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Here’s a weird one that could be quite applicable…

I don’t know what role “conflict resolution” plays in your ministry. I don’t know if you teach it or foster it or see it happen a lot. Hopefully it’s not needed all the time, but if you have more than a handful of students (and even if you don’t), it’s likely that students face conflict with each other… and certainly the students in your ministry occasionally conflict with others in their lives.

So what if you pushed them to clean the slate over the summer? To think back either to mutual conflict or to ways they may have sinned against people – roommates, friends, classmates, family members, even professors?

There’s something about summer break that gives space and time to think about this stuff – although it likewise breeds “out of sight, out of mind” too. Well, maybe it’s your job to bring it (back) into mind, encouraging students to get up to date on all apologies, reconciliations, and amends that remain outstanding.

Occasionally I’ve pointed out that Thanksgiving Break serves as an awesome warm-up for the looming Christmas break. Most of your students likely go home for just long enough to remember/realize what they’ll face when they go home for five-ish weeks in December.

But the same is true for Easter. Though not all students likely went home, I bet plenty did. And now, Summer Break is right around the corner.

One of the less-apparent but most valuable roles a college minister (or student leaders) can play this time of year is helping students intentionally prepare for the summer. Specifically…

  • How will they continue to grow in the Lord, not simply coast?
  • How will they respond to and minister to old friends?
  • How will they avoid old temptations?
  • How encouraging or discouraging do their family dynamics tend to be… and how will they respond there?
  • If they have a job, how will they work “as unto the Lord”?

I’m not sure this happened much when I was in college. While I remember offering prayer requests in small group settings, I don”t remember anyone helping me process the summer ahead – identifying the opportunities, identifying the challenges, developing a plan, and organizing mentorship or accountability.

But you can do this for your students. If they’ve just spent time home at Easter, then it’s an easy discussion based on that “experiment.” But regardless, they can recall Christmas break and look ahead to summer. And they can prepare for what the Lord might want to do.

I’m taking a vacation this week, so I’ll have a collection of favorite posts about one topic that hits most college ministries… the Large Group Meeting! Whether you have a classic “sing-n-speak” or some twist on the all-come gathering, I hope you’ll find these useful.

One of the most important teaching steps college ministers can take is to define terms. Especially when it comes to exhorting students to “be” and “do” like Jesus, we’ve got to make sure they actually know what’s being said.

(Of course, that means the teacher has to know, too.)

Off the top of my head, here are some examples of terms that defy easy definition, either because it’s hard or because we (wrongly) think the meaning and application are “obvious”:

  1. “Gossip”
  2. “Judge” (as in, “Judge not…”)
  3. “Gospel”
  4. “Lust”
  5. “Self-Control”
  6. “Humility”
  7. “Sexual Purity”
  8. “Repenting”
  9. “Church Involvement”
  10. “Confront” / “Hold accountable”
  11. “Commit” (as in, what it means to commit to do something)
  12. “Dying to yourself”
  13. “Accepting Jesus” / Converting / Becoming a Christian
  14. “Honoring your parents”
  15. “Being a good steward”
  16. “Shame” (as in, the difference between “good guilt” and “bad guilt”)

That’s just off the top of my head, although a couple of them stick out for me. In high school, a youth pastor hurtfully brushed me aside when I expressed that some people don’t know exactly what “gossip” consists of. And in college, it was really helpful (and guilt-relieving) to hear a speaker and a pastor (two different guys) share what “lust” really is – and what it isn’t.

Think about the most recent message your students heard: Was every exhortation fully defined?

And another thing…!

And there’s another area that could often use more definitions. Too often we ministers assume students understand the words they’re singing during our “praise and worship” times. Words like “Hallelujah” or “bless the Lord” or even “Jehovah” are sung… but how sure are we that students know what they’re singing?

Have you “vetted” the songs you use for potentially-unfamiliar words?

What about the concepts they’re singing? In this case, especially if you’re singing older hymns (even if they’re set to newer music), there may be concepts that should be explained… or else our students really aren’t praising at all during those moments, are they?

On a less urgent note, a third way to facilitate our students’ worship is to help them connect the concepts in songs to Scripture. Sadly, we can’t assume that even songs directly derived from the Bible are understood as such by our students.

Have you considered highlighting connected verses, either alongside the songs, or before/after certain songs are sung? Even if only one song is “amplified” in this way each week, your students’ worship would be awesomely deepened.

What’s more, you could even consider teaching on the songs you regularly use in worship – either from the stage, in a series of emails, or by other means. How cool would that be?!

Many college ministries have made overseas missions a priority. Whether by taking mission trips together, encouraging students to consider short-term or mid-term missions opportunities, or simply seeking to lift up students’ eyes to the (overseas) fields, international missions is a regular “push” for many college ministries.

So in light of yesterday’s themed reminder, I want to encourage some of that zeal to be channeled toward the campus tribes.

My wife and I are planning a vacation (to Hawaii, in fact), and as I often do, I looked for college ministries I might visit while we’re there.

And so far I’ve found… very little.

I’ll keep looking, but it reminded me that plenty of campuses remain largely “unreached” (from a missiological standpoint) – and in this case, that status may be applicable to an entire island or two. Hopefully I just haven’t found these ministries yet.

But my encouragement stands: Would you urge students to consider if God might call them to college campuses? “Unreached” campus tribes aren’t the point – though hopefully it’s part of the consideration. The point is recognizing that missionaries are needed all over the place, and that college campus offer one of the greatest opportunities for that very pursuit.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about Easter possibilities. But can campus ministries even celebrate Easter, or use Easter time strategically?

Of course they can.

Combining and revising a couple of posts from long ago, here are some thoughts about the upcoming holiday.


Easter and Christmas, THE two biggest “liturgies” among us Protestants, are both widely ignored in the context of college ministry. Students are often home at Easter and pretty much always home at Christmas. Students who happen to stay in town (or live locally) aren’t going to celebrate these holidays with us.

But that’s kind of a shame, isn’t it? Because not only should we help our Jesus-following students better comprehend and celebrate the magnitude of the Christmas and Easter stories, but the non-Christian and “de-churched” students around us might be more likely to reflect in these moments than any others.

So first, here are six straightforward ways to impact your students and/or your campus at Easter:

  1. Round up your students who are local to participate in something a local church (or other college ministry!) is doing (like a special worship service, a seminar, a family Easter event, etc.).
  2. Connect with a local church who could use some extra hands during Easter week, preparing for their big service or other event. Recruit students to help.
  3. Before they go home, give students tips and exhortation about sharing Jesus with family over the long weekend.
  4. Encourage students with tips and exhortation about witnessing to friends around Easter week.
  5. Prepare to do something with your students after the Easter weekend to debrief about the weekend, or about opportunities students had during Easter week.
  6. Prepare to do something after Easter to impact your campus.

When it comes to those last two notes – stuff to do after Easter – here are a handful of great ways to carry that out:

1. Let students share. How often do we ask students to share the growth they gained away from our ministries? Yet some of your students probably did reflect on Easter, celebrate Easter, and grow in the context of Easter in awesome ways. Shouldn’t they share that with you, their college minister? Couldn’t they share that with the whole group?

2. Don’t let Easter season pass by ’til you’ve fulfilled your ministry. Sometimes we’re so interested in putting on a good “show” that we wouldn’t dare do something silly like talk about the Easter story after Easter! But if there’s something God wants you to teach about Easter… you need to do that. Even after Easter. (Your students won’t care that you’re reflecting on the Easter story after Easter; in fact, it might make it “stick” better.)

3. What are you going to do for Christmas? The seasons aren’t exactly the same in college ministry, but they have some similarities. Start pondering now.

4. Ponder what next year’s Easter will look like. It makes sense to consider your Easter and “Resurrection Week” activities for 2018 now. You don’t have to decide everything, but you should

  • analyze how well this year’s activities (if you had some) accomplished your purposes
  • contemplate what you might want to do next year (while you’re still “in the moment”)
  • write down any worthy thoughts – and maybe set a reminder to make sure you look at ’em in 11 months.

By the way, Easter 2018 is earlier – April 1st. I already hear preachers around the country polishing up titles (and church sign guys laying aside phrases) like, “When God Pulled the Best April Fool’s Prank Ever” or “No Foolin’: He is Risen Indeed!”

A very simple Fridea that I first shared eight years ago…

Share purposes with your students.

How often do you relate – explicitly – why certain things take place in your college ministry? Even weekly events or other very basic things? Have you ever shared, “This is why we have our Large Group Meeting,” or “Here’s specifically why we’re planning this retreat”?

Sharing what we hope to accomplish in a ministry – directly– might actually help those goals occur more readily. It also gives participants ownership and the opportunity to serve or lead to make sure those purposes are accomplished. And it holds us accountable, in front of everyone, to keeping our aim steady.

Sharing your purposes also might make your campus ministry more friendly to outsiders, who may legitimately wonder why you meet or why you sing or why you pray in groups or why you have crazy skits or why you play ultimate frisbee each Sunday afternoon. Some types of students will care more than others… but some, at least, will care. And whether they care or not, sharing purposes invites students inside, into the considerations of leadership.

What if every time you held a Large Group Meeting, you shared the purposes in a brief sentence or two (even on the screen)? Or what if for the next fellowship event, you (at least) shared the “method behind the madness” with your student leaders? How else could this methodology function in your ministry? Is it worth trying?

With college ministers, some of your purposes need to remain in your heads (but I hope they’re at least very clear there). But sometimes, student leaders should be privy to those details. And oftentimes, the whole group would benefit from knowing that yours is indeed a purpose-filled ministry, and that there are specific gains you hope to make in every step you take.

A quick thought on where “we who teach” find application steps to push people to take…

If a college minister is discipling people, he or she should expect fruit, right? Of course there are always fits-and-starts among our students, some complete backsliding, and other frustrations. But someone, somewhere is learning from the discipleship.

And as a college student (or anyone) works out their salvation, they’ll apply truth – if it has really soaked into their bones – in ultimately personal ways. Someone will take your message on trusting the Lord and apply it very specifically to their decisions about next summer. A sophomore will hear you teach on evangelism, and they’ll develop – unprompted by you – a goal to grab lunch with five people from their Intro Psychology class.

And on and on, application being driven by the Spirit as a result of God’s word seeping into lives. Presumably that’s the story of your life, too: of countless Bible passages and messages, presented pretty broadly, but then applied by yourself to some pretty unique corners of your existence. Sure, many times too a teacher offered an application step that applied directly and distinctly to your life, no adjustments needed. But not nearly always, right? Don’t application steps usually provide examples, springboards for us to find personal application that may look quite different?

So I wonder if there’s meant to be a communication loop here, especially in college ministry. Can you do a better job of “collecting” students’ Spirit-led application steps, to broadcast those examples for the next round (or the current round) of students? I’m particularly thinking of the opportunity you have, just a few weeks after teaching on Hospitality or Unselfishness or Disciplemaking, to let students share their testimonies of applying those things to their particular day-to-days.

Christian ministers of all stripes are often good at presenting testimonies of salvations, and college ministry does this perhaps more than many. But how often do we present testimonies of faithful applications of other truths? Might these application steps inspire more students to more personal application, providing a cycle of deep obedience in your ministry?

It’s doubtful that your students will get recruited by a traveling circus.

But they – and especially your top leaders – are likely to get pulled into other commitments just as entangling. Studying abroad, a campus leadership post, a summer internship, maybe a year-round ministry role at a local church. Even just a commitment that pulls them from their college ministry community, because of the night it falls on or the work it requires.

Obviously, any of these could be really positive adventures, and exactly what the Lord would have those students do. But the vital thing is that students are prepared beforehand so they know how to process such decisions when the time comes.

I remember I once had a student leader who got whisked away after his first semester when an internship opportunity opened up. He struggled with the decision because of various factors… but not one of those factors was the issue of his prior leadership commitment. It’s not that I wouldn’t have released him from that commitment; it’s that he didn’t even imagine that his previously made commitment might impact his decision. In other words, he wasn’t prepared for the moment of decision.

It’s not just the issue of commitment that is my point here. There’s lots of biblical wisdom (alongside some biblical commands) that should be weighed in decisions like these – do your students know those? Would they ponder prior commitments? Will they weigh their decisions with the community closest to them (like their small group)? Will they seek out people not because they’ll tell them what they want to hear, but because they’ll shoot straight? Will they pray… and then wait for clarity, even if it means deadlines pass?

And so on.

When the circus comes calling, you won’t easily have the chance to shepherd decision-making – the elephants and sideshows will beckon very loudly and tug the emotions as powerfully as a strongman. In a world full of “big opportunities” like these, hopefully Christian college students are learning how to discern their callings – before the circus rolls through.

How well – and how quickly – would your students be able to spot a cult on campus? What about something that isn’t unorthodox, but a ministry or teaching that doesn’t line up with the distinctives of your particular denomination?

Obviously, the former case is more important than the latter. But this question is more about assessing the work of a college ministry than even safeguarding students. Have you presented doctrine clearly enough that aberrations would be noticed?

I once saw a young adult minister purposely spend 30 minutes teaching false doctrine, just to see who might call him on it. I don’t know if I’m in favor of that experimental approach, but it did stick with me all these years. And the point was a good one: Many Christians (even well past their college years) aren’t clear enough, confident enough, or concerned enough to have a mental “check” when doctrine is off… let alone actually challenge it.

Your students are likely to face aberrant teaching somewhere, somehow on campus – even if it’s just through small talk in the dorm. (But let’s not discount the reality of full-blown, highly attractive weirdness.) And then your students will face another juncture when they leave school and choose a new church. What does it say about your ministry if your students feel quite comfortable in a new church that’s quite doctrinally different than what you’ve (supposedly) been teaching? (Do you know what churches your graduates from a year ago have landed in?)

This isn’t a call for disunity – part of teaching doctrine is teaching “primary” versus “secondary” and “tertiary” doctrines. But it is a call to make sure college students are being successfully entrusted with doctrine, and a good opportunity to evaluate a college ministry along those lines.

Every time I watch the Academy Awards, I find myself thrilled by the excellence being displayed and awarded (last-award flubs notwithstanding). However out-of-sync believers may feel the big bad “Hollywood” is when it comes to our worldview, it’s hard to deny that there were masters on that stage last night, who know how to produce and evoke and amaze and encourage.

(Almost?) every single student in your ministry is on a career path right now. Not all will stay on their present path over the next decade or next year, but college still is a collection of those who are thinking about career and contribution.

So what role are you playing in building big dreams about that contribution? In the world of college ministry, this clearly hasn’t been our strength – intentionally focusing on the opportunities before them within the world of work.

Will you raise up students who are more likely to be “on stage,” well-respected in their field because of your shepherding during these formative years? Is your campus ministry making them better scientists, better architects, even whatever the “Oscar winners” are for the world of sociology or accounting or health care? (And film, too, while we’re at it…)

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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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