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If you’re among the large number of college ministers who has a more relaxed schedule in summertime, I’ve got a challenge for you.

Do a few things you would do if you were starting your college ministry from scratch.

What could you learn/relearn about your context? What members of the college staff might you build relationship with? How familiar are you with the incoming freshman class? When’s the last time you prayer-walked the campus, or surveyed the other campus ministers to see where the needs, gaps, and opportunities lie?

It’s too easy to forget that a college minister – whether inside a church, campus-based, or even employed by the school itself – is fundamentally a missionary. But because you are, thinking “like a missionary” or “like a church planter” should never stop. And yet unlike most missions contexts, the campus changes rapidly – often at the highest levels, but always among the students. So not only do you need to think like a church planter or missionary, but you also need to think, at times, like a new missionary to your campus tribe.

Learning and relearning the campus, then, isn’t really optional. And summer is a great time to attend to that practice.

What are your plans for connecting with students over the summer?

You may be in a position to contact most or all of your students, but chances are you’re not. There might simply be too many of them to reach, or your summer ministry work may need attention that keeps you too busy.

But what if you called one student a week?

The title of this post comes from the old, now-cliche story about a kid throwing starfish – a few of the thousands on his beach – back into the ocean. (If you’re somehow unfamiliar, google it… the punchline is “It mattered to that one.”)

It’s human nature (at least for some of us humans) to prefer “all or nothing.” Either I can get in touch with all my students, or I’ll focus elsewhere. But often its wiser to do something – for the sake of ourselves and the sake of the people we can minister to.

I think you’ll benefit if you chat with 2% or 10% of your students this summer. You’ll remember what summertime in the middle of the college years is like, your heart will be warmed toward the many students who are “out of sight, out of mind,” and you’ll be forced to do practical, “present” ministry in a season when so much energy can be focused on theorizing about the future.

And of course, it’ll matter (a whole lot) to that student too.

I remember a summer during college when I consistently looked forward to being back on campus, and back attending a big on-campus college ministry I’d enjoyed.

How can you inspire that feeling in your students?

If you’re not interested in inspiring your students to look forward to the fall – and to return to your campus ministry – than you may have gotten too comfortable, too unfocused on practical concern for students, or a little of both?

Maybe that’s harsh – though worth considering – and the point is that all college ministers of course have a great opportunity in giving students a heart-tug to remember the greatness of God’s work and look forward to much more when the summer ends.

Now’s the time!

If churches all over the country held a draft of potential leaders as students graduate from college, how early would your college students be drafted?

Or if churches “hit the recruiting trail” (like college coaches do when recruiting high school athletes), would church leaders plead with your students to join their church?

If college ministers don’t assess their ministries by how well students will thrive in churches after college – and how much churches will thrive because these former students are there – then something is missing. Those college ministers have lost the plot. Because it’s all a hand-off, right? What happens in college is powerful within those few years, but the huge majority of the fruit should come afterwards, in the several decades of harvest after age 22.

So could your students be more “draft ready”? Will they immediately present usefulness at any church they choose? Sure, someone also needs to tell those churches to use their young adults. But that exhortation will mean even more if the usefulness of your graduates is obvious.

Forgive my lack of blogging most of last week – our annual church conference always plays with my schedule. I’m back in action!

When is the last time you reassigned a leader because they – or you – realized their strengths could be used even better somewhere else?

Students’ short tenure inside a college ministry means that discovering their “best and highest use” and deploying there becomes all the more urgent. It’s better for your ministry and each collegian if they plug in exactly where their gifts can best help – even if it means a mid-season shift or shifting away from something else that needs to get accomplished.

That’s why the subject line mentions “re-interviewing”: What if it was common practice to check in after a few months of leadership, with one purpose being brainstorming deployment elsewhere?

Of course most students wouldn’t end up moving (though I bet it would be more than you think). And when they did, you’d see them and your college ministry flourish. When students only have three or four years in the powerful leadership incubator of campus ministry, getting to the best possible “seat on the bus” makes all the difference.

You may be at the part of your season when you’re already pencilling in plans for the next school year. But are your student leaders involved in those?

And how involved will students be in decision-making this summer?

From small tweaks to large changes to regularly-scheduled decisions (like teaching topics), staff is making a lot of decisions for their ministries. But if you’ve got student “owners” – and hopefully you’ve got a lot – then they might desire to help with ministry direction, and they might have a lot to offer too.

How could you loop them in – not to rubber-stamp why you’ve already decided, but to help even before decisions are pencilled in?

When your college ministry’s students change majors, do they discuss that decision beforehand with their small group leader or their college minister? When they’re considering studying abroad, do they bring that up before they’ve made the decision? What about when they plan to drop a class, or they choose between a few internship options, or they want to date someone?

It’s a clear assessment of a college ministry – whether or not students have relationships and trust enough that they seek wisdom from within the ministry. I don’t mean “permission,” like some collegiate cults have encouraged in exerting uncalled-for authority. But Christians should be looking to other Christians to help provide counsel – so shouldn’t college ministries be creating the type of community that allows for that counsel-sharing?

It makes sense that most “new school year” planning takes place in the summer, when college ministers have the chance to breathe a little.

But one big aspect of your strategy shouldn’t wait: ideation. Why generate ideas at a time when most of your best idea engines (your students) are no longer immersed in the ministry… and may not even be local?

I’d encourage you to put some brainstorming sessions on the calendar now. It could pay off in spades when you do strategize later on.

I’ve seen college ministers pay too much attention to the ideas or opinions of singular, noisy students.

But I also think there are plenty of “well-oiled machines” out there, college ministries that have run well – and haven’t changed much – for awhile now.

In that case, it would be easy never to evaluate ideas from students who aren’t connected to the right people, extroverted, well-known enough, or otherwise less visible.

But this (college ministry) is training ground for ministry. And that means student – any student who cares enough – should have the chance to flex ministry muscles, including trying to make your efforts better. Yes, there will be students who try too hard come up with way too many ideas, or don’t ultimately merit a whole lot of time – not every idea deserves an hour of evaluation, of course. But we can’t let that potential messiness – of needing to disciple the overeager idea factories – keep us from providing avenues for all students to share their ideas.

Otherwise, you’re just frustrating people who have committed to your mission, and who care enough to share their thoughts.

One big focus on this blog is encouraging you to have the kind of college ministry that your campus looks to for help in times of crisis.

But whether or not you’ve ever gotten that call, you have even more control over whether or not your ministry and your students have chosen to serve.

What if you – and your students (that’s vital) – spent the next few months looking for ways to serve in crisis? It may be crisis at the campus level, maybe at the organization level, or maybe just one of the many personal crises that will hit students on your campus.

But crisis will happen.

You can respond.

It’ll make an impact.

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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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