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How do you say No to potential leaders… or to present leaders/volunteers who need to be “fired”?

College ministers realize that No can be a great discipleship moment. It’s vital – for the campus ministry, yes, but also for the interested leader or volunteer – to hear No when it’s necessary.

But one principle of No-saying is that elongating the No can sometimes add to the discipleship process. And I don’t mean simply saying “Nooooooooooooooooooooooo.”

Sometimes a leader has to say an immediate No, removing a bad leader or simply shooting straight with a potential leader. But other times, you can take that same student on a discipleship journey that makes it less painful for you and for them, as well as deepening the discipleship you have with them.

Here are some ways to “elongate a No”:

  • In the case of a present leader/volunteer, sometimes you can meet with a student multiple times rather than just once, helping them transition out (or to another role) via what feels a little more like mutual decision. That doesn’t mean you don’t stick to your guns if a No is really needed and they don’t agree. But unless the ministry’s in jeopardy, a present volunteer or student leader has the chance here to process the issues and not just the “rejection.”
  • The same goes for anyone who steps up to lead for the first time. Treat their idea (that they should lead) like you would a big idea for a new event: Hear them out, ask probing questions, make them process related ideas (and Scriptures about leadership), etc. While this may not be as simple if you’ve got a scheduled influx of leaders once a year (for instance), even in that case, you might be able to offer honesty and transparency as you work through someone’s leadership offer with them.
  • Offer Leadership Training for potential leaders before they begin applying for leadership roles. At worst, you’ve gained some mutual language for talking about why a No might be right (for now). They might also self-select out of the leadership pipeline for now.
  • An application process that goes well beyond just asking for name and contact info can accomplish something similar. Ask hard questions, and at least you’ll be allowing potential leaders the chance to process the very reasons you might eventually need to give them for a No. Or, again, they might self-select out – and be better because of the process.
  • Elongating the No may simply involve softening the No, too… by offering this individual another way to contribute or even move toward leadership. That might include a leadership class, apprenticing under a leader, or otherwise contributing and staying nearby for more discipleship.

“Adopt-a-student” programs aren’t unusual within church-based college ministries, but even for those guys it’s an idea definitely worth spending a Fridea on… and it’s worth every other branch of college ministry considering how they, too, can connect students with individual families.

The idea, if you’re unfamiliar, is for a church family to “adopt” a student – likely for at least a school year. This means (at least) occasional meals in their home but often can mean service both ways – babysitting by the student, an opportunity for the student to do laundry, etc. This is one of those activities where a little training goes a long way – and it’s wise to train the students as well as the adults.

But it’s the practical beauty that you’ll want to focus on. How awesome it is to get college students around babies and soccer games and family tables! Let alone the impact on the families (though it can be substantial) – imagine the blessing for your students in seeing a strong home in action, driving “home” all that you’ve been teaching about marriage and adulting and career and conflict and probably several other things. These are potential mentors, definite role models, accomplices as you try to draw students outside of their own little worlds.

As best you can, get your students a family!

One technique that other branches of college ministry can learn from church-based ministry is the use of adult volunteers.

It’s extremely rare (at least in my experience) to hear of campus-based or institutional college ministries “importing” local Christian adults. Of course, institutional ministries (those within Christian colleges) may very well use faculty from the rest of the college, which covers a lot of the bases here.

In the final branch, collegiate churches, the presence of non-staff adults largely depends on how heterogeneous the congregation is. Some of these ministries are made up of many adults; others are nearly entirely student-drawing (except for staff members).

(I know of at least one collegiate church, on the other hand, that imported adults from other campuses of this multi-site church. They asked for a yearlong commitment. Cool idea.)

And while I’m at it, it’s worth noting that plenty of church-based college ministries likely don’t use adult volunteers (or don’t use many). But in general, they’re far more likely to than the other branches.

So caveats aside, this is an area worth exploring for any and all college ministries. One of the easiest objections to the work of college ministry is its lack of intergenerational connections. What’s more, it’s clear this generation of students is interested in learning from those of older generations. And whether they’re interested or not… they need to hear from them. And they need to hear from more than just their college ministry’s staff (and probably from people older than their college ministry’s staff, too.)

Sure, pulling adults into your ministry to

  • lead small groups
  • teach
  • mentor ministry teams or simply participate in them
  • invite students into their own lives and homes
  • disciple students
  • or simply connect with students over time, organically, in the context of your Large Group Meetings or other events

can be messy. It can be awkward. And certainly not all adults are cut out for this.

But some are. It’s worth pulling them in.

Who’s the “engine” of your college ministry for thinking about ways to advance your mission into new territory? I don’t mean continuing the present mission in all its effectiveness, or even tweaking things so that even more fruit is gained (although both of those are important pursuits). Today I’m asking if someone in your campus ministry gets to spend significant time thinking about new areas of fruit-bearing altogether.

In many college ministries, this task would fall to the college minister. And that’s great… if he or she has been able to delegate a lot of other oversight to students, volunteers, or staff.

In some college ministries, there might be a staff member or two who are wired entrepreneurially. They might provide this engine… if, again, they have space in their schedules for entrepreneurship. If they’re mostly running the Large Group Meeting or have six discipleship appointments each week, then R&D will (and should) take a back seat. Or it might just stay in the trunk.

I hope that some ministries let students be an engine for R&D, even if staff members are also thinking about advancement too. For the right kind of student, a yearlong focus on “what could be” will be an incredible growing experience – both for them and for the ministry.

Whatever the case, the title of this post presents the crux: If student leaders, staff members, or the director don’t make room for R&D, then it will not happen. And room has to be made, not simply watched for and then grabbed when it comes along. There’s always more urgent tasks on the calendar, there are always ways to fulfill the ministry you’ve already undertaken, something can always be better. So if the collegiate ministry is going to move forward into new places and new ways, you probably shouldn’t just wait for the prime month of July (or a few weeks of Christmas break) to provide all your R&D-ing space each year.

Someone’s got to be making some room for it, starting today.

A few weeks into the semester is a great time to examine whether your level of equipping and delegation was top-notch, terrible, or somewhere in between.

I’m writing this assuming you’re the top college minister – or at least on staff – at a college ministry. Maybe your role is different, and you can definitely read accordingly! And the question is this: Did you end up doing a lot of things during the first weeks of school that students (theoretically) could have been equipped for? And what have you set up for the rest of the semester?

This includes even vital activities like discipling students. This might be controversial, but in my missionary/church-planting model of college ministry, I’d argue that most college ministers shouldn’t be filling the majority of their week with one-on-one discipleship of individual students, with a very potential caveat of discipling your student leaders. (But even then, if that’s filling a large percentage of your time, you’d want to add an additional discipleship layer ASAP.)

Yes, disciple-making is a huge win. No argument from me. But directed disciple-making, strategic disciple-making, effective disciple-making – those come when someone wise is spending time in the harvest fields doing more than the actual harvesting. They’re prayerfully thinking about new fields, for one, but also about making sure the harvesters are as effective as possible.

(This is dumbing down the role of the college minister, although plenty would fit into those two categories – considering opportunities and maintaining effectiveness.)

The same could be said for lots of roles that college ministers often tend to assume: Recruiting freshmen. Social media. Leading small groups. Developing messages, even, although I recognize many feel this needs to be their main focus (and other college ministers regularly speak only a handful of times a year, which would surprise the other group).

It’s actually really valuable when college ministers participate in all these areas on occasion, reminding themselves of all that’s learned “on the front lines.” But college ministers who are filling their time in delegate-able areas need a plan to move some of that to students – for the students’ sakes, as well as the ministry’s. The strategic ministry work, from exegeting your context to discipling top leaders to assessing the effectiveness of everything you can – these can and should take a larger share than I fear they often do. But you have the chance to equip others for the rest, leaving yourself room to do what only you can do.

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.

recruitingisdisc

Back in March, I penned a few posts on a theme I believe can revolutionize recruiting, an activity that makes up a lot of ministry (and a larger share of college ministry activity than in many other ministries).

That theme, or thesis, is that recruiting IS discipleship. The very basic argument goes something like this:

When I encourage a student to consider our college ministry [or an activity within our college ministry], I’m simply

  • presenting a spiritual endeavor for them to pursue
  • relating why it’s important and beneficial
  • and urging them to try something that I know (better than they know) could greatly benefit them.

Sounds a lot like what happens when I sit across from a guy at Taco Bell and encourage him to grow in his use of spiritual disciplines, or talk about better wisdom for dating.

That’s one simple argument, but I highly encourage you to check out the first post I wrote back then.

So if Recruiting IS Discipleship…

When we realize this is true, we start conducting our recruitment a bit differently – because now it should be judged as discipleship, not just as recruitment. So as we advertise our college ministry in general OR invite students to participate in something specific, we begin to ponder things like the following…

Can you stand behind the ask?

Are you proud to recruit to this? Do you truly believe it would be highly valuable for those you’re recruiting? And do you truly believe it’s a “fit” for this individual (or for some individuals in the group you’re recruiting)?

Are you casting the vision for why?

It’s bad discipleship to say, “Let’s memorize Scripture ’cause that’s good to do.” We must share more. We should cast the vision for the wonders, power, and importance of God’s word.

Likewise, when we’re recruiting, we should regularly share the vision for WHY, for what’s accomplished, for what’s at stake. (It’s okay to throw in the value for that person, too.)

If we don’t cast the vision, we might just be saying “It’s good to do.” And that’s lousy discipleship.

Are you willing to say No?

If you recruit a crowd but someone who isn’t a fit shows up, are you willing to tell them No? That’s discipleship, too. So we’re likely missing a ministry if we avoid the issue, say No without discussion, or let them participate anyway.

As I noted, last week I was immersed in two different conferences – which means, of course, that I had two chances to learn some college ministry principles – not because these were “campus ministry conferences” per se, but because we can always be learning about this field.

So that’s the direction I’ll likely be blogging this week.

One thing addressed at my first conference – the Church Leaders Conference here in Dallas – was building a culture that includes fun. A speaker introduced the topic onstage, and then he challenged the church teams to play a game together that night… with the losers returning the next morning to spin the Wheel of Consequences.

For some church teams, this was quite new.

But while that might be an obvious topic for some church teams, it seems weird to encourage college ministers and college ministry teams to “make sure they’re having fun” too. But the truth is, not all college ministries have been as intentional about this aspect of community-building as they could have been – either among staff/leaders or within the ministry as a whole.

Intentional is the point.

Back when Cru was still “Campus Crusade,” I wrote about “fun” being a hallmark of their ministry (typified by their Winter Conference):

One of Cru’s hallmark strengths, from what I can tell, is the preponderance of fun in its chapters. I’ve written before about this being something the other branches can learn from campus-based ministries – but even among those ministries, Crusade certainly seems to be one that places a high value on fostering a Culture of Fun.

Of course, that showed up at Winter Conference. School pride was on display, the emcee-gal was full of dry humor, a crazy monkey-suited fellow roamed about, students and leaders seemed to share true camaraderie inside and outside of official activities, and the atmosphere itself “felt” really lively – that final point being the most noticeable difference between the average Cru chapter I visit and some other ministries.

(Read my additional Cru reflections here)

In the post I linked there (which I’d highly encourage you to read), I noted several ways “fun” was popping up during the course of my Yearlong Road Trip. Then I concluded:

So maybe for some of us…, having fun together – even beyond pre-planned “fellowship activities” – might be a shot-in-the-arm for our own ministries. And for some of our students, this can be a chance to fulfill their God-given purpose of bringin’ joy to others through humor, creativity, and other applications of their personality.

Can you over-do the “fun thing”? Sure! We’re all trying to fight the caricature of “just-pizza-parties” college ministry.

But you can under-do fun, too, right?

(Read more here)

But even before that, just two months in to that crazy year of exploration, I was already noticing that there’s a spectrum in our field on this issue:

Whenever you expose yourself to multiple ministries of the same type, you’re gonna notice contrasts between them. … On this trip, I’ve seen some ministries really “make room” for joy in abundance. I’ve also seen ministries that almost seem to aim for general gloom, in the name of spirituality or wisdom or whatever. And others, not quite as bad, simply miss opportunities to enjoy life with their students (who, believe it or not, can occasionally be tempted to be too serious). Just something we can all think about – and something I’m learning about on this trip.

(Read that post here)

So again, while some of this may be no new revelation for you, other college ministries really aren’t as intentional in this area as they could be. Or some ministries might be producing fun for the general membership, but serving with them (as a leader or a staff member) isn’t nearly as “fun” as it could be.

But the latter may be even more important. Because the bonds and community you’re building among staff, volunteers, and student leaders is vital to all the rest of it – not just for having fun, but in all the ways you hope to lead your students.

Yesterday, I wrote about making sure students know that we believe ALL of their collegiate experience (and life) connect to the Lord. So here’s an idea from the past that helps make that clear – and helps students make those spiritual connections.

A while back, a brand new college minister I knew had an idea: As Fraternity Rush season descended on SMU’s campus, why not hold a forum to help students work through that decision? Kaity’s testimony involves the sorority world (before and after she came to Christ), and the Greek system is certainly a big deal at that campus tribe.

Her original idea eventually turned into a student-led panel discussion, and I believe they did it multiple times through recent years.

This is the kind of event you could hold for all sorts of choices, from selecting classes to choosing a major to finding friends or “special someones.”

I love this idea for a few reasons:

  • It can highlight the fact that choices are very important. Most students have no idea how much entering a fraternity, joining the ROTC, switching majors, or studying abroad will actually affect their lives. And sadly, they’re probably hearing a lot more “Rah rah you should do this” from present participants (or even their own parents) than they’re hearing “Let’s talk about pros, cons, realistic expectations, past experiences of others, and biblical wisdom.”
  • A “decision forum” doesn’t just give the students the straight dope about how these decisions will affect them, it allows for them to see the theological nature of these decisions. All decisions are spiritual, but sadly our students don’t realize that. This gives us the chance to let them see it – with a topic they’re probably highly interested in already.
  • Obviously, picking something that’s a “campus hot topic” (like Sorority Rush) may draw an audience that doesn’t normally connect with your college ministry.
  • …and it could also be a chance to bring multiple campus ministries together.
  • Panel discussions are disciplemaking with a BONUS of wisdom-from-many-counselors. Could we be more biblical?!

Again, this method can apply to all sorts of decisions: A panel of juniors and seniors discussing how our class choices affect learning and ministry opportunities. Alumni sharing how to choose (and when not to choose) a summer internship. Alumni discussing a successful transition out to the Real World. Sophomores sharing how they chose a major – and why it matters. Students helping fellow-students process the uber-important how-to-spend-my-summer decision. Even Christian students helping pre-freshmen process decisions about what to be involved in before classes start.

And of course, panels don’t just have to be about choices, either. They can be discussions about any facet of the up-and-down collegiate existence.

Because it’s all about God, ultimately.

In case you’re wondering, my pic is of the Chi Alpha house at Arkansas.

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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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