups for a semester (with differing topics or emphases) or holding “one off” seminars, etc., on occasional weekends, you can put simple growth-choices into the hands of students.
  • Give a “first read” or “first listen” every chance you get. For instance, sharing your suggestion for a first C. S. Lewis book or a first site to visit to learn about Justice or a first podcasted sermon about Missions gives students an action plan. Bonus points if you provide such a list with each Large Group Meeting message. And small groups are ripe for this sort of springboard-suggesting too.

Yesterday I wrote about the college minister’s role in discipling students so they’ll disciple themselves well. Alongside teaching spiritual disciplines – or, now that I think about it, included in the “spiritual discipline” category – is exposing students to authors/speakers/works/concepts that they can explore on their own.

This week our pastor brought in Dr. Jerry Root, a renowned C. S. Lewis scholar, to speak to our staff. And even though the entirety was fantastic, what was great was our pastor’s stated goal of the time with Dr. Root: to help us thirst to learn more about (and from) C. S. Lewis.

Not all of us on our church’s staff will be discipled by C. S. Lewis, but some of us should be. Others should be impacted by other authors of old (or current people). Others may need to know that Spirit of the Disciplines exists, or that there’s a whole line of study in the area of vocational discipleship. And on and on, the theologies and personalities that could be vital parts of our testimonies for the next months or next decade.

That’s part of the job of a shepherd – to hand off a disciplee to other trusted mentors. And that’s what happens when we lend a book or present a field of study previously unknown.

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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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