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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.

Yesterday’s post provides an example of what so many shepherds – of all kinds – can miss. There’s great value in caring about the flock’s everyday sort of needs, the small trials and small blessings that pop up throughout a life. If shepherds are only really interested in “making great strides” – fighting particularly onerous (or scandalous) sins, getting a grip on spiritual disciplines, witnessing to non-believers, etc. – then they’ve revealed a disproportionate interest in these things (versus loving the people).

When I say “shepherds of all kinds,” I do mean college ministers, but I also mean student leaders (and adult volunteers if you have them). It may even be these leaders who are slower to recognize the glories of “daily bread” care for people, the great beauty in providing sheep with the “everyday feed.”

If helping students in their “underwater weeks” (for instance) just doesn’t really seem… like it makes the priority list?, then maybe your student leaders (or you yourself) need to be reminded of the greatness of simple care and simple love and weeping/rejoicing with those who do the same. So help them see it!

This was originally a Fridea awhile back, but since our church is hosting a Marriage Ministry Training right now, I thought it appropriate to repost…

I’ve recently been reminded of the roles marriage ministry – usually in its pre-marital form – can play in collegiate ministry.

One method – very accessible for most college ministers – could be absolutely revolutionary in certain students’ lives.

What if you pulled in “mentor couples,” Christian spouses specifically excited to hang out with seriously dating or engaged college students?

It’s easy to think of this only in terms of “premarital counseling,” and that could be one function here. But it could be much simpler than that, too. What if seriously dating couples simply had the chance to share a meal with an older married couple? You might be surprised by how quickly your students could jump at this chance.

And while we’re at it, let’s take this one step further: Could you ever offer something along these lines to your campus as a whole? What could that even mean?

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?

How does your ministry (or how do you, as a spiritual leader on your campus) respond when “news breaks” about your school?

In light of the FBI investigation of some NCAA programs, it’s a good time to imagine how you might handle your own campus showing up in newspaper headlines. My fear is that college ministers, by and large, would automatically ignore the issue.

I’m certainly not suggesting every issue should be addressed. Sometimes it would even make a bad situation worse. But we’re called to stand up for justice, integrity, and other ideals at times, too.

So my problem is with the word “automatically.” My fear is that college ministers, by and large, would automatically ignore such issues, relegating them to the “not my problem” pile as a matter of course.

If college ministers don’t even give a thought to addressing larger campus issues (or larger societal issues, like the national anthem-kneeling issue), then they might miss a leadership moment. Sure, it can be tough to stand up to the athletic-industrial complex on campus, or to bring biblical wisdom in the midst of passionate support of various causes (and passionate arguments on opposing sides too). But it’s worth weighing whether God would have us make a response to each issue that arises, because once in awhile these moments might be your ministry’s designated leadership moment, too.

Among the very first things I would encourage you to share with freshmen – even before they walk through the doors of your ministry – is to beware jumping into a bunch of commitments right off the bat. A student joining a college ministry and the spelunking club and the intramural ultimate frisbee team and the Freshman Leadership Council will find herself in a very different situation than she might think.

I’ve penned this previously:

Have you already warned your students – especially any freshmen you get around – to “guard their signature” in these early days of school?

The busyness of the semester isn’t a calculus curve, nicely sloping its way to gradually-more-busy. It’s got cliffs and chasms, but most everybody starts in a chasm. It feels natural and fun to start signing up, and freshmen especially don’t realize…

  • They’ll feel busier than they’ve ever felt in about 3 weeks
  • Spreading interest and impact across several organizations isn’t very useful at all
  • They should be thinking about four years of impact
  • …so making those decisions slowly isn’t usually a bad idea
  • The Bible is clear: Actual commitments can’t be broken (without the “commitment-holder” releasing you), so be sure you’re clear on what level of commitment is actually being asked for

I’ve pondered before about what might happen if college ministries’ Large Group Meetings resembled late night talk shows just a bit more. I don’t mean in “entertainment,” exactly, but simply in the organization of the evening and perhaps too in how some methods are presented.

So along those lines…

I wonder if any college ministries have ever attempted announcements that go beyond simply “ministry events” alerts, wading into a look at current issues. A talk show’s opening monologue – even though it’s presented with humor (and for the sake of humor) – actually does help viewers “process” the headlines of the day. (Sadly, for many in the audience this may be their primary exposure to the news.)

Shouldn’t college ministers be in the business of helping collegians process current events, too? I’m not suggesting a turn to jokes or ripping off the Onion. Instead, I find myself drawn to the idea of a short, weekly description of one or more current issues, along with…

  • a Christian response (if there’s a clear one),
  • possible Christian responses (if there’s not one obvious path),
  • noting the ispiritual issues at hand within that topic that Christians must consider,
  • offering resources for wading through the topic from a Christian perspective,
  • or any mix of the above.

Can you imagine how that might not only help your students process in real-time, but it might help them learn to think when it comes to current events? And how often would that prompting then lead to great conversations in class, with roommates, with friends, or with family?

One added (possibly discouraging bonus): This might be many students’ only exposure to this type of news. If that’s the case, then you’re also helping them keep up on the goings-on beyond their campus. And that’s a good thing.

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.

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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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