Leaders are Readers.

And now for something a little different.

Every two or three years I ask leaders what they are reading. I have published those booklists over the years.  You can find them here at 2013, 2011, 2009, and 2006.

But this year, I thought since many of us get our information from Facebook’s news feed, or some social media manager like Hootsuite, I would list blogs from thought leaders. I though you might enjoy reading what those who responded find informative.

On Ministry and Leadership

  • Barna Update. Several mentioned this as giving spiritual influencers credible knowledge and clear thinking, enabling them to navigate a complex and changing culture.
  • On Leading Well. Ken Cochrum’s site on spiritual and strategic leadership. Tony Hageman.
  • Leading With Questions. Bob Tiede understands the Cru culture but brings regular outside leaders to speak into how to lead well through Questions…Great variety and voice from outside. Lee Cooksey.
  • Growing Leaders. Tim Elmore focuses on connecting the generational leadership culture. Lee Cooksey.
  • Missio Nexis: Book Look. A weekly review of a book about taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Whether discussing our current culture or different people groups, you get a slice of a book worth thinking about. Scott Livermore.
  • Andy Stanley Podcasts. I find his leadership podcasts helpful and thought provoking. A few of those helpful in our context are “Trust vs. Suspicion”, “Vision is a team sport”, and “Delegation Dilemma Parts 1 and 2”. Jim Kercheval.
  • KevinJYoung.com. Good for faith muscles. Story driven and evangelistic, it will keep the reader inspired to walk in the Spirit. Ginnette Young.
  • Justin Taylor. Practical theology, book suggestions, lots of Lewis stuff, and generally designed to help us think as leaders about current trending issues. Kevin Young.

On Ethnic Ministry

On the Personal Side

Happy reading this summer.

Some tips on ending the year well.

Off and Running

Most of these tips over the last several weeks have been about ending the Spring semester well, wrapping up the year, preparing for summer ministry, and getting set to hit the ground running in the fall.

Today’s tip is about the importance of a strong start in August. It’s usually my last tip of the year. I will, however, have a reading list next week, and begin a summer tip series related to our own development as leaders.

I like today’s tip’s focus on planning ahead, being intentional about our efforts, and maximizing the single most critical week of the campus year. Not everything applies in our missional context, but this article speaks to the urgency of the first week on campus and the reality of how quickly a student determines allegiances on campus.

“Every group I’ve studied has followed roughly the same pattern.  In fact, with only two exceptions, I have never seen a campus ministry grow after the first month of the year.”

Off And Running by Mike Woodruff

Three weeks into the Fall quarter finds most students in a rut.  They’ve picked their classes, joined their clubs and scheduled every waking minute between now and Thanksgiving.  Some have carved out time for “significant others,” most will have set aside entire weekends for football, pizza and parties, and a few will even have blocked out an hour or two for class.  But by the end of the first month it’s all in stone.  And if attending your large group meeting isn’t in their schedule by then, there is little hope it will be there come May.

During my 8 years with a church-based campus ministry in Washington State, I watched student involvement at our large group meetings climb from 150 to 700.  With the exception of one small hiccup up, all of that growth occurred in the Fall.  If we ended Spring quarter with 200 students, we started back in September with 350.  That May we’d be down around 300-far from growing, every group seems to lose numbers over the year-but by the next Fall we started with 450.  We grew by starting strong.  Every other group I’ve studied has followed roughly the same pattern.  In fact, with only two exceptions, I have never seen a campus ministry grow after the first month of the year.  And that means that if you’re serious about expanding your influence you need to begin with a shout.  If ever there was a time for a home run, it’s the first meeting of the Fall quarter.

Be Ready: Of course, starting strong is hard to do because first meetings are full of early season mistakes. The worship team is rusty, the microphones are lost and no one can find a three-prong adaptor to plug in the overhead.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Use the summer to jump start the Fall.  Put summer students to work preparing publicity and drama.  Work on your first message during June and July so it’s one of the strongest you give.  Ask the worship team to come back to campus a few days early for a planning and preparation retreat.  Or hire the worship band from a local church to help you begin with a bang.  Hold a dress rehearsal the night before.  Make it a party and buy pizza for the whole team.

Additionally, apply the popular business philosophy of continuous improvement. Keep a separate file folder just for the events that occur during the first few weeks of the Fall quarter, and as those events unfold critique them.  What could we do next year?  How could we have reached out more effectively to freshman?  Should we have started the meeting earlier? Later? Gone shorter? Longer? By continually updating this file-technically called an After Action Report-you can insure that your kick-offs get better and better.

Be Visible:  If you normally meet in a church or a room that is the least bit hard to find move your first meeting.  We picked one of the most visible buildings in the middle of campus even though that meant competing with a back-to-school kick off dance right outside the door. If your school has an activity fair where you can advertise, set up the best booth and offer the most free food. I’d suggest spending up to seventy-five percent of your advertising budget for the entire year on your first couple of meetings-and be creative.  Anybody can do posters.  Try banners, balloons, sandwich boards, flyers, blackboard blitzes and, of course, personal invitations. We sent out letters to all returning students welcoming them back to school and inviting them to our first meeting.  The invitation includes the who, what, where, when, and why of every event we have planned during the first week, and ends with me egging them to invite anyone and everyone they know to our very first meeting.  If they will send me the name of someone they’d like invited, I’ll send them a letter or give them a call.  We also make a special effort to reach freshman by handing out lots of flyers around the freshman dorms and in their registration lines. I know several Christian groups whose members come back to campus early just so they can help freshman move into the dorms.  They find that by being one of the first friendly faces a freshman meets it’s easy to form friendships that might later lead to a chance to share the Gospel or invite someone to a meeting.

The Sardine Effect:  During the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy’s advance man picked small high school gymnasiums for their political rallies.  He didn’t want the nicest auditorium to meet in; he wanted a place they could pack.  We’ve done the same. In fact, the room we now use seats 150 fewer students than we expect.  The fire marshal hates us, but the energy we create is incredible.

Pray, pray and pray:  But not right before the meeting.  The last place you want your leaders just before the start of the first meeting is locked up in a room with you.  They should be out inviting friends, greeting early arrivals or picking up newcomers who need a ride.  Hold your prayer meeting earlier in the week or earlier in the day. That frees everyone up to deal with last minute headaches and mingle with people.

Force Fellowship:  Helping freshmen feel welcome is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face; especially since upper-class students all gravitate to friends they haven’t seen in three months.  Place greeters at the door, plead with your Bible study leaders to befriend lost freshmen and end the meeting by asking people to find two people they don’t know and introduce themselves. I also explained that everyone-including our staff-feels like everybody here knows everybody else-except them.  The bigger the group the more of an issue this becomes and the more proactively you need to deal with it.

The Meeting:  First meetings are not for regular attendees.  Serve food, skip inside jokes, explain all terms, don’t sing any songs that you do not have the words for and otherwise bend over backwards to make visitors feel welcome.  Screen all announcements and any drama to be certain they are done well.  Seekers and nominal Christians are more likely to check you out at the beginning of the year-actually, most everyone is there to check out the opposite sex.  This is a point I make during the beginning of my talk because it’s guaranteed to prompt lots of nervous laughter-so adjust worship and your first message. Be light. Be user friendly. Be funny. Be short. Your goal is to get them to sign up for a Bible study and come back next week, not explain the finer points of the hypostatic union.

“… the first 168 hours after a student sets foot on campus represents the most strategic time for them to get plugged into your fellowship.”

Follow Up:  Life long friendships are often formed in the first few days of college, so cram as many opportunities for bonding into that week as you can.  We held a picnic the afternoon after our first meeting and sponsored a social event that weekend. Additionally, our staff worked around the clock placing people in small group Bible studies.  Our goal was that everyone who signed up for a study was contacted within twenty-four hours by his or her study leader.  That means at least one all-nighter for our staff, but it was worth it.  We wanted Bible Study leaders to be able to spend time with the members of their study during the first week.  They could meet with them at the weekend social, walk with them to church that first Sunday and sit with them at the next large group meeting.

Was all of this work easy?  Not hardly.  Trying to jump-start a college ministry is a lot like trying to kick start an aircraft carrier.  At least two or three people will nearly die of exhaustion.  But someone has to do it and without question the first 168 hours after a student sets foot on campus represent the most strategic time for them to get plugged into your fellowship.  Plan now to begin with a bang.

Some tips on ending the year well.

Upstream/Downstream

You are sharing the Gospel. They give you a response you’ve heard before, but you know they didn’t come up with that. Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone else before hadn’t negatively influenced them?

Dr. Greg Ganssle is a professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and former staff for many years in the NorthEast Region. He talks about a conceptual tool, “Upstream/Downstream”.

He frames it this way. Having grown up near a polluted river, sometimes the pollutants were particularly bad and there would be considerable “fish-kill”. You can do two things. 1. Go downstream to try to save the fish. Or 2. Go upstream to stop what is killing them.

Greg writes:
“Any culture is like a river. Whatever happens upstream has a great effect on what happens downstream. Downstream, we find the individual person and her relation to the Gospel. Upstream, we find all of the things in the academy and culture that affect her responsiveness to the Gospel—all of the things in the environment that make certain things obvious and other things ludicrous.”

This was why Greg got into philosophy. He wondered about the prevailing assumption that moral truth is relative. Students didn’t make it up. They absorbed it from education. But where did this come from? Everything that happens upstream affects the downstream. The ability of a person to hear the Gospel as good news is affected by what happens upstream.

Now, Greg admits this is simplistic. Culture and those who influence it aren’t that linear. But it does help to diagnose what is happening. We look downstream, and consider why is there resistance. We look upstream to see what we might do there to influence those downstream.

When I talked with Greg last week about referencing this work, he also mentioned that “not just our beliefs and assumptions about what is true are affected. What is more important is how what we love or what we want is shaped. This can be a huge issue. Lots of what happens today pushes people away from the Gospel. As Friedrich Nietzsche said in The Gay Science, ‘What is now decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons.’ P. 132.”

“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man [Paul] is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.’ ” Acts 9:15, NIV. “…and their kings”. Perhaps you will have some extended time on location this summer to think and work on projects that you don’t normally have time for during the campus year. Why not make a list of faculty, administrators, grad students, RA’s, Greek presidents, club presidents, and those in student government who impact the river your incoming freshmen will drink from and swim in this fall.

There is an article on Cru.org about Surveys and Questionnaires. If you download the resource, you will find a Student Leadership Questionnaire on page 3 to use with students.

I used this same leadership interview for years with fraternity presidents at the University of Rhode Island. Sometimes those conversations opened doors to speak to pledge classes or to do other events in the houses. This was an example of going upstream to touch someone influencing the responsiveness of our audience downstream.

The question we forget to ask.

You’ve taught your students how to share their faith. You’ve taught them how to follow up and disciple those who place their faith in Christ.

Some of your students will be going on a summer mission, but many will go home and, invariably, may have the opportunity to lead a friend or family member to Christ.

How soon do you encourage your disciples to involve those they’ve led to Christ in reaching out to others?

Some time ago a colleague pointed out a very simple thought from the folks at I am Second on one of their leaders insight posts.

“…We often talk Jesus with non-believing friends and family as if only we have something to bring to the table, when in reality they can bring their entire network of relationships, if only we asked. It all depends on the follow up question you ask when someone responds to Jesus.

ASK THE QUESTION
The question is simple: “Do you have any friends or family who need to hear about Jesus, too?”. The more recent his infection, the more contagious his enthusiasm. Wait a few days before asking him the question, a month, a year or more, and you exponentially reduce the likelihood he will share Jesus with his friends and the less likely his friends will listen. Ask him on day one, moment one, and you’ll let loose an unstoppable contagion.

REVIEW AND REHEARSE
You shared Jesus. He responded. He identified people who need to hear what you told him. Now, for some on the spot training. Review and repeat. You are about to send out a brand new evangelist, a missionary to the unreached people group called “his friends”, so get to training… Repeat back the message of Jesus you shared with him, and have him rehearse it back, putting it in his own words, with his own story…

LIST AND ENLIST
Make a plan. Have this new disciple make a list of people she wants to share Jesus with that week… Follow up. Ask her how it went. Pray for her. Encourage and keep empowering her. You’ll be surprised by how contagious a new disciple can be, if only you’ll ask her, train her, and send her out.”

You may not have time to do all that is suggested in I am Second’s leaders insight post. But there is no question that the longer we wait in encouraging them to tell their friends and family about the decision they just made, the harder it gets for them to reach out in a meaningful way.

Why not file this one away in your evangelism training folder for use later?

Some tips on ending the year well.

A “toast to Jesus”.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve called attention to several things that we want to do to end the year well. Some of those are listed in the box at the bottom of this email.

But one thing we want to be sure to do before the end of the school year is to celebrate what God has done this year.

There are lots of ways to do this. One is building a symbolic monument to God’s praise. Modeled after Joshua 4, students place a stone and share how they have seen God work.

Another, is something Jason Skjervem, MTL, Northern North Dakota, explains that they have done at Minot State University each of the last four years. They “have a meal, pour some sparkling apple cider and give a ‘toast to Jesus’.” Jason was quick to point out to me that he doesn’t remember where he got idea, but he is grateful for the culture of sharing ideas with one another. Agreed.

It is always encouraging to hear those stories acknowledging what God has done. From my experience, even though it’s a time of celebration, students left with an anticipation of what God might do next year.

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” 2 Corinthians 4:15 NIV

Now that’s worth celebrating!

Ending the year well.

A “review” session before finals.

Do you remember how valuable the review session was before finals? Maybe you didn’t need them, but I sure did. It was a way for me to learn what I had forgotten and what I never did learn in the first place.

You will be saying goodbye to your students for the summer and some to graduation. How about a review session to bring to mind those things you have talked about and trained them in?

By way of reminder, and this comes from the snapshot of the Campus Ministry Plan:

  • Purpose: To Glorify God by Helping Fulfill the Great Commission.
  • Mission: Turning Lost Students and Faculty into Life-Long Christ-Centered Laborers.
  • Values: Faith, Growth, Fruitfulness
  • Missional Objectives: Christ-Like Leadership | Missional Teams | Mobilized Christ-Centered Laborers | Gospel Experiences | Changed Lives
  • DNA: Win, Build, Send in the Power of the Holy Spirit.

It might be good to spend some time reviewing some things about prayer, evangelism, discipleship and sending.

Prayer. Certainly there are the elements of worship, praise, adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. But prayer is being in partnership with the Lord. Nothing happens on own own. Your students will be entering an environment that is not naturally conducive to ministry taking place. Prayer needs to an ongoing conversation with the Lord, and involves an expectant heart to be alert to opportunities that God brings our way.

Evangelism. Your students will have seen a lot of harvesting types of evangelism. They might even be aware of the three modes of evangelism—ministry, natural, and body. But they will be entering a place where they will be doing more sowing. As they transition from a large to small audience, most of their evangelism will be in the natural mode. They must begin by building the relationship with those they work with and meet regularly. Using the Missional Map, “I wonder” questions, asking Sometime questions, acts of service, etc. all build trust so that when opportunities come up where their friends show curiosity, openness to change, and interest in the Gospel, then their considerable training in evangelism comes to bear.

Discipleship. Your students may not value the training that they have received. Most Christians they encounter have not had the type and depth of training they have. They may not know how to be filled with and walk in the power of the Spirit, share their story, have a personal devotional life, or know how study the Word. They will be encountering non-believers, but they also have something to offer other believers. But it is essential they begin with a spirit of humility.

Sending. The fact of the matter is they are now the ones being sent. They are taking a job, moving into a new neighborhood. But sending may not just happen once. They may take another job or position, they may participate with a mission in their church. They will continue to be involved in activities that build their faith and vision. These are all part of the sending that God takes us on. They really should know about the Life On Mission pages.

You will have your own particular emphases, but maybe this has given you some ideas for your own review session as you prepare your students for a summer of grow and a lifetime of ministry.

Ending the Year Well

The Power of Gifts.

The Student LINC and Coaching Center teams are reading and discussing Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. It has been out of the box from our normal reading.

We in Cru like to think we’re indispensable, or at least that’s what we tell our partners! The way Godin sees it, to succeed in today’s social and economic situation, we need to look at our role differently, to become linchpins, to make ourselves indispensable.

The chapter on “The Powerful Culture of Gifts.” stood out to me. Here a few excerpts:

“I must have been absent that day at Stanford business school.
“They don’t spend a lot of time teaching you about the power of unreciprocated gifts, about the long (fifty thousand years) tradition of tribal economics being built around the idea of mutual support and generosity. In fact, I don’t think the concept is even mentioned once. We’ve been so brainwashed, it doesn’t even occur to us that there might be an alternative to ‘How much should I charge, how much can I make?’ p. 150.

“You best give a gift without knowing or being concerned with whether it will be repaid…The magic of the gift system is that the gift is voluntary, not part of a contract. The gift binds the recipient to the giver, and both of them to the community…Gifts not only satisfy our needs as artists [that which we offer to others that impacts them], they also signal to the world that we have plenty more to share. This perspective is magnetic. The more you have in your cup, the more likely people are to want a drink.” p. 154.

“I don’t write my blog to get anything from you in exchange. I write it because giving my small gift to the community in the form of writing makes me feel good. I enjoy it that you enjoy it. When that gift comes back to me, one day, in an unexpected way, I enjoy the work I did twice as much.” p. 169.

Erin Brasher, Destino Distance Coach, shared some of her thoughts with me on this topic.

  • I saw a lot of correlation between our work and the thoughts in this chapter. The people I serve don’t pay me for the “gifts” I give them.
  • The closest thing to the Gospel I read in this book is on page 164 where he writes, “A priceless gift has been given, one that can never be valued monetarily or paid for or reciprocated.” It reminded me of Romans 6:22,23 and Acts 8:18-20
  • At the top of page 171, Godin writes, “And this is the challenge of becoming the linchpin. Not only must you be an artist, must you be generous, and must you be able to see where you can help, but you must also be aware. Aware of where your skills are welcomed.” The greatest challenge of gift-giving isn’t having the best gifts, but of others receiving any gift you give.
  • My last thought was a challenge about how we could be better recipients of gifts we’ve received using his “thank you and …” formula from page 171.

Godin mentions being an artist frequently. He defines art as a “personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.”

The “thank you and…” formula Erin referred to was stated this way. “If you appreciate a gift, consider saying ‘thank you and …’ Such as “…and I dog-eared forty of the pages,” “…and I told your boss what a wonderful thing you did…”

Practically all that we do in the ministry is gift giving. From sharing the Gospel, to establishing others in their faith, to discipling them, to praying for others, to launching movements so that more can hear the Good News, these all relate to giving gifts. Most of us do these out of sheer enjoyment and we know there is reward eventually for our efforts.

But do we ever bargain with God that we are doing such and such and why doesn’t He do such and such? Do we give gifts easily in some areas, but sure want others to know about it? Or do we subtly expect reciprocity?

I have always known the power of words, but I’m trying to be more intentional about speaking gifts to others. Someone really good at this is Lee Cooksey, Chief of Staff for the High School Ministry. He often jots a note, sends a text, or just generally makes you feel like you hung the moon.

Two other gifts of a different sort that I try to give are wiping my paper towel across the counter at the coffee bar, leaving it just a bit cleaner for the next person, and pushing chairs under tables so that the room has a neat, inviting appearance for those coming after. These are small actions, but speak to being aware of others.

What gifts do you want to give today?

Ending the Year Well