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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.

Your student leaders would gain a lot by watching what you do all week. Even if you don’t have a special viewing room with a two-way mirror.

How often do you bring them along for what you’re doing? I’m talking about just about everything, like:

  • Planning a message
  • Spending time on campus / “ministry of presence”
  • Planning out the semester or summer
  • Budgeting
  • Chatting with other student leaders or ministry teams
  • Sharing your fundraising appeal
  • Discussing the ministry with your boss
  • Editing a video
  • Preparing announcements
  • Meeting with your staff or adult volunteers
  • Visiting another college minister (on your campus or otherwise)

Any more options? I’m sure there are. The point is, you’ve got the chance to bring students along for all of it. Sometimes – sure – you shouldn’t. But more often, you should be asking yourself, Why not?

I’m no expert on delegation, neither an expert in understanding nor experience. But I want to be better.

One thing I’ve learned is that quality delegation will nearly always hurt, at least for a while. If you’re only delegating to student leaders the very parts of your campus ministry that

  1. you hate doing
  2. the students will do the same as you would

…then you’re at the bottom rungs of the delegation ladder. That’s fine and all, and it’s good you’re saving yourself some time and energy and giving them “at bats” in execution.

But you’re training ministers (whether they’ll ever be paid for it or not). They need at-bats on strategy, on actual leadership, on decision-making, and even on delegation themselves. For your benefit and (perhaps even especially) their benefit, consider loosening the reins on areas students might do differently than you would. Assign them the chance to come up with strategy, then actually let them run that out. If it’s obviously terrible for reasons they don’t understand, fine, maybe redirect before it even gets off the ground.

But otherwise, you’ll have to face some anxiety while you wait for their strategy to play out.

The same is true for delegating leadership, delegating speaking, delegating ministry functions (like setting up for Large Group Meeting or making a video), and so on. If it doesn’t hurt you to delegate, you’re probably not delegating enough.

Two ways to build community and culture are so simple (and so effective) they almost feel cliche:

  • honoring examples of the culture you’re trying to build
  • self-deprecation

While these two avenues seem worlds apart, they can share a common mode, one method that can accomplish either (or even both): a “best of” ceremony. Whether you’re awarding people humorously (offering “awards” for funny mistakes and goofball moments) or seriously (awarding people for greatness), each avenue presents an opportunity. Either you’re doubling down on what you want… or you’re building community by helping everyone not take your ministry (and each other) too seriously.

Examples of the humorous route: Each year at our staff-wide retreat, a few staff members present an “Oscars”-style awards show… which is basically a “roast” of various staff members. No one’s exempt; top leaders are just as likely (or probably more likely) to “win” as admins or new staffers are. Another example is the weekly wrap-up on a sports radio station I listen to, when three “bloopers” from the week are presented and then voted on by listeners.

Examples of the straightforward route: On the other hand, awards for things like “Volunteer of the Year” can go a long way toward highlighting what you want to see more of. You might not have to chain yourself to a particular category, either – instead offering something vague like the “Ministry Innovation” award once in awhile. (I used to have a team member who would hand out little “Great Job” tickets for various successes she noticed. It meant a lot!)

Whichever route you go, the point is to think about publicly building culture. Could an award ceremony (or an “award” ceremony) be just what you need?

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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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