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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.

To follow up on yesterday’s post, I wanted to offer a few past entries on how students process decisions. Enjoy!

When the Circus Comes CallingHelping students understand how to process decisions

A Community of “Core”As part of my “Tightening the Core” series, a quick post on the kinds of small groups college ministries should be shooting for

The Panel that ConnectsA phenomenal way both to encourage careful decisions and help college students make good decisions

Have you ever looked back at past “info cards,” former small group rosters, or old ministry team lists?

What would it teach you and your ministry to learn where formerly involved students ended up? Did they simply “slip away” from college ministry and get involved in college life? Did they find another college ministry or church? Are they flourishing? Are they even still at your school?

This wouldn’t be an easy project, but I don’t think it has to be as tricky as it might sound. (And social media might help quite a bit, plus plenty of students might know what’s going on with other students.)

Somewhat like churches that get serious about examining their “back door” to better reach those still participating, it could teach you a lot about students, their rhythms, and what happens after they leave. (Of course, if you get to ask why they stopped participating, that would be of great use too.) And as your ministry reaches out, you might even connect with some students who need to come back – which would be a joy indeed.

Think about it. I know this is zany. But it could be awesome for the student leaders you’d recruit to help, and good for you to give it a try.

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?

Yesterday was the first-in-the-nation primary election day here in Texas. While it’s not a presidential election year, it is indeed a year when the students around you will hear about plenty of voting opportunities. (And we’re not really at a point in America where politics takes an “off year,” either.)

So as I’ve argued before… how will you help them process?:

Many (if not all) of the students in your campus ministry will be shepherded by somebody regarding political choices this year. Do you really want their choices to be driven by professors, FoxNews, Bernie Sanders devotees, relatives, the student newspaper, NPR, roommates, fliers on campus, or the student president of a College political club?

Or will you help them walk first and foremost as a Christian through political choices, with all the research, decision-making, stance-discernment, winsome disagreement, and dialogue that can and often should take place?

And are you teaching them to approach politics this way for the rest of their lives?

For Valentine’s Day, a past post assessing the relationships and romances that develop within your college ministry…

We college ministers need to talk plenty about “love and relationships” – those things are on our students’ minds, they trip up plenty of Christian students, they provide a chance to run counter-cultural to the campus, and they’ll lead to the life-changing choice of a spouse either in college or afterwards. So I figured I’d spend some posts talking about college students and romance. (Find the whole series here.)

Here’s the first post in the series: evaluating your ministry through the Great Couples Assessment.

One interesting way to assess your ministry is along this unique line: the kinds of romantic couples it’s producing. These questions are worth asking – even if there are different “right” answers (because campus ministries are different from each other).

1. When romantic couples emerge within your college ministry, are they awesome? A healthy college ministry will tend to produce healthy couples, and couples that exemplify the very things the ministry celebrates. Do you and other students enjoy being around the couples your ministry produces? Are those couples healthy, or are they full of red flags?

2. Is your campus ministry really good about celebrating romance, relationships, marriage, etc.? Sometimes campus ministries aren’t even good at supporting couples, let alone celebrating God’s work in bringing people together!

3. Do solid Christians within your college ministry regularly build romances with each otherHow this one relates to healthy college ministry is a bit more complicated. But if you’re not seeing couples emerge from within your ministry (and especially if you are seeing students enter into relationships regularly with Christian students outside your ministry), it’s at least worth asking Why that’s the case.

Are you providing opportunities for awesome men of God to meet awesome women of God? Is your ministry the kind of ministry that even attracts those awesome people – both men and women? Is there room – even alongside the accompanying awkwardness – for students to build friendships, and eventually more, with others in your ministry?

Related to this is the issue of offering gender-specific vs. co-ed opportunities. Read where I wrote about that – including some great comments from you guys!

4. Do people get married? Some might presume that a strong college ministry will indeed produce lots and lots of marriages, while others would recognize that marriage-immediately-after-graduating really isn’t the norm anymore. But I think we have to imagine that within a college ministry with a good number of students, we would likely be seeing the occasional marriage produced. If not, it’s probably worth asking Why – even if in the end, we decide we’re right where we need to be.

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So there you have it. Four questions. As you answer them, simply consider what the answers in your ministry should be… and then what they actually are. Ministries will be different, but I think these things are worth examining!

But what do you think?

(Continue the series here.)

I can’t believe it’s almost been two decades since my first Finals Week as a college student.

It’s probably because of that distance that I don’t really remember being challenged about “finishing strong” when it came to Finals Week. What happened with the school calendar seems like it was pretty distant from the college ministry, especially since college ministry functions often stopped before our “dead week” for studying up.

In any case, with 19 years of retrospect, I offer you some encouragement to play the “Finish Strong” encouragement role with your students in a couple of ways:

Finish strong in studies, because studies matter. Students who see their educational opportunities as a stewardship and an opportunity are doing better than those who simply see them as necessary evils. And Finals Week means a unique opportunity for you to preach that: Reminding them that “locking in what they’ve learned” is actually valuable beyond that little test they take, as well as reminding them that excellence matters spiritually.

Fulfill their ministry now, because everything changes. Many students may not remember – and freshmen don’t realize – that everything about the spring semester will look a little different. If they’ve begun relationships with classmates, professors, even people they tend to run into on campus, now is likely the time to “fulfill that ministry,” or at least doing whatever they need to when proximity isn’t guaranteed in 2018. This may mean (finally) taking someone to coffee with a spiritual conversation in mind – and Finals Week can be a great time for that – or at least getting contact info, seeking clarity on whether that person “has a faith,” and/or other strategic opportunities.

Now would be a great time of your semester to check up on students’ church involvement: especially freshmen, but anyone could find their churchmanship waning at any point in college.

And this is applicable even if you run a church-based ministry or collegiate church. (Are those students involved in a healthy way?)

It’s easy for college ministers to say they care about church involvement, but if it’s never a topic of conversation – and a topic of accountability – then it’s probably not an actual priority. On the other hand, if you do “make a big deal about church,” you’ll remind students that, yes, this is a priority for each semester and season of their lives.

In my current role, I work hard to get church people to find their “fit” for serving others. Obviously, finding a place to impact others, where passions and spiritual gifting and strengths and schedule, is a great goal for every Christian – even if we all learn along the way that sometimes “getting done what’s needed” may be our calling in the moment, too.

But the setup of many college ministries probably aids students in exploring the latter (doing necessary things) a lot more than the former (finding their fit). Even student leadership structures that offer a diversity of roles may “lock students in” to a particular path their Sophomore year. They’re small group leaders, then leaders of small group leaders… or they serve on the tech team, then they lead the tech team… And so on.

But do you think students gain new insight about passions/gifts/strengths during their college years? Shouldn’t this be a season when they (1) get to explore options, and (2) figure out their “best and highest use” for impacting others?

You’re not necessarily called to make a new leadership position for every student, positions that are as unique as the students that populate them. But I can also say that one of the “output goals” for college ministry should probably be students knowing their leadership bent, knowing their strengths, knowing their spiritual gifts… and having at least an inkling of ways they might be deployed in their “best and highest use” for years to come. But discipling in those things will require some sort of structure aligned around that goal.

So somewhere, somehow, college ministries need options and flexibility enough for leadership disambiguation along the way. How can you start students on the path to their unique “good works prepared beforehand”?

What happens when your students face an “underwater week”?

The difficult mid-semester week, when it seems like all projects are due and mid-terms come calling and a paper or two still need to be written, is a universal facet of collegiate existence.

My question is this: How do you use these moments to shepherd students?

“Underwater Weeks” are phenomenal opportunities for (1) pastoral care, and (2) mentoring… even if the latter is done after the fact. Whether it’s you as college minister or students’ small group leaders, somebody has a great chance to care for students in the midst of the mini-crisis of a very long, very hard week. Just think of the possibilities for action steps…

As such a week looms ahead: Talk with students about their particular temptations in the middle of these weeks. Do they get angry? Get anxious? Slip into looking at porn? Become a bad roommate? And then ask how you – or others – can help. Are these students asking for help when they need to?

In the middle of the Underwater Week: Let students know you’re praying for them (and actually pray for them!). Hold them accountable on stuff discussed earlier. Offer them space to study, encouragement to sleep, and whatever other resources they need. Round up encouragers and encouragements.

After the week: Sit down to discuss how it could have gone better. Was the craziness pretty unavoidable… or could they organize better in the aftermath? Did sin “get ’em” during this stressful time? How should next time look different? And in the midst of the trial, how was God big and real and close? What did He teach them? In other words, debrief.

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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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