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I’ve posted this before but probably can’t say it enough.

Summer slows down for me a bit, so, for example, I might get the chance to press forward on the theory and strategy side of my ministry by reading a variety of books. I’ve attended heavy-duty conferences in summers past, or started working on something spring simply didn’t provide time for.

Crash-coursing can be a joy.

I don’t know what your summer looks like, but here’s one thing I can guess is true: There’s at least one portion of your college ministry which, if you improved during this summer, would truly (and forever) impact the ministry as a whole.

So the question is, can you take the time this summer to make that advance?

Could you take a few days, or an hour every day for a couple of weeks, or a weekend retreat, or some other “crash course” season to move the ball forward in that area? Sure, a crash course is not the only way to learn – maybe not even the best way. But it can work for certain topics – and even more importantly, it may actually be something you’ll actually do!

If you HAD to choose something to take a crash course on, what would it be?

Have you considered just how valuable college seniors could be for improving your ministry?

Sure, you may already be using seniors in major discipleship arenas – discipling individual underclassmen, teaching, running ministry teams, etc. And that may be right where they need to stay.

But this idea still could fit some of those seniors (as a “side job”), other seniors whose plates are too full for larger ventures, and even seniors who aren’t ready to lead – but have faithfully persisted in your campus ministry over the years.

What if you looked at these students’ skills – especially the careers they’ve chosen – and imagine how each might build the college ministry? Instead of putting each individual on a team, this option would mean treating a few chosen seniors as “consultants,” charged with examining or improving some portion of the ministry.

Not everything may line up perfectly, but you might surprise yourself with a little brainstorming. A graphic design student might create your next logo… or even design an entire “marketing” plan for the next few years (for recruiting students OR for fundraising). An engineer might take a look at your building (if you have a building), but she could also set her analytical gaze on your student tracking system. A student who’s proven time and time again to be great at teaching may actually need to pull back from teaching this year… and instead become a coach of underclassmen who are teaching or leading small groups.

If you think about this method student-by-student (rather than trying to brainstorm “ways to use people” without people actually in mind), you’re likely to come up with some pretty great options. After these trustworthy seniors have already spent years in your ministry teams, leading small groups, or – like I said – simply attending (but doing that faithfully), this request might mean more to them than you’d imagine (even causing seniors to stick around and stay plugged in if they’re liable to fall off, as sometimes happens).

And it could be a boon to your ministry, with impact that far outlasts these guys’ graduations.

It may not be composed of an actual scrapbook, but what will you do to memorialize your college ministry’s history from this school year?

This too would be a great job for students. And sure, it’s sad if you haven’t done this through the years. But why not start now? Whether it’s a page or two, pamphlet-sized, or a wall of remembrance (that you ultimately take a picture of), commemorating what God’s done – and simply what took place, good and bad – can be quite powerful.

And “powerful” works both now and later. Pushing your ministry to recall the recent past ties hearts together, reminds of truths learned (from the stage and from circumstances), and celebrates the Lord’s shepherding and sustenance. But later – a year or two or ten years later – reminders work powerfully to assure of God’s faithfulness, reveal a ministry’s progress over time, point current students to the students who have gone before them, and encourage leaders when they need the encouragement.

(Bonus points for how this might impact an alumni network, provide great fodder for support letters, and give one more cool chance to involve students around their passions for art or writing or photography. Or scrapbooking!)

After posting yesterday about the need to excite students about collegiate ministry callings, I thought I’d repost a long-ago note about connecting students to other campuses right now. With edits, of course…


 

I remember a collegiate mission trip I got to help plan while I was a college minister in West Texas; we took about 100 students from Abilene to Boston. Obviously, Boston is one of the most “collegiate” cities in the U.S., so any visit there (even a vacation) might include Harvard and other famous campuses.

But I appreciated the fact that our planning team decided to take an extra step to connect students with those Boston-area campuses. While there, we not only encouraged our students to visit various schools, we participated in prayer walking and other campus ministry experiences. And not just at Harvard or MIT, but also at less-known (but still amazing) places like Northeastern U.

And so our Abilene students left the world of their various Christian colleges (all three of the big schools in Abilene are Christian schools!) and encountered fellow college students in very different settings.

Campus visits and connections to other campus ministry activities can be a fantastic way to…

  • increase students’ awareness of the needs on their own campus
  • catalyze their creativity for reaching their classmates
  • spur them to the missional approach they should be living out day-to-day
  • and open their eyes to the awesome adventure of college ministry as a vocation

This can be as simple as ducking into a campus on the way to the ski slopes or a conference – for lunch and a little prayer walking, “spiritual exegesis,” or a quick tour with / discussion with a campus minister. Or campus participation could make up a piece of your plans during a mission trip or retreat… or perhaps even the focus of the trip! Even a quick weekend road trip could bring you to a “foreign” campus tribe, offering an eye-opening and heart-stirring teachable moment.

And even if you won’t be around, you can encourage students to check out a campus (and even connect with a college ministry) when they take their own trips this summer, work an internship in an unfamiliar city, or go back home.

tribesrow2015

Join me on a vision trip.

Potential missionaries – or supporters – take a “vision trip” to imagine together how God might lead them to impact a particular people group.

Our vision trip takes us to a nation filled with numerous tribes. We’ve heard reports that these populations have a great need for the gospel, that these tribes are still largely unreached, and that darkness abounds within many of them. But these tribes are also highly influential within their nation as a whole, as well as being extremely open to influence – whether ours, others’, or their own educators’ and chiefs’.

The vision trip’s timing is fortunate: Representatives from nearly seventy of these tribes have recently gathered for a great annual contest (known to the natives as the “Tourney”). Elite warriors from each tribe compete in contests of endurance and skill, while thousands more surround the games to root for their delegates. By the time of our visit, only four tribes remain – four potential champions, finally whittled down from the original dozens.

This event could provide an excellent window into these tribes, so we watch.

We notice immediately that each tribe rallies around an individual identity, a nickname or costume that seems to bond its members rather mystically. Three of the remaining tribes have been named after animals – a common waterfowl, a fighting rooster, and a tenacious canine. The last tribe’s name derives from its region’s historic industry. But these four tribes defeated others, just as unique, to reach this point – many of these also named for animals, from Wolverines to Razorbacks, and others that hope to embody the spirit of Musketeers, Mountaineers, or simply the Irish (known as “Gaels”).

(The variety of tribal names reflects the striking variety of these tribes – a diversity between locations that might not be recognized by those unfamiliar with this mission field.)

The Tourney inspires much festivity, and all the more in these final stages. Dancers are prevalent – as are musicians, food, drink, wagers, and even prayers. The chiefs of the tribes are here, and can even be found celebrating alongside the youngest from their villages. Healers stand by, though actual bloodshed is minimal. Impartial judges are assigned to regulate the games (but face much taunting throughout). And often, above the din, tribal chants can be heard: sometimes jubilant or jeering; often rhythmic, even solemn.

But we look closer.

We can’t deny the deep passion in these tribes, among warriors and watchers alike. When competitors win the crowd’s elation is profound. But losing warriors may weep with bitterness that would be shocking if we hadn’t seen fervent zeal displayed all along. We view transcendent “shining moments” when Davids take down Goliaths, when boys become men for a few crucial minutes, when weakness is turned to strength to put opposing armies to flight. These brief contests reveal passion and enthusiasm that have yet to be tamed – not only in contestants, but in their tribes. There is a grit here, a rowdiness, a wild youthfulness. Wisdom will be important to add to this zeal, of course – but with this energy, much could be accomplished for God’s Kingdom.

It becomes clear that creativity and intelligence abound within these tribes, as well, and it’s not surprising that national and world leaders will come from within their ranks. Meanwhile, we also notice that the bond between tribe members – known as “spirit” – is not frivolous. It is through this sort of community and comradeship that truth can travel quickly – but so can falsehood.

As we continue observing the Tourney with missionary eyes, we are thrilled that God might ask us to reach such a unique people. Of course, this will not be an easy ministry (as though any missionary activity was ever easy!). Surely patience, energy, and investment will be required if strong and lasting work is to be built. But even a quick, competition-filled vision trip has shown us: These mission fields offer great opportunity and blessings untold. And if these particular people are reached well, they in turn will change the whole world.

All the “madness,” the excitement, the passion, and the valor found in this Tourney reflect the beautiful tribes from which the contestants come. And there are far more than sixty-eight tribes to reach.

This is the 2017 version of my annual “sixty-eight” essay.

I’ve had the amazing opportunity to visit 39 of the schools in this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and I proudly wear shirts from 4 more that were donated by ministers or alumni.

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted these March-specific thoughts. Why not make a special push this month?

Here’s why March helps all of us make the case for the value of college ministry – are you using it to make the case for yours, among funders, overseers, potential volunteers, parents, and other supporters?

1. Spring Break provides great examples of both the worst and the best of college life. Nationwide, most Spring Break weeks fall within the month of March. And Spring Break revelry is already quite famous as a picture of the darkness sometimes found on the college scene, right? That means we have a chance to point to a picture they already have, and remind them of the solution we can help offer.

But there’s much more to the Spring Break story, and we can tell that one, too. Spring Break is a BIG time for major missions and service work within college ministry (even, on occasion, encountering the very darkness described above). So March provides an opportunity to tell those stories, too. Even more “secular” activities can show the awesome side of college: like Alternative Spring Break.

So the existence of Spring Break means March provides an amazing opportunity to tell the story of the impact of campus ministry… as well as exposing the darkness that is a real part of the college world.

2. …and Summer approaches!

Much of what I said above applies to summertime, too – especially the great and awesome things students get to participate in. And March is often the time those same students (and sometimes their leaders) need to raise funds and raise up prayer partners for those adventures.

But the summer months are also a time when college (and college ministry) can fade from people’s minds. An injection of awareness each year in March wouldn’t hurt… and would likely carry through somewhat until things get going again in August or September.

3. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. I realize if you’re not a sports fan, this might not seem like a big deal. But I would argue that “March Madness” truly does provide an opportunity no other season does. Even non-sports fans are at least aware this exists – and tying into something that already has awareness is an excellent PR move.

You could be the one starting a bracket competition in your church. You could be the one to contact your denomination’s news service, encouraging them to highlight college ministries at some of the “Final Four” schools (I’ve done this before!). And so on.

What do you think? Might March make for a great College Ministry Month?

It seems like the vast majority of campuses start classes today. If that’s not you, unless you are at a Quarter System school, you’ve probably started or will start within a week of today.

So in light of the rush, I don’t need to teach.

I hope that first day of school feels like a very very good day for you. It’s a magnificent day, a near-magical day, a day most missionaries don’t see –the annually-renewing energy of the mission field, a day when those you’re trying to reach are rushing around wide-eyed, their wonder and curiosity and anxiety and openness at their highest. Their lives are going to change in so many ways this year – even this semester. That’s wild to realize.

I have cared deeply about college ministry for 17 years now. But my ventures and adventures have been far from normal. I am thankful that so many get to serve normally, in a mission field that is awesome on a regular basis. It is a world-changing mission field. It is a life-changing mission field.

At the very least, some of these wide-eyed freshman scurrying to and fro in front of you today will have their lives and testimonies radically altered because you’ve chosen to give your life to this field. Isn’t that fantastic?

Thank you so much.

I first wrote this post around this time last year, but I thought it was appropriate once again.

I don’t know how you’re feeling about the new school year. I hope you’re excited.

I also don’t know how long you’ve been serving your particular campus. This might be Year One, or Two, or Ten, or Twenty.

But whatever you’re doing, I want to encourage you to take the long view. Be excited about the semesters already behind you, and look forward to many semesters ahead of you – at the same campus, if God sees fit to plant you there.

College ministry isn’t valued within Christendom like it should be. So that means that many college ministers don’t have the chance to build a “mission to a campus tribe” for the amount of time we’d hope.

But building the strongest college ministry possible often requires a long obedience in the same direction – by the college minister, as well as by his or her supporters and bosses. It’s best when a college minister achieves years of learning the culture, gaining trust, finding “people of peace” within the campus, learning the “language,” and developing the mission.

That’s why we might (and should) use the word “plant” to describe what we’re doing: We’re planting a campus ministry. Because it’s going to take root (over time), look dormant (for a time), show a little sprout (over time), and bear fruit (over time).

This doesn’t always mean one single college minister carries the mission the whole way. But for those in the trenches, be encouraged about what the future can hold with your long obedience.

Last week I started blogging about a unique road trip I had after the yearlong exploration. On that trip (also nationwide), I got the “inside scoop” on 10 Chi Alpha chapters, since I’d been commissioned by the national office to do just that. But when you explore one college ministry, you might just learn things that apply to all. I did, at least. (See the first posts here and here.)

College Ministry Can Take a Variety of Forms (Believe It or Not!)

In the course of those ten visits, I certainly saw several ministries that took a pretty “classic” form. But even in that relatively small number of chapters (one-thirtieth of Chi Alpha’s 300+ sites), I found some less common forms that seemed to be working well.

The first was the large North Dakota State XA… which just happened to be multi-site, with the other site situated across state lines! Minnesota State Moorhead held the other “half” of this chapter. But not only was this chapter multi-site, it was anchored deeply in a local church, Fargo First Assembly. While this sort of “church anchoring” is the norm for some groups (I’m thinking of the Churches of Christ campus ministries and some expressions of the CCO), it’s certainly not standard across most campus-based ministry organizations.

Second, I ran into the Chi Alpha at Winona State in Winona, Minnesota. (Because that visit took place over a weekend, that’s one of those handful of schools I couldn’t get a T-shirt for.) In Winona State’s case, XA had grown in connection with a collegiate church plant called The Edge – the church is pastored by Chuck, and his wife Stephanie is the Chi Alpha campus pastor. This Chi Alpha chapter also has a student center building, something pretty widespread in some denominations (Baptist Collegiate Ministries, Wesley Foundation, etc.), but not really in Chi Alpha.

The point of this lil’ recollection isn’t to encourage church-anchoring or buildings or multi-site college ministries; it’s to celebrate variety. I’ve long argued for more variety, and I’ll keep right on doing that. Because sadly, we often thing college ministry should – or at least will – look a certain way.

Planting Where We Get Less Press

Another really fun aspect of that long-ago trip was seeing just how “out of the way” those campuses ended up being. Name the campuses you’re truly familiar with in this list:

  • Texas A&M University Corpus Christi
  • University of California Davis
  • Winona State University
  • Minnesota State University Moorhead
  • Rowan University

Nearly half of the campuses I visited on that trip – designed to exemplify the Chi Alpha story to a national audience, remember – weren’t flagship state schools or prestigious scholarly institutions.

And yet Chi Alpha chose to celebrate the work in those places. Of course, we know that isn’t always the case; college ministry at places like Rowan University doesn’t get as much attention or funding or hoorahs from back home. But at some point we need to work to convince Christians – especially the supporters, overseers, and other “sponsors” of collegiate ministry – that going to the “unknown” (and often “unreached”) campus tribes is an awesome call.

I introduced my wild Road Trip 13 in the last post – the trip in which I hurled myself to various corners of the country to study 10 Chi Alpha chapters.

A deeper (rather than wider) dive into specific collegiate work provides special sorts of insights, so that’s what I’m trying to share this week (as sinus infection fun keeps sidelining me at times).

So I continue…

Strong Ministries Aren’t Always Big

It was highly impressive that Dennis Gaylor, then the national head of Chi Alpha, chose the particular ministries for my journey that he did. Once I’d visited all those chapters, it became clear that Gaylor wasn’t just interested in telling the stories of the BIGGEST Chi Alpha ministries (and in case you’re unfamiliar, there are some enormous ones). Instead, he wanted to share not only about geographical diversity, but also about strong ministries that weren’t in every case big.

So while I did make my way to the huge UVA Chi Alpha and the dual-campus, dual-state XA at North Dakota State / Moorhead State, I also explored the (much smaller) Cornell and Texas A&M Corpus Christi ministries.

I’m not one of those guys who says “numbers don’t matter,” because we should examine what seems to be successfully reaching people. But I’m also not thrilled about the fact that college ministers (and other Christian ministers) are far more likely to learn from big ministries than they are from small, really strong ones… even though most of us are more likely to build the latter than the former.

National Development Matters

Through this whole experience, I came to really reach-the-uappreciate the way Chi Alpha has taken a strong “national learning” approach. This project wasn’t their first to collect the work of varied Chi Alpha expressions, in fact. As far as I know, they’re still the only national ministry or denomination that has released a “reader” on building a strong college ministry – Reach the U – written by various college ministers from throughout the Chi Alpha family.

Likewise, their “Campus Missionary in Training” program seems to be a beautiful plan. Those former collegians who decide to jump into college ministry have the opportunity to intern at a strong Chi Alpha chapter – which may or may not be the one they just graduated from. (Personally, I’d tend to vote for interning at a different college, because… breadth.)

In other words, there’s a history of not only appreciation for the collective wisdom of the national ministry, but of active participation in disseminating that wisdom through trainees and in print. I’d love to see more and more campus ministries follow suit.

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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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