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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?

I was reminded this week of the value of discussing “family business” – you know, those ministry realities that we’d rather not share. When a leadership change needs to be made, when a program fails, or when some other disappointing, behind-the-scenes reality shifts our ministry’s journey.

This is an encouragement for you to lean into those sorts of conversations with your students.

Your regular college students have given to you from their limited hours, investing not only in their own spiritual development, but also investing in the ministry you lead. Many of your students have taken ownership by leading or volunteering or simply bringing buddies. And they’re adults, or close enough to it that no one laughs at that statement.

So don’t they deserve straightforwardness whenever possible? And can’t they learn a lot from “hard conversations” about ministry and life and sin?

Another important reminder on this topic: Some of your Christian students came out of youth groups or churches where straightforwardness was not the norm, where “information management” was commonplace, or at least where they weren’t debriefed when something went terribly wrong. A youth leader simply “disappeared” one week, and – at least for awhile – gossip was the only chance to learn why. The church’s pastor left, and no one told “the kids” why. Or some leader blatantly fell into sin, and everyone knew why, but no one helped the students process in a way that didn’t leave enormous scars. This sort of thing doesn’t apply to everyone in your ministry, but perhaps more of them experienced some sort of church terribleness than you realize.

So no college minister wants to remind students of those painful times, by avoiding the hard conversation or the direct truth. And for everybody else, these students need you to lead them in the sin-carved valleys. There are times (obviously) for patience or reticence. But not as often as most of us tend to default to. Right?

This is a post from the past, but it’s an important fit for this series. While these methods may not seem to upgrade your leaders directly, they will indeed lead to substantially better leaders – both now and in the years to come.

I had the awesome chance to speak to a church’s college ministry student leaders a while back, and I aimed to raise the bar on their ministry this year. I told them they are truly college ministers in their role – and therefore each a missionary to their own campus tribe.

It’s valuable to do what we can to help our student leaders understand the weight of their task. At the same time, we should be letting our whole ministry know how highly we regard their peer leaders.

Here are some methods that might help:

1. Hold a commissioning ceremony (even at a church)

You might make a real impact in leaders’ lives by performing a commissioning ceremony at the beginning of the year – with all the solemnity, instruction, and even “pomp” that gets the point across (without overdoing it) for your group. And even if you’re not a church-based college ministry, consider holding this ceremony in front of a gathered congregation of believers. (Regardless of where you hold the ceremony, you could even have students invite friends and family!!!)

2. Write letters (and let students know)

You could take the time to send a letter to students’ back-home contacts: parents, pastors, youth pastors. Announce the student’s leadership position, the roles they’ll be playing, and prayer requests. While this is a good idea anyway, it will also raise the bar for the student himself – especially if you give him a copy of the letter and the recipient list.

3. Honor in front of peers (even regularly)

I’m a big believer in the “You cultivate what you honor” principle. But not only does putting your leadership in front of their peers help raise up new leaders, it also helps “raise up” those present leaders even more! Of course, while this might look something like the commissioning ceremony, you could also honor/terrify your leaders through pictures on the wall, names and contact info on the web page, or other regular, obvious means.

one last note

If this whole idea of “commissioning” leaders in front of a church, letting their home base know about their role, or publicizing their role with their peers seems really uncomfortable… are you sure you’ve got the kind of leaders you want to cultivate more of? Always good to think about.

Merry Christmas, friend!

It’s been a joy blogging some college ministry ideas and ponderings this year. I hope your break is fantastic – I’ll be returning right after the New Year.

I’m also going to spend some time working through some great possibilities for this blog… so pray with me if you’d like.

See you in 2017!

My guess is you’ve got some sort of to-do list. It might be formal, it might be in your phone, it might be on a Post-it stuck to the top of your laptop (that’s what I’ve been doing recently). Or you’ve probably at least got a calendar, which will suffice for this.

A very concrete way to think about delegating to students is to take your to-do lists – ones from a few weeks ago work even better than current ones – and force yourself to imagine delegating those tasks.

  • Which of those items could easily have been done by a student?
  • Which of those items could have been done by a trained student who did that same task each time?
  • For the other tasks, if you were forced to delegate them (like if you got sick), why would you do? (This is a thinking exercise, so come up with something – even if you have to get creative.)

The college minister’s existence should include perpetual brainstorming about delegation, both to train up students and to manage your own time well. Looking at real tasks you’re doing or have already done will likely show you some new possibilities for students to take ownership in their college ministry.

Most college ministries have a Large Group Meeting as one methodological pillar of a few. So our field is well-versed in getting everyone together.

But how often does every true “regular” feel like they’re a “member,” in the sense of being “part of something”? How often are all “regulars” gathered when there also aren’t (at least hypothetically) visitors also around? In a weird way, the very hospitality and new-person-seeking that’s a bedrock for most healthy college ministries works against them on this one score. The largest, most “all of us” kind of gathering is often outsider-facing, meaning the only folks who convene for “family talk” are student leaders and the like.

It’s not a terrible problem, but it’s worth considering the way a sense of “belonging” or “family” or “movement” increases participation and community. And then evaluating if there are chances to “get the gang together” – not to exclude, but to include in ways that encourage, and even make everyone even better at the outsider-facing stuff.

I’ve written on the importance of keeping a level of continuity over Christmas (and summer break) with students. Good shepherds don’t get to fully withdraw.

But it’s important to think about where student leaders fit in this goal. Whether your structure involves small group leaders, ministry team leaders, disciplers, or any other student ministers, they can (and should) help connect with students over breaks.

If they’re directly ministering to students anyway (like in small groups), then let them come up with their own plans that fit their crew. Others may need a plan laid out for them or at least brainstormed with them.

But then – whoever comes up with the plan – you’ll want to hold them to it. All of the students (as well as the staff) will be busy at points, and “out of sight, out of mind” is a constantly tempting enemy.

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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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