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Hopefully you’ve got student leaders serving in your ministry. Whether you’ve simply got small group leaders, you have a wide range of ministry teams, or you’ve informally assigned oversight to things like “large group meeting setup” or “greeting newcomers,” those leaders usually have a specific role. Or even if some leaders’ “specific role” is “Do whatever’s needed,” they still have an assignment.

So here’s the weird question of the day: Have your student leaders ever met their “counterparts” in other college ministries on campus?

In the working world, professional associations allow for collaboration and skill-improvement. When doctors or engineers or teachers connect, everybody’s better for it (or at least that’s the hope).

I’m not suggesting you start a professional organization for student leaders (although if you’re in a position of regional or national leadership, you definitely should consider this!). I’m suggesting you connect with the RUF guys or the BCM folks or that church college ministry, and bring college ministry student leaders together. If you bring all student leaders together, that’s a win; if you bring “like” leaders together with their counterparts – small group leaders with small group leaders, sports ministry team leaders with other sports ministry team leaders, and so on – then it might be even better.

Summer’s a great time to work out this “scheme,” even if you don’t actually attempt it before October.

Have you ever considered recruiting a leader for a specific need in your college ministry?

Sure, if you have ministry teams and not only small group leaders, you probably open some narrowly defined leadership opportunities once a year or so. But what about a very specific need that arises mid-year?

Let’s say, for example, you’ve realized that the number of international students on your campus is increasing every year. What’s more, the administration has shared that they’re ramping up their efforts to draw students from other countries and expect the increase to accelerate. What would your college ministry’s response be?

One option: Recruit a few student leaders to lead an International Students team, right now, and let those leaders (and teammates) loose to welcome, serve, and build relationships with international students.

Of course, a first effort would come among your present students, sharing with them the opportunity and asking (1) who might want to serve on such a team, and (2) who might want to lead that team. But there’s more you could do to recruit.

Maybe there’s a current international student – who’s a believer – who would help in this regard? Could you find out? Or could you advertise on campus for this particular role, especially among clubs or apartment complexes or events where international students, students who love international things, or other niches abound? Don’t forget, there are plenty of strong believers on your campus who simply haven’t joined a full-fledged campus ministry.

(Remember, this international student effort is just an example – you might be looking for any sort of specific leader.)

Wilder still: What if you actually went outside your own collegiate ministry to recruit a leader for this particular spot? I know that’s unusual. But there may be a mature student, already primed to serve international students (perhaps already serving them in some capacity) who just hasn’t found their way to your college ministry. They might be well-known to their church in town. Perhaps they’re even involved in another college ministry. And yet the fit – this particular leadership role – might in fact be God’s best next step for them.

It’s crazy – for most college ministers, at least – to think about putting the word out among their fellow Christian leaders, sharing that they’re looking for a few student leaders that might currently be in their ministries. And it’s crazy to think that someone might help in this regard, offering to share your need with a leadership-caliber student currently in their ministry.

But this is what Kingdom-minded campus missions looks like. Deep down, I hope you’d be willing to share a particular need with a particular student, even if that need took them away from your ministry, because your own ministry didn’t offer the same opportunity.

So if there’s a need that has arisen, consider recruiting for that need. And if you see a place one of your students could find their best possible “fit” – whether it’s a campus role, a job in town, a different church, or a different college ministry – be willing to shepherd students in that way.

Depending on your ministry’s rhythms, it’s likely you’re determining student leaders for next year: for small groups, for ministry teams, maybe for other arenas too.

I hope, among other evaluations, you (or current student leaders) hold interviews with these guys and gals.

Why? Because recruiting leaders is, ultimately, a really great excuse for additional disciplemaking. You get the chance to disciple not only your upcoming student leaders, but even those who won’t be selected. And face-to-face provides the best chance to disciple these students, if you’ll take the time to do it.

Once you do, if that theme – disciplemaking – stays at the forefront of your mind, the interview will look a certain way, too. You won’t only have questions/discussions aimed at determining Yes or No (regarding a leadership role). You’ll include questions, discussions, and maybe even feedback that aim to push the student further with the Lord and in ministry.

This may be a time to share strengths and weaknesses you’ve seen. This may be a time to ask questions they’re not usually asked. This may be a time to celebrate ways they’ve been growing – and highlight ways they could. This discipleship doesn’t just come through direct feedback (though you certainly should provide direct feedback during this time), but also by asking great questions – even questions that make the student squirm, with a lingering silence that you refuse to fill so the student realizes they should be able to fill it.

If your goal with just about any student meeting isn’t (first) disciple, then pursue all other aims, it should be. And student leader interviews offer some of the best possible chances to do that  – with students who see themselves as invested in your college ministry, aspire to be leaders, and have a special motivation to pay attention.

My first significant college ministry experience was as a sophomore in college, leading a small group of freshmen in an awesome on-campus ministry called Upstream. (Upstream was overseen by a local church but, at the time, had small group leaders and participants from a variety of local churches.)

One of the many fantastic aspects of that ministry was that it allowed me (and my female partner), both little ol’ sophomores, an incredible amount of latitude in planning our ministry efforts. Even though our “base curriculum” was assigned (so all groups were reading the same book or talking about the same Christian book of the Bible), the week-in, week-out activities of the group and the presentation of the material were under our direct control. We had to make those decisions.

And it changed my life.

It was a year of learning to humbly beg the Lord for insight and direction, as Audrey and I led these two dozen freshmen. We were given ownership, and it made all the difference – ultimately launching me into a whole passion for collegiate ministry.

How many student leaders in your campus ministry have true ownership of their roles? This is where the difference between strategy and execution comes into play: If leaders are, for the most part, only executing on someone else’s strategy, then they’re important facilitators but not full-fledged owners. If, on the other hand, they’re led well but given latitude for some actual strategy, that’s a different – and much more exciting – story.

It’s not bad to have facilitators for your strategy. Some students should play that role. But I’m asking how many have the opportunity to do more than that.

As I noted earlier this week, I’ve been on a learning trip with our large church team. That meant several great learning “interviews” – not too unlike the hundreds I’ve done with college ministers, only this time with a few other people sitting alongside me in each one.

Of course, my coworkers asked many good questions. But since some of them are newer to their roles than I am to mine, I led the way in several of those conversations. I also knew it was good to show the kind of questions they should ask of other ministers on a regular basis… and even show the kind of great question-asker they should become.

How often do students get to sit in on your learning sessions – whether that’s with other college ministers, campus administration, overseers or supporters, even other students?

Since this is a Fridea, I’ll offer a concrete challenge: Involve students in five learning conversations between now and the end of the school year. You can do that, can’t you? It might even set you – and them – up for a great new school year in the fall.

Today’s Fridea is about ideas – specifically, inviting new ideas for new ministry efforts in the new school year.

What if you solicited out-of-the-box ideas for your college ministry, from your students, to be implemented in the next school year?

If you pitched this well, you’d hopefully get a variety of small ideas and big ideas, sane ideas and crazy ideas, suggested changes and suggested additions, off-the-cuff notions and ideas that have percolated within students for months. It’s an activity that would provide a sense of ownership, it could be a lot of fun, and it would get students thinking about the fall.

But even more importantly, you could end up with some fantastic ideas. (And depending on who suggested these ideas, you might have some students already prepared to help lead each effort.)

The subject of mental health is obviously a big one – a big one for churches to tackle, a big one for campuses to tackle, and one that college ministries shouldn’t fall short of addressing. It’s not too scandalous to say that Christians haven’t exactly handled this one as excellently as we could have, either in wisdom or winsomeness.

But like I said, it’s a huge subject.

But one small piece of that subject is having discussions with your student leaders about their own health – probably as you’re considering their leadership role in the first place. You should discuss with incoming leaders what they’re currently struggling with, including knowing about any current or past mental health struggles. This vulnerability will help them, and you’ll be able to disciple them best, all throughout their time in leadership. Like any potential concern – even though mental/emotional health doesn’t necessarily involve sin issues – you need to know about struggles that could come up… and not just for the ministry, but for the person.

If this seems too “personal,” then it’s worth asking yourself why it does. If you’re not asking your student leaders to be vulnerable about all sorts of things, then you’re only “raising up leaders” with halfway measures.

One of the things they should be willing to share is their emotional/mental health, and any steps they’re taking to buttress it. Are you willing to ask the questions?

A big opportunity to deploy students into service is on my mind this morning. But I’ve written about it plenty. So here’s some stitching of past posts that may be inspiring to you, too.


We still need to be learning our campuses – and it should move us to action.

Do you have built-in methods to keep “your ear to the ground”? There’s no way we as non-students can know our “campus tribe” in the ways an insider can. So are we asking them? Do we have a sort of “council” of students, whether formal or informal, who keep us up to date on campus fads, focuses, and opportunities? Do we read the campus newspaper regularly? Do we spend LOTS of time on campus? When you’re there, do (re)learn your campus like a student – sitting in the student center, sure, but also attending classes and big events, sitting in on sports and seminars, chatting with students who pass by your seat rather than only students who come by your building?

When you started, you knew there was a bunch you didn’t know. Don’t lose that assumption.


Then, you’ve got to leave room (mentally, verbally, even structurally) for addressing new opportunities that arise, even after the year starts.

Opportunity may come very subtly: An article in the school newspaper. A campus rule change that seems small but creates an opportunity. An incoming freshman class that is particularly… smart or rowdy or secular or interested in spiritual things. A “theme” God seems to be stirring on campus that would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. And hard to respond to, if you didn’t have any wiggle room.

Or the opportunity may come very un-subtly: A tragedy. Surprising changes within another college ministry. New campus leaders that dramatically affect things. A scandal.


Necessity is the mother of invention; a more “ministerial” way to put that is that NEED leads to new ministry. So that’s where a lot of this can start: Getting our students, our leaders, or ourselves out into the campus, discovering where the biggest needs are.

When’s the last time you – or better yet, a team of students – examined the biggest needs on campus? Is someone meeting with administration, faculty, and staff to discover how you can be awesome members of the campus community? Surveying students (or at least student organizations), reading the newspaper? Does the campus know you’re here to serve it?

While this may be Missions 101, it’s not always something we’re trained to do in college ministry. But it’s vital.


Watch then go. No comma in that exhortation, because it can move just that quickly.

 

As a college minister, you’re probably creating something all the time. You plan a weekly message, you write a blog post, you craft emails to everyone. You write outlines for your leadership meeting, write curriculum, design discussion questions for small groups, or craft fundraising letters. Maybe you edit videos, post on social media, make newsletters for parents or supporters… or you’re even writing a book!

It’s possible you do none of this, but most college ministers create on a pretty regular basis.

And you’ve got an army of potential editors (your college students).

Not all students would be great at editing, of course – but “editing” doesn’t only mean carefully looking for grammar and spelling issues, either. The varying personalities and abilities in your campus ministry would actually work for you here, because you need different points of view for a phenomenal editing process.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you pull students into your process simply to help you make things better. (But they will help you make things way better!) I’m also saying it for their benefit: for their growth as leaders or potential leaders, to expose them to whatever you’re working on, even to honor them as your co-laborers.

You’re all in this little campus mission together. Why not let them partake in what you create?

It’s a sign of health if your campus ministry is saying No to a large number of applicants for student leader positions.

It means:

  • You have a student leader structure
  • You don’t take just anyone into leadership roles
  • Lots of students want to be student leaders
  • You’re willing to tell people No

But what happens next? Here are a few actions that should kick in at that point:

1. Tell them why. Saying No without providing a reason – or “letting them down easy” without authenticity – means you’ve missed one of the best possible discipleship opportunities you’ll have with this student. Students are, after all, just a few years (or less) out of high school. This may indeed be their first significant No, or at least an unexpected one. So while those same characteristics mean you should take care in how you respond, it also means you have the chance to help them grow through this very “adulting” form of adversity.

2. Give them options to serve. While plenty of college ministers might be faithful to accomplish #1, this one’s easier to miss. What could the student do to be involved? Volunteer in the area they were hoping to lead? Volunteer in a different area? Take on an assignment based on the talents and strengths you discovered in their application process? (I love that one!) Apprentice under the leader that was chosen instead of them? (Just don’t do that as a way to “let them down easy” – only if they’re truly qualified and ready.) In the same meeting where you tell them why, offer them some great options (if there are some).

3. Give them opportunities to grow. This is all discipleship. You’ve taken a great discipleship step by saying No. Now continue the job! What are some ways the student could grow in the areas they lack? Do they need leadership training? One-on-one discipleship? A personal growth strategy for the area(s) they could improve? Regardless of whether they have glaring issues or there just aren’t enough spots for the number of applicants, every student can become a better leader – help them realize how!

Every college ministry should be churning out leaders. If campus ministers take these steps, their “future leaders” number goes from a few to many.

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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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