Sunday, October 23, 2016

The 5 Core Skills of a College Minister??

One of the great opportunities and fun things I have gotten to do for the last several years is teach an annual seminar for new College Ministers. Sometimes, we have eight or ten and others years we will have as many as thirty-five, as we did this past August. When we started doing it, we had seven hours. In recent years to fit a total program schedule, it has been squeezed to three hours. So, I've thought, what if I had to say in a few words or phrases, this is what a College Minister must do and do with some level of proficiency?

Here is my first swing at "The Five Core Skills of a College Minister":

Relationships are the currency of our ministry. All College Ministers do not have to be extroverts, but must give priority to relating to a wide variety of students. And, some of our most significant investments will be in one to one conversations and on-going relationships. Evangelism and Discipleship take place within this skill set.

The multiplier in a college ministry is student leaders who multiply a College Minister's time, increase the outreach of the ministry, and bring a wide variety of gifts to the ministry. So, an effective College Minister must be looking for leader types and developing leaders. If a ministry has a student worship band, it is a constant to be looking for and develoing students who can be effective worship leaders. It is also part of our task to be building these students up for future service in local churches.

I almost want to put an asterisk by this one. Because, most will see this as the effective College Minister must be a great preacher. It is a much larger skill than that. I am concerned that too much emphasis is being given to simply preaching to students in recent days. There are great and effective College Minisrers who are not great speakers and do not speak at their events. The larger and even more necessary skill is to communicate a vision for the ministry. This must be communicated to students, stakeholders, and financial donors. It is, "This is where we are going; come be a part of it!".

There are more things that need doing than can be done in one ministry. Someone has to say this is what we will do and this what we will not do. And, the College Minister cannot continually be looking back and questioning many choices that have to be made. Passion does not determine effectiveness. There has to be a plan.

By this I mean, the effective College Minister must be willing to function in the midst of a diverse campus environment and allow student leaders to serve in ways a bit different then he/she would. Sometimes, it will mean working with other Christian groups or ministries which are different and do not hold identical theological views. It does not mean endorsing everything or thinking anything is ok. But, it does mean that everything does not have to be perfect or done as we would do it for our being able to function in the midst of it.

What's your thoughts on the necessary core skills of an effective College Minister? I would love to hear from you...either by a private message or your comments here. I do not see this as my final list and would love to have your participation in defining the necessary core skills. This would benefit not just new College Ministers but all of us who want to do even more effectively what God has called us to do.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How Does a College Ministry Begin Working with Alumni?

I am on record with one of my "over the top" statements that a campus based College Minister who does not work with alumni should be fired. I not only hold to that statement, but recent events have caused me to double down on it. One Southern Baptist State Convention recently told their full time College Ministers that they will be expected to raise part of their salaries within the next couple of years. Where is the source of that? One obvious possibility would be alums who have experienced the value of that campus ministry in their own lives.

HOWEVER, I do not believe we should just work with alums for the purpose of them helping to support our program budget or even our own salaries. First, we should work with and encourage them in the next steps in their spiritual pilgrimage. I have long believed that the most effective evaluation of our ministry is what our students do faith and church wise following college. Obviously, we cannot determine, but we need to do all we can that points our students and former students toward a lifetime of spiritual growth, discipleship, and ministry.

If we do that and keep them informed about our ministry, alums can be a huge resource. Some campus ministries have Alumni Work Weekends that do needed work on campus centers. Others utilize them as role model mentors, speakers, small group leaders, etc. Plus, they make great spokespersons for the value and importance of college ministry.

So, what do you do if there is no alumni list? Some have said, there is no list and it would take time to get anything established, so there is no point in it. Rather, I would argue that someone has to begin. You would be thankful if someone prior to you had established alumni gatherings and an alumni list and on-going financial work.

So, where do you start whether you have not been there long term or not? Here are some ideas.

-Many ministries have pictures of past Leadership Teams or Mission Team pictures. Is there a list of names with each picture? Start with those. Likely, some of them are locals and you can easily secure their addresses. Ask them for any contact info they might have of peers.

-Host an informal gathering of three or four alums to brainstorm names.

-Search Facebook.

-Ask local friends who have expressed interest in your ministry for the names of alums.

-Some ministries add the name of each freshman involved at the end of their first year.

-Each spring following commencement, go through the list of graduates for those to add to your list.

-Consider establishing a "Friends and Alums List". This would be alums and individuals you know who have an interest in the ministry, but were not necessarily involved.

-Ask your Alumni/Former Students Office if they ask alums to list organizations in which Rhey participated. If so, will they give you those who listed your ministry. We were able to do this one year.

-Advertise by social media and any means possible a gathering (such as at Homecoming or a summer picnic) of alums of your ministry. Invite all those you run across.

-Ask two or three alums to serve as officers of a new Alumni Orgqnization and help you begin such a group.

-Begin to send at least an annual newsletter with news of individual alums and of the ministry. Remember, pictures from the past are always especially of interest.

The simple and most important suggestion is begin. Start....someone has to start. Even if it takes a few years for it be of value, it will benefit the ministry even if you are not serving there any longer. Many people have planted Shade tress they never sat under.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Counseling with College Students

Several years ago there was a survey taken of College Ministers asking in what area did they most need and want help. The overwhelming number one response was counseling. Students have issues for which they are looking for someone who might provide them some help. I classify the issues that students are looking for help with in two categories.

The two categories are crisis and developmental. Crisis is when something negative has happened and they need immediate relief or help in knowing where to turn. Developmental is the decisions of life as to what is next. All of us make developmental decisions, but it seems that college students are faced with the most developmental decisions. That is why it is such a key life point.

I am not a certified counselor or see myself as a professional counselor. But, as a young College Minister looking for help in this area, I was fortunate to be able to do a Masters Degree in Guidance Counseling. Let me share some steps to take in helping those students whom God has given you when they come with questions and concerns.

Listen hard. Don't be in a hurry to talk. Listen. Shut up and listen. A psychiatrist friend of mine said once that many people that came to him did not need a professional counselor, they needed a good friend who would listen to them. He also reminded me to not be afraid of what he called "the pregnant silences".

The point of asking questions is to get them to understand what they are saying and to draw them out.

The term for this is "Reflection". There are instances when students are able to crystalize what the issue is, there ia relief that comes. I have literally had students express great gratitude to me for my help when all I did whas listen, ask some questions, and help them summarize their concern or put it into words.

If there is a decision to be made, what are the options? Many poor decisions are made because the student did not know or consider ALL the options. The second part of that is getting with people who can give them correct information about their options. Since many developmental or college crisis situations involve school, majors, etc, it is imperative they go to people who can help them know options or proper procedures. It is amazing how many poor decisions are made because, "The guy who is a 7th year junior that lives down the hall said I

It is easy for a student to make a snap decision without considering any long term consequences. And sometimes, the long term week. What will happen as a result of this decison or action and can the student live with it? Relieving the pain of the moment without considering the consequences can cause greater pain later.

Students will ask you what they should do. It is not your life and you are not the one that will live with the consequences. Resist the huge temptation of telling them what to do. Help and let them make their decision. Again, this is where considering options and future consequences are huge.

Will this decision in any way impact others.....particularly their family? Again, snap decisions are often made without any thought to how it will affect others.

It will not be long before students will come to you with issues way beyond your capacity to help. Don't decide you are just as good as a professional counselor. Refer them to someone who has the training to help. clear that you are not trying to get rid of them. Hear them and you may continue to visit with them throughout the process to express love and support. But, never let them hear you saying you just don't have time to talk with them. This also takes into account that you can quickly spend all of your time with a few students who need lots of emotional help and support. It can short circuit your ministry. Are you really called to be the counselor on campus?

Confidentiality is a must. However, if something illegal has occurred or been done to the student, you have a responsibility to report it. A second question to consider is, should their parents be made aware? An example: one of my students made a suicide attempt. Her Floor Counselor called University Police who took her to the ER where they pumped her stomach. Her roommate called me. The police then took her back to the dorm. I asked what else would be done and the answer was nothing. I made the decision to call her mom who came and got her and took her home. It was the right decision. Only rarely should parents be informed without the students' permission, but I think there can be exceptions. You must make that tough decision.

Obviously, this is way over simple for difficult situations. But, when students come to trust you, they will come to you with their issues. Hopefully, this can give some framework to your helping them. If you feel totally inadequate to help, are you aware of the counseling options on campus and do you have a relationship to
them? Knowing who to refer to and how to refer is important.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The College Ministry Lid.....More Possibilities.....and The Awkward Question

In a recent Blog, I wrote about the lid that is keeping your ministry from reaching any more students then it does currently. The point was to identify what your primary lid is and then to begin to address it. That does not mean your ministry will suddenly double in size. Usually, a lid is there because it is a tough or complicated issue. While identifying it is huge, that doesn't mean that a fix is obvious or quick. It might be a long process.

But, equally important as you address the lid that has closed your ministry at it's current level, I believe you must identify your strength or unique point of your ministry and ask yourself, if it is being utilized to the fullest. What is the main reason students come to your ministry and continue to come? What is it your ministry is really doing well.....not in your eyes.....but, in the eyes of the students. You might be surprised that their view of the ministry strength or uniqueness might not be the same as yours. Being clear about your strength is important in that in addressing your lid, you do not inadvertently make changes destructive to the very strength of your ministry.

Is it possible your lid and your strength might be the same? In a few instances the answer is yes. The strength of a ministry might be it's very small and personal nature. It might be the great amount of time the College Minister gives to each student individually. It is at this point that the decision needs to be made. Is this the ministry that we want to be? That decision has to be made honestly by each ministry. Some would say genuinely, this is what we are here to do.

Or is the lid the students you are currently reaching? This is a tough issue. I believe God loves all of us personally and uniquely and we don't have to be the "In crowd" to be loved by God and worth of ministry. If your ministry is intentionally to "the forgotten" and that is your calling, bless you and keep on. But, it might be the ministry has developed an unhealthy "our club mentality". The "our club mentality" is the idea that this is exclusively for us or those just like us and so everyone else is "UN-invited". If that is the case, you must decide if you are willing to make changes that may cause you to lose many of students currently reached. That is a painful and slow process. In trying to reach more students....your ministry might decline. Wow!

Some lid adjustments can be fairly quick (such as moving to a larger meeting space) but many are slow and painstaking. In making changes in a ministry,there is always the consideration of timing. When is the right time to make this adjustment. It might be a decision you make now, but the implementation will not come until next summer or fall....or at the start of next semester.

Here is the awkward question: What if YOU are the lid? I don't mean you are incompetent or students don't want to be around you. All of us have students who are attracted to us and students who are not impressed with us. No
one is the all encompassing college ministry magnet. Name the most famous College Minister you know avout and there are those who don't respond to them. But, in considering our lid, we may decide that it calls for a change in how we spend our time. It may not call for a change of schedule or meeting place, etc. It may mean that personally we have not been doing the things that are most productive. We may be spending too much time with too few students. Or, we may not be modeling the very things we are expecting from our students.

A NOTE OF CAUTION: Never make wholesale changes in your ministry without your supervisor or key stake holders being bought in or at least aware of what you are doing and why.

Monday, October 3, 2016

College Ministry Cuts....."Partially Funded" Positions

A State Convention of the Southern Baptist Convention recently announced that three of their full time College Ministry positions (BCM Directors) on three different campuses would become "partially funded" effective January 1st.

In hearing the news, I asked if "partially funded" meant that these positions were to become part-time positions. The one sharing the information said no that this meant they were hoping that persons could continue to serve there full time, but that part of their compensation would have to come from other sources.

What would your response be if your supervisor told you effective January 1 your position is partially funded? It has long been a rant of mine that campus based College Ministers who do not work with alumni should be fired. As finances for ministry in general and College Ministry specifically continues to decline, alums who have experienced the value of campus ministry in general....and your ministry in particular are key!

A campus based College Minister employed by a Baptist Convention in another state told me that he wished the state convention would pay him part of his salary and let him secure the rest. He said he knew the area churches would provide it and then perhaps he could focus on college ministry. He then would not have to do all the non-college ministry duties being required by his supervisors was his reasoning.

One question that has been raised was this move to "partially funded" College Ministry positions a funding issue that affected only the College Ministry area. The answer was that there had been cuts in other areas and it was simply their turn to take some cuts. Financial gifts to this state convention have declined in recent years.

This action raises several questions. Are "partially funded"'positions a wave of the future? This state convention did not make all their college ministry positions partially funded. While I am not familiar with all three campuses affected, I do know that at least one is a large nationally known university. What determined which three would be changed? Some have speculated that the decision was based on the small response on those campuses. Would it have been better to maintain a fully funded position on one of these campuses, such as the large university and go part time on smaller campuses? Should funding be based on the size of the ministry or the size of the campus? Should Baptist entities that face declining finances adopt a model long employed by non-denominational ministries of simply being on "flag-ship" campuses?

What if your supervisor told you today your position will be partially funded as of January 1 and we hope you will stay? Would your alumni or area churches step up and cover the difference? Are you telling your story and maintaining the relationships necessary for that to happen? Is your ministry being what it should be or are you simply putting in your time? If that is so, I am sorry to tell you that those days are ending.

I sincerely hope this is not a gloom and doom message for you....but a reminder that we must be working with alumni and making sure that our churches and other interested parties know our story.

Yes; my next Blog will likely be on working with alumni.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What's the Lid for Your College Ministry?

A lid is defined as, "a removable or hinged cover for closing the opening...". The lid for a ministry is where it just will not reach more students or grow further. The lid is closed. All ministries have a lid. Your ministry may not have reached it's lid yet or you may be comfortable with your lid. Or, you may have come to the point of saying, "Why are we not reaching or keeping more students involved with our ministry?".

If you are in that last category, have you identified your lid? Think about it; what is the lid that has the opening of your ministry closed tight at a certain point? What determines your lid?

Here are some common lids:

This is likely the most common lid. You simply have grown to the max that your meeting space will hold or that your students are willing to crowd any further.

You already are using all the creativity you have to keep going on your limited budget. You just can't afford to feed any more. Or, you can't afford to do mail outs. Maybe you can't afford an administrative assistant to do tasks that keep you from having time to connect with students or meet with your leaders one on one.

Most really large campus based ministries have really large staffs (10-20). Large church based ministries tend to offset that some by some of what churches can provide in other ways. Students need to talk to someone. Who does the individual discipleship? Who does the crisis counseling? Who is meeting with and developing multiple student leaders?

Vision or lack of vision is a lid. Are you just happy with the number you are reaching? Or are your student leaders happy with where the ministry is? Or, has it even occurred to them to think bigger? All they know is what they have seen.

There are only X number of Discipleship Groups. They can only hold a certain number. Or, there are only X amount of places for leaders and therefore other potential student leaders leave the ministry to look for other opportunities. Is your current organization structure forming your lid?

What other ministries do can affect what you are able to do. You may suffer by comparison or another may foul the waters for everyone. This is possibly the toughest one to address.

So, what is the point? If we have reached our lid and we can identify the lid, we may be able to do something about it. Do you need to focus on raising your budget? If you raised your budget, could you hire additional ministry people or admin help that would free you to do other things? Should you experiment with meeting somewhere else? Should you add another Discipleship Group or two? Or, should a new D Group meet at a different time? If comparison to another booming ministry is hurting you, have you identified what the unique strength of your ministry is and leaned into it?

If the lid is insolvable, is there a detour around it? Could changing or improving something else minimize the effect of the lid?

The hardest place to see and understand is often our own situation. Three suggestions:

1. Enlist three or four ministry people you trust apart from your ministry to analyze and brainstorm with you. They need some distance to see things from a different perspective. Could they give you a full or half day at some point?

2. Take two or three days totally away from all of it by yourself to think, pray, and consider options and solutions.

3. Take 5 or more than 10 students away for a full day of thinking, praying and brainstorming. The group needs to be big enough to see and think different ideas, but small enough that it doesn't take forever to talk about something. They also can't be shy or reluctant to speak up.

What's your ministry lid? Have you addressed it? Or, have you helped others to see what the lid is?

The first step is to honestly identify your lid.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Some years ago I had a student leader who when he spoke he would often say something was "really, really true". I would tease him and ask, "Is really really true more true than something being just true?". I recently heard myself saying something was REALLY REALLY true.....that really really true fact is the number one reason students come to a Christian event the first time is a personal invitation.

I continue to believe in promotion, publicity, etc, but have renewed my belief in the reality of personal invitations being a huge key. I have recently been a volunteer assisting my church's College Minister in some of our start of school enlistment events. We have done some really first class events. We spent a significant portion of our fall budget. The simple result has been, regardless of the event and promotion, those best attended were the result of personal invitations.

A friend who leads a large ministry shared with me recntly that his students now seem to be more comfortable inviting and bringing new students to their small groups first rather than to their weekly large group event. That is totally contrary to what has been true for them previously and in all of my experience. He doesn't know quite why. But, we do know that it is REALLY REALLY true that the personal invitation is key.