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Do you want your students to be counter-cultural?

Of course, you can inspire them to hold truths in the face of relativism, to fight for righteousness when sin is celebrated, and to hope when all seems hopeless. Any of those actions will provide an awesome witness-by-contrast, as the watching world wonders about the peace, conviction, and hope that these Christians have.

But you can also teach them to apologize well (and often).

Your students will likely come across many more opportunities to offer heartfelt, humble mea culpas in any given month than they will have the chance to make public stands against the culture or to trust God through great tragedy. And yet it can be easy to overlook teaching the simple (and yet oh so hard) spiritual discipline of apology.

Training this well means encourages phrases that express vulnerability – “I apologize,” “Please forgive me,” and the even harder “Will you forgive me?” are all generally more important (and less cliche) than “I’m sorry.” And students can be trained not only to be “quick to listen” but to combine good listening with both “keeping short accounts” and true repentance, which will cause them to apologize faster and more emphatically than expected.

It’s not just apologies for sin that will shock people in your students’ lives. Even simple ownership of mistakes can work wonders. “My bad!” or similar (less dated) phrases should fall regularly from believers’ lips – and will surprise non-Christian classmates, workmates, family members, and neighbors throughout the years.

Few things are quite so pleasant but provocative as this sort of ego-forfeiting humility. How well do your students apologize?

College ministry is an ideal time to work on biblical conflict resolution. Like so many areas of growth, this is one that can be worked on well in an environment where people have more autonomy than they did in high school but are still “learning the ropes” on young adulthood (and often realize they are).

And I don’t think anyone would say this isn’t a vital life skill.

Even if all the above is true, though, I don’t know that “conflict resolution” makes it into the teaching rotation within college ministries all that often. If I’m right, then that’s a shame.

So by way of reminder and with a little “curation,” here are some paragraphs from a few brief posts to encourage you to think about this more.

Conflict resolution is something I wish I’d learned on campus:

“Leaning into conflict” is one of the pillars of how my present church talks about this, and that principle alone would have helped me at a few key junctures in my life since college. So would have great examples – from college ministers or other mentors – of how they had successfully navigated conflict in their own relationships. (Read more)

You can package the discussion in various ways:

Maybe this is weekly meeting fodder, maybe not. An “elective” offered at a separate time might work better for you – and might be a chance to draw from the rest of campus. Or maybe small groups could cover a lot of ground here in just a few weeks (or less). (Read more)

Here’s another argument for teaching conflict skills:

Are you giving your students the tools and wisdom they need to face the conflicts they will face during the next 2, 10, or 50 years? They will face relational conflicts, and many who are now friends as students won’t be friends in ten years because they haven’t learned these skills. (Read more)

…and students have an opportunity this summer:

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? (Read more)

Yes, the school year ends. Pretty soon, actually.

And while you’ve likely got “finish strong” plans for both your large group teaching and small group curricula, it might be worth considering an add-on (or maybe a replacement).

What if your last few weeks were spent doubling down on all that has been learned this year?

Consider the potential return: Would it be more valuable to help students remember, reconsider, and reflect on several important truths, in such a way that they’ll remember those things through the summer and beyond? Or is it better to share even more new content (even while they’re focused on Finals and the upcoming summer)?

The way I’m asking that question is certainly slanted, but I don’t really believe there’s one right answer. However, I do think it’s worth considering the value of review-remind-reinforce during this season (in large group, small groups, or both), even if you do that in addition to whatever you’ve already got planned.

With students leaving town and campuses often closed on some day or another, can campus ministries even celebrate Easter, or use Easter time strategically?

Of course they can.

Here are some thoughts from past posts about this week. If you’ve missed some opportunities this year, put them on the calendar for next year…

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 stay local, and 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 or running 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. Debrief . 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? This also includes asking about their time with family or “back home friends,” and what that showed them about preparing for this summer.

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 much later – April 21st. Even closer to summer; even further from Spring Break. Not sure if those things matter, but they might.

It’s easy to miss teachable moments related to current events, especially because some college campuses feel pretty insulated from what’s happening “outside.” (Students will always have a range of focus on current events, from the deeply engaged to the highly ignorant.)

But one issue I think it would be a mistake to miss is the activism of younger kids (including some that your students were in high school with) around the issue of gun control. With Millennials certainly interested in “creating change” and the generation behind them not seeming to let up on that ideal, when’s the last time you talked about a biblical approach to activism?

It’s this kind of topic that, at the very least, reminds students that a biblical lens must be applied to everything – even topics that, to some, may feel “obvious.” But in some cases, this would be the sort of discussion that could draw students from across campus. And done well, it could provide a winsome opportunity to engage a campus – who might be surprised to find that the Bible wouldn’t simply take a “conservative” or “Republican” stance… and would actually inspire really great activism when it’s called for.

Your Spring Break plans may include one “pillar” that you’re inviting students to – a ski trip, a mission trip, etc. – or may involve your students pursuing a variety of paths (including things like “Alternative Spring Break” with others on the campus).

Regardless, have you considered facilitating some sort of process to follow those events? (Always a big deal!)

In this case, the question itself is more important than any examples I could give (but don’t worry, I love examples). Simply examine what your students – individually or together – are doing, and ask yourself if any discipleship process might take advantage of those activities. You’ll have your answer.

But I will give a few examples, to note the varieties of “hooks” that might be involved here:

  • Offering four weeks to unpack “God’s heart for the nations” for all the students who went on the mission trip… and maybe others who didn’t get to go, to let them “catch” the impact of the trip too
  • A new leadership study that you advertise first to all those on the ski trip, maximizing the opportunity for them to continue the relationships that develop
  • Inviting everyone who did missions and/or Alternative Spring Break on their own to join for a Debrief Session (or follow-up studies as described above)
  • Hosting an “Impacting Your Family This Summer” class that starts right after Spring Break (since over Spring Break, many students will be primed to think about this topic)
  • Offering a one-time (or even few-week!) session called “Atoning after Spring Break Debauchery” that you offer to the whole campus

I’m not even kidding about that last one – you’d just have to know your campus well (and be brave). Cool evangelism opportunity if you take it.

But again: Note what your students (or all students) are doing over Spring Break, and then go from there: How can you double-down on what’s learned, friendships that are built, or felt needs that are grown?

A radio station that only recently has become part of my regular rotation celebrated its 24th anniversary this week. Like watching Shark Tank or any other discussion of entrepreneurial endeavors, hearing the hosts reminisce about the early risk, choices, and audience response was fascinating.

And it drew me in all the more. (Like I said, I’m pretty new to this station.)

It reminded me of the power of this sort of “history lesson,” and I wonder how often those in college ministries call attention to their campus mission’s own history. Churches are much better at this, at least at celebrating the “bigger” anniversaries. Of course, college ministries can (and should) think about doing this more often than every five or twenty years.

Have you ever connected the dots, for your students, between the current college ministry and its long (or short) and storied history? The community feel that would develop, the authenticity this would reflect, and the encouragement for the future it could very well inspire… are worth the history lesson, for sure.

As I continue placing (small) pebbles in your shoe, hoping to give you something to think about as the new semester approaches…

I want to ask: Have your students caught your vision for church involvement?

College ministers – just like all other Christians – can differ on what “biblical church involvement” looks like. But I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a college minister who says they’re not hoping for students to be intentionally involved in church. For some college ministers, their conviction is that students simply need to show up on Sunday (and participate in corporate worship). For others, a much deeper level of church engagement seems prescribed. And I’m sure plenty fall in between the poles.

But my question today is… Whatever your conviction for your students is, is the flock you’ve got responding to that conviction?

If they’re not… or you’re not sure… then something probably needs to be done (either to make that call clearer, find out why they’re not engaging, or figure out how to figure that out).

Since you’re likely either done with the semester/quarter or about to be, I thought I’d offer a week of very brief “pebbles in your shoes.” Take or leave these ideas, but maybe they’ll provide some good pondering over Christmas dinners and some good fleshing-out on the drive to grandma’s.

Today’s notion? How has your college ministry addressed Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, the #MeToo movement, etc.?

It seems like Christians should be on the frontlines of processing this gigantic cultural event (and responding). And that means college ministries have a huge opportunity to guide students through the various aspects of this – especially because they relate to the hookup culture faced by plenty of collegians.

Whether it’s a whole message series addressing the “teachable moments” of this whole sordid affair, a few blog posts, a special all-campus seminar, or something else, there’s opportunity here to disciple. Christians understand the WHY behind these things – both the sins and the responses – better than the watching world. Are you sharing?

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.

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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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