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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?

If someone gives announcements at your campus ministry’s Large Group Meeting, do they approach that task with intentionality?

In churches, it seems that worship leaders, perhaps more and more, spend time considering their “worship set” – organizing around a theme, perhaps even building a purposeful flow. (I hope your college ministry’s worship folks are learning that sort of purposefulness as well.)

But I don’t know that announcements – in church or in college ministry – are put under the magnifying glass quite as often. Yet this is key space within a meeting. It shows who you are, communicating to visitors and regulars alike what your ministry actually finds important – and what they have to look forward to. What if you…

  • Tried to reflect a few different core values through the events you chose to announce each week?
  • Considered which announcements should be placed first, last, and otherwise?
  • Pared down announcements so they’re not too long?
  • Pursued thoughtfulness in how announcements are worded?
  • Purposefully appointed a great “emcee” (or rotation of announcement-givers) to deliver the announcements?
  • Let student leaders participate in suggesting announcements and deciding what “makes the cut”?

I hope you have ways – even informal ones – to assess your student leaders (from small group leaders to ministry team leaders to teachers).

Assuming you do, here’s an important eval question: How much time did you spend on your ministry this week?

There isn’t (probably) a definite time requirement here, nor even a clear baseline. But the results of your question might be informative. And they will probably provide the chance to push some leaders to understand the value of preparation, of ongoing improvement, and even of the work of prayer.Meanwhile, some leaders may need to learn about using time more efficiently, or working hard but then trusting God with the results, or balance – even when it comes to this form of ministry.

Meanwhile, some college ministry student leaders may need to learn about using their time more efficiently, or working hard but then trusting God with the results, or balance – even when it comes to this form of ministry.

And once you start asking the question, those student leaders will start thinking about the time they spend. Y’all can wrestle together about what’s best.

Through 2 or 3 different media recently, I’ve heard once again that leaders have to be willing to irk people.

Of course that’s true.

The leader will simply make decisions that bother somebody.

There’s a danger for college ministers to put a finger to the wind a bit too much, or to let individual voices serve as rudders way too often.

And if it’s hard for college ministers to rightly balance collaboration and making difficult choices, how hard is it for college studentsIf you’ve got student leaders, this whole issue can’t be easy for them, and in both directions! For some, they couldn’t care less about others’ feelings. For others, they care far too much.

So how are you teaching about this balance? Are you evaluating your leaders in both directions? Are you evaluating your staff, and yourself?

You’re likely in the middle of – or just past – some critical junctures in your college ministry. Freshman recruiting. Welcome party. Small groups launch. First Large Group Meeting. Fall retreat might have happened, or might be coming up. And so on.

If you’re anything like me, “evaluation” gets often nudged out in favor of the next thing that needs attention. But what if you made yourself – or maybe better yet, appointed a student to – organize a debriefing time for each of these. Even “debriefing time” can be relative – maybe it’s an email chain discussing “stop/start/continue” or “good/bad/ugly.” Or better, a quick lunch with key students and staff (everybody’s got time to eat!).

Simple moves like this help a college ministry actually improve in these critical junctures. For all the planning that went into that big event, isn’t it worth a debrief? And you don’t want to trust your recollections the next time you’ll be planning it… that’s how status quo largely gets maintained, even when we think we’re improving year after year.

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.

What if every student who came through your door was important to you until they landed in any college ministry?

This will look different based on context, but it’s an idea: For whatever follow-up you do through student leaders or staff, what if you focused on not only “recruiting” students to your ministry, but also pushing them to find somewhere to land even if it’s not your ministry?

This doesn’t have to be pushy, and it certainly won’t work 100% of the time. But if your student leaders and staff know that this is the ultimate goal, it might still make a difference in how (and how long) you follow up with students.

A recent project for work brought the opportunity to scour our body for a handful of talented individuals (in this case, who have analytics skills or experience), simply to ask for input on the project. It was awesome for me – and encouraging for them.

This is akin to the old disciplemaking standby of “taking them along with you” – bringing the person you’re discipling along as you teach, do meetings, etc. What if most of your college ministry’s planning and most of your decisions included students in the process? Even times you have a good guess about what you’ll end up deciding?

Whether by email reach-out or actually bringing students to the brainstorming session (or hosting a special student-only brainstorming session before your staff makes the final calls), it can all benefit the students. Of course, you might also pull some students in for the final call, or have student leaders who function pretty much as staff members anyway. But this idea involves looping in others who will be encouraged – and benefitted – by being looped in.

Of course, unless you’re super-arrogant, it’s likely to benefit your college ministry too (and not just the students). Because ideas can come from anywhere.

I’ve written this week about preparing student leaders to welcome new students really well. But one of the biggest opportunities for a great welcome is simply to, somehow, remember new students’ names. If a leader meets a new student at a welcome booth, or the first time they visit Large Group Meeting, etc…. they need to do everything they reasonably can to remember that name for the next time.

Right? Isn’t this pretty easy and fairly important?

So how can that be done? Ah, that’s the trickier notion. I think it begins with raising the value of this effort; if student leaders really believe it’s important, then they’re far more likely to do it.

Well-known “tricks” also help – like the whole “Be sure to say their name in the conversation at least a couple of times” tip, as well as the, “While they’re walking up to you, remind yourself over and over to remember this person’s name” old standby.

But you can also consider other means:

  • Photos, obviously, can be key. So why not have some roaming photographers at your first meeting… followed by a post-meeting student leader collaboration, where leaders help each other remember as many new faces/names as possible?
  • Nametags for the win! Try to squeeze nametags in anytime it’s not too awkward (emphasis on too – I think most times it’s less weird than college ministers think it is). I still think nametags rise to the level of one of the Best Practices in college ministry.
  • Just write the names down of students you meet, then use Facebook to attach faces later, as best you can. Each student leader should leave a recruiting booth of the first Large Group Meeting with a handful of names.
  • Teach your students memory tricks. Sometimes being hospitable simply comes down to using all available means to serve others – and if that’s a name-remembering course, is that an unspiritual use of student leaders’ time? But I also bet there are a few short YouTube videos or Google-able how-tos that would help immediately, too.

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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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