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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.

College ministers are around young adult ministry (or general “singles ministry”) enough to hear the occasional exhortation that singles see their current season as a gift – and make use of their singleness to accomplish ministry and adventures that they wouldn’t/won’t in marriage.

But I’m not sure if that teaching begins in the college years often enough.

Even twenty years ago, when it was more common for folks to jump from college to marriage (and thus have only a brief season of “expendable time”), I don’t remember hearing the “use this wide open season” line often (if at all). Nowadays there may be (for many) a greater number of years to “use their singleness,” but it still makes sense for college students to comprehend that time maximization begins today.

Exit Q: As your students’ primary shepherd, are you comfortable being held accountable for how they currently steward their “free time” – both hours one week and months (Christmas, summer) in the year?

As I noted yesterday, pastor-scholar-blogger James Emery White spent some time with our church staff yesterday. Among the many Q&A topics that came up was what he sees as one of the biggest hills today’s senior pastors aren’t courageous enough to climb.

Not particularly surprisingly (at least for us who are connected to the field of college ministry), he continues to see many pastors unwilling to make the changes needed to reach younger unchurched individuals. Pastors know what they would need to do, he said, in regards to style and structure, but also believe the changes would be too unsettling for their current congregations – and particularly to those who provide the financial backbone for the church.

Like I said, we who already fight for younger generations might easily agree. But college ministers aren’t off the hook in this concern when it comes to what you do: verily, verily, you should be asking the same question of yourself and your ministry.

Are YOU making the changes in style and structure that it takes to best reach today’s unreached students?

And not only does that mean considering the unchurched, but age often still plays a factor. Freshmen might need something different than upperclassmen, members of Generation Z (or whatever we end up calling it) aren’t the same as the Millennials, and you may even have financial supporters or overseers lurking in the background who are very much outside the demographic of the current, unreached collegian.

So the situation – and temptation – for college ministers isn’t quite as different from that of senior pastors around the country as we might have first assumed. Right? Who’s courageous enough to make changes when changes are called for (while loving and shepherding both older students and the merry band of stakeholders outside the college scene)?

I was telling someone this week about an experience in college. My pastor – of our church, not the college ministry – spent a good amount of time with students. For instance, I fondly remember a Wednesday night Bible study walking through one of his favorite books, The Green Letters. He also invited a handful of guys who were planning on “vocational ministry” (or just considering it, as I was) for early morning donuts and discussion about that sort of calling.

This morning, our church staff gets a visit from James Emery White, to hear from him in a smallish setting before heading out on our annual staff retreat.

They’re the same kind of opportunity – though I’m far from collegiate myself these days. But it’s something all college ministers should consider: How can I get my students around senior pastors and other leaders? Even if it’s casual, or feels “off topic” to whatever else you’re doing, or it’s not someone famous, or it’s awkward for the leader or the students or both.

For some, it will be memorable. It might just mean something 20 years later, in fact.

Have you ever considered what a radical shift might look like?

I’m all for longevity – of individual ministries AND their missions and basic methodologies. Once a college ministry has become as missiological as possible, then consistent improvement through tweaking – not reinventing – should be the norm.

But great missionaries also recognize that reinvention sometimes IS the need.

The church college ministry here recently made that kind of shift, going from a one-campus setup that looked (externally) like Cru or another parachurch approach… to folding into the church’s huge Young Adult ministry for Large Group Meeting but fostering small groups on multiple campuses.

If your ministry had to radically reinvent itself, what would it look like? What COULD it look like?

A ministry pal is coming to town today, and though I couldn’t make the gathering he invited to, I asked if he wanted to drop by and chat. Plus, there’s a coworker I’d hope to connect him with.

It got me thinking about how often speakers, authors, and other influencers “come to town” where you are. The campus alone likely draws folks. Churches might have special preachers or other speakers. Non-profits hold fundraisers with known “celebrities.” Even businesses might call on outside experts for various functions.

But how often would those people be willing to meet with some collegians?

I bet more than we think.

I asked my buddy to hang out even though I knew his schedule here in Dallas would be packed. And lo and behold, he’s got some time, he’s excited to maximize his time here, and I get to connect two folks who need to know each other.

I know most folks “coming into town” won’t know you personally. But they’re still people, and maybe a student or two would be impacted by a connection.

A pretty simple idea this week, that could pay great dividends (and at least would keep you on your toes)…

What if you commissioned a diverse group of students simply to watch for campus trends, and then imagine ways those things could be addressed/implemented in the campus ministry?

For instance, a few might notice that Trump’s immigration efforts seems to be “trending” in campus conversations; that might translate into a special series on Christians + immigration.

Other students may call your attention to the newest social media app, leading the college ministry to get a channel on that new medium.

Or there may be a big cheating scandal on campus; this group would likely let you know about it before you’d know about it otherwise, allowing your ministry to think about winsome and timely responses.

Students probably already “tell you things,” but precision AND creativity AND urgency come from tasking someone with a job description. Plus, getting students occasionally in the same room to talk about this stuff could generate even more ideas.

Most colleges on the semester system either got underway last week or do this week.

It’s thrilling.

What happens these next few days and weeks will be a turning point in many students’ lives, even though they won’t realize it.

But we know the power of college ministry.

So I hope you’re thinking about the next ten years as you recruit and welcome back and share the Gospel and plant seeds toward understanding the Gospel and even help students find college ministry opportunities that aren’t yours (because it’s a better fit).

I hope you’re thinking about those next ten years – and smiling! You get to impact those ten years!

Of course, I’m not saying that college ministry doesn’t change whole lifetimes. College ministry changes entire lifelong lives! Eternities even!

But ten years is more concrete, and it reminds us who care about college students that much depends on handing students off to a fantastic church, and sending them out with a very personal and very intimate walk with Christ, and sending them into great wisdom when it comes to dating and career and marriage and choosing their crowd.

Ten years (and a lifetime) of abundant life are yours to catalyze, as the Spirit works through this little (or big) college ministry you’ve built (or been called to lead in this season).

That’s exciting. A little weighty. But exciting.

Sorry for the lack of blogging this week – that conference ate my lunch more than expected.

For today’s Fridea, as the school year comes to a close, I want to offer a very simple way to make a debrief with your staff and main leaders all the more productive. (You will hold a debrief in the next week or two, won’t you?)

Before you contemplate what you’ll Stop / Change / Keep / Start, I urge you to put your WHYs, your ministry purposes, at the top of the whiteboard or the head of the table.

Because that’s where they belong.

Just as our planning (deciding the WHATs) should never begin without radical clarity on the goals for the semester, evaluation should never start without reminding ourselves of those same WHYs. (Without a bull’s-eye, how can you…?)

You may realize that presumed wins… didn’t quite hit an actual target, regardless of how fondly they’re remembered by you or students. And some less exciting or barely-remembered activities may in fact have stayed true to the goals (even if changes could make them both more interesting and more effective).

As the primary shepherd of most of your college students for this revolutionary season of their lives, you determine in large part the methods by which these students will grow – not only during the college years, but in the months or years between college and the firm footing they will (hopefully) find as young adults.

What they learn from you about spiritual disciplines, about sharing their faith with others, about finding a church, about finding mentors… this will mostly (or at least largely) come from you and your ministry.

This is no small responsibility.

Certainly the argument that eases our burden a little bit – and it’s a correct argument – is that fundamentally students must take God personally. Hopefully, whether they completely delineate this or not, their primary engine for spiritual growth is their own very intimate walk with the Lord – a walk that is healthy enough to grow whether well-watered by outside ministries or not.

That’s certainly true. But isn’t one of the primary opportunities of college ministry to shepherd students into that particularly personal walk with God? Whether a Christian college student has known Christ for months or already for a decade and a half, this sort of internally motivated spiritual walk is a – and maybe THE – primary need… right?

If you need a quick assessment for your campus ministry, ask yourself whether your students are growing “on their own” – yes, taking advantage of your ministry offerings, but also finding their own developmental routes with the Lord, advancing in Him each semester beyond what your ministry’s watering could catalyze alone. (It’s a quick assessment to think about, though not a simple one to assess.)

Or simply find out now how well the graduates of last May and last December have grown in the interim.

Discipleship is likely a stated goal for your ministry. But how large a focus is discipleship towards self-discipleship?

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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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