Ways a coach helps.

One of our Student LINC coaches, Chris West, recently sent a letter to his partners about what he does as a distance ministry coach. With over 20 years of field ministry experience, most of it at the Ivy League, Dartmouth College, he offers unique insights, that I thought you might find interesting. Thanks, Chris.

If Jesus wanted to start a ministry on every campus in the world, how would He do it? He might start with 12 disciples, teach and empower them, and depend on the Holy Spirit for everything. This model is not far from what we do as coaches in Student LINC.

So what does a coach do?

It’s not uncommon even for Cru staff to question the value of “distance coaching.” Most staff prefer to be in-the-mix, and on-the-ground with their students. We want to be where the action is. Of course! However when we shift our primary energy from staff-doing to staff-coaching we are better positioned to mobilize others to lead. Ideally, we do both!

Whenever we begin coaching a student leader it helps to explain how we can help them. For example, when I first met Joseph and his friends at UMaine in April, I started with a “DTR” (define the relationship.) I explained …

First, as staff coaches we provide student leaders with a point of connection to Cru.  UMaine already had a fledgling CRU ministry, but almost no support. Our first job as coaches is to connect regularly with the student leaders and adult volunteers we coach. We strive to understand who they are, the unique features of their campus, and what they need to be successful.

Staff coaches also function as “tour guides” to the wider world of Cru.  As a major campus ministry organization, we have a TON of firepower and can familiarize our student leaders with resources and opportunities they might not otherwise know about.   We can introduce them to ideas, events, and methods to help them build their local ministry.

The whole coaching arrangement is based on the Home Depot® motto, “You can do it.  We can help.” Coaches assume that God is already at work. We believe He already has people like Joseph on every campus that we can link with and mobilize.

More ways a coach helps.

  • We help students like Joseph form a team.
  • We are a sounding board — we listen… and offer ideas.
  • Help with problem solving.
  • Help students think through planning — (student-led ministries are notorious for starting too late.).
  • Help students see the bigger picture. Not just the next activity, but the overall vision, goals, etc.
  • We encourage — when things don’t go well, we’re there to talk it through.
  • Connect our students to a “world” of summer missions opportunities with Cru.
  • Introduce our conference and retreat events.
  • Evaluate — we help students think through what’s working well, what isn’t, and what adjustments are needed.
  • Staff provide a voice of experience. We’ve done this before!

It’s most helpful when student leaders understand the role of their coach from the beginning. Typically, we ask our student leaders commit to a few things from their end:

  • To maintain a growing personal walk with Christ.
  • To stay in regular contact with their coach.
  • Agree with Cru’s mission and purposes – finding appropriate and meaningful ways to share the gospel, and help others grow.
  • Be willing to consider Cru opportunities such as conferences and summer missions.
  • To serve as a liaison – spokesman between the Coach and other student leaders.

Sometimes there are misfires. But when it’s working well, staff become multipliers and mobilizers. Then the sky is the limit! Maybe this is what Jesus has in mind. Working with hungry students like Joseph, strengthens my own confidence that we’re on the right track. And we won’t stop looking for ways to do it better.

Fall Coaching Tips

Summer Tip Series


With the beginning of the campus year, our evangelistic efforts are typically focused on reaching Freshmen. Rightly so. It’s during the first weeks on campus that they are the most open spiritually. It is then that many determine their beliefs, their values, and set the direction of their lives.

So filtering to find the most interested students, connecting with them over the Gospel, and involving them in our ministries is a large part of what we do in these weeks. We also give priority to training our involved students to help in these ministry efforts.

However, an often-overlooked aspect of training is in helping our students have ongoing spiritual conversations with those in their dorms or classes. They might share their testimony and possibly the gospel and then may not know what to do next.

My wife, Chris, is coaching, Megan, a former stinter, now a graduate student studying in London and involved in our campus ministry there. She was exposed to their “Snippets” training (also called, “Biscuit Trail”) on a spring break trip. She found it to be very helpful for natural, ongoing conversations with those she sees regularly.

Definition: Snippet: a small and often interesting piece of news, information, or conversation.

Conversations bounce back and forth between people, each having a part in the dialogue. Sometimes they can be short and disjointed. So, while it is good to think through the elements of a testimony and be prepared to offer it, launching into a three minute monologue can seem daunting and might even come across one-sided, closing down further dialogue.

The Snippet is a different way to communicate your story. With brief descriptions and few sentences, answer these questions. You might even answer them from different angles and have more than one answer.

  1. What was my attitude before I took Jesus Christ seriously? or What were one or two things that used to characterize my view of life/God?
  2. Why did I say ‘Yes’ to Christ? or Why do I still want to put Christ first in my life?
  3. How did I say ‘Yes’ to Christ? or Were there any particular points in my life when I reinforced my earlier decision to say ‘Yes’ to Christ?
  4.  What difference does Christ make to my day-to-day life?
  5.  What is a ‘Christian’?

These snippets of information contain the typical elements of a three-minute testimony. But they are packaged in a way that invites dialogue. One more thought: a verse of Scripture could be a great snippet.

Summer Tip Series

Beginning the Campus Year Checklist

It’s a new year. We eagerly anticipate what God might do this year.

Let’s get practical. Our time is limited. The first week a freshman student is on campus is probably as important as all the rest of the first semester combined. This first week is when students determine who their friends will be and what they will value in college.

Who are your key student leaders in each of your movements? Coach them through each of these first four areas. As they see God use them right out of the blocks, it will build their confidence for the rest of the year.

1. Articulate your vision of what God will do this year.

2. Connecting with key players.

  • Call each one on your student leadership team to see how their summer went. Inform them of the first meeting and what their individual responsibility is, and answer any questions they may have.
  • Give your faculty advisor a call to inform him or her of the first events of the semester and to give them specific prayer requests.
  • Make sure your meeting room is scheduled, tables reserved for giveaways or surveys, and ads placed in the newspaper. You want to make sure the details are covered.

3. Leadership team kickoff before freshmen arrive.

  • Share your vision for the year.
  • Lead a devotion from, say Nehemiah 1, about the start of a great undertaking. Nehemiah is a great example of leading in both prayer and action.
  • Inform them of the first few events and make sure that each responsibility is covered.
  • Take extra time to pray for God to move, for new students to connect, and for the impact you will make this year.
  • Encourage everyone to be familiar with the Campus Ministry Year.

4. Planning your first outreach.

  • If you plan some kind of info table or do a giveaway, decide when to assemble and the earliest time for distribution.
  • If you will have an open house, a “cower” or pizza party, etc., make sure the right “people” people are greeting visitors to help them feel welcome. Have the opening talk be brief, visionary, and welcoming.
  • If you use a survey to find interested students, schedule the table or dining hall to take the surveys. Three easy to use surveys with transitions and nationwide tabulating tools can be found at QuEST Resources.
  • Start right away with posters.

Let’s take a mental pause here before proceeding.

  • If you are outside the US, you may have your own unique way of beginning your campus year.
  • If you have leaders on other campuses, why not forward these first four items to them, and schedule a time to talk through some of the details?

It is a huge confidence booster whenever anyone takes on ownership and sees God use them. And it frees you up to prayer walk or do an info table on a campus that doesn’t have student leadership already in place.

And now the final three…

5. Make sure your info is current on the infobase.
(For staff and interns in the US.)

First, edit your profile so that the information is accurate. You are the only one who can do this and it only takes a minute. This is essential for anyone trying to reach you with a contact for a campus. It is amazing how many campuses list out of date info here.

Then, see if your name is attached to the campuses you’re on and want to reach. Our ministry locators are visible to the public. Parents and friends do want their Christian students to get connected. If you have a ministry and it is not listed in the infobase, people see, “We don’t have a ministry at this location…”. They will be far more likely to contact you than email the default campusinfo@cru.org box.

6. Direct and delegate rather than just do.

I started driving tractor at 4 1/2 and a truck at 9. By now I think I am fairly good at driving. When it came time to teach my sons to drive, no matter how much modeling and teaching I did, I finally had to get out of the driver seat and give them the wheel. They made some mistakes at first. And I had some white-knuckle moments. But it was necessary.

We are developing leaders. They won’t/can’t lead if we continue to do so. A good starting place is Eric Swanson’s “The Art of Delegation“.

7. Decide where and when to launch.

If it’s in your calendar, it gets done. As a team, decide which campuses or communities you want to launch in and when. Three easy things to do.

The ideal time for pioneering is during the first month of the semester. Students are the most open and available during this time. You may feel like you’re taking time away from existing ministries. Prepare your leaders the week before by saying that you will call them to talk through their responsibilities and answer any questions at that time. Begin to pray that God will use your time of pioneering on new campuses to help the students on your launched campus to grow as leaders.

I tried to focus these final three on what you as a leader must do. Leaders think strategically  with the big picture in mind. Let us pray together that God opens doors on more and more campuses and within more communities, so that more and more students can hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“Act as if it were true.”

Welcome to another year of Coaching Tips. I truly hope this is a great year as we all trust God for big things in and through us.

We are heading into a very active and the most critical weeks of the campus year. We want to be ready to hit the ground running the moment freshmen arrive. We will have long days, lots of conversations, and no doubt will experience some fatigue. We might think we have all we can do on our main campus and may be hesitant to look at other campuses within our scope or other communities on campuses where we have existing ministries.

I was reading recently in Just Courage by Gary A. Haugen, CEO and founder of International Justice Mission. He had been talking about how overwhelming it seems to face injustice, triumphant evil, and violence in the world. We know something of that from the events that we have lived through these past months. But Haugen went on:

“While these discouraging musings are certainly understandable, we should know that they are utterly unimportant to God. First, such notions of hopelessness say to God: You are a God who calls your people to ministry without providing any power to actually do it. If that is what we honestly believe, we should just clearly say so. Though the Bible doesn’t say this about God’s character, it’s okay for us to say it. Acknowledging that we are struggling with what the Bible teaches about the character of God is often the first, best step to authentic faith. Indeed, as Dallas Willard points out in Renovation of the Heart, we don’t believe something by merely saying we believe it, or even when we believe that we believe it. We believe something when we act as if it were true.” P. 76.

Lest you think I’m meddling, believe me when I say I’m writing these words to me as well!

But “we act as if it were true” when we do our best in planning, involving existing student leadership, surveying and surfacing incoming freshmen and transfers, following up those most interested, building relationships, inviting them to gatherings where they can be exposed to the best our movement offers, stepping foot onto other campuses or into other communities with a view to surfacing leaders to launch there, entrusting ministry efforts to students and volunteers, etc. etc.

When we go to work, believing that we are “God’s fellow workers” (2 Corinthians 6:1), that He will lead us to those whom He has prepared, and that He cares more about reaching those outside our current span of care than we ever will, then we “act as if it were true” and I believe we can expect that He will do great things. He is zealous for His glory.

Haugen asserts the same thing. While his emphasis is on injustice, launching and building movements goes hand in hand.

“While the Bible does not teach that we will prevail in every battle against injustice on this earth, it does teach us that God will prevail in the ultimate war, that he goes with us into every battle, that he brings his power and protection to bear on our behalf, and that he will prevail in all battles necessary to the ultimate triumph of his kingdom, In a world of groaning injustice, these are the truths that Jesus invite his followers to believe—and act on.” P. 77.

I will endeavor to provide the most practical ideas and resources for your ministry. Some of you have some of what we all need by way of those ideas, tools, and perspectives. Feel free to pass them on to me so I can share the wealth. And, if you have new folks on your team who would benefit from these weekly tips, let me know and I will add them to my list.

Summer Tip Series


“Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell.

I have one more book to call attention to in this summer tip series. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell is a fascinating look at both the intrinsic qualities, as well as the environmental opportunities that set high-achievers apart from the rest.

While Outliers is a story about the best and brightest, it’s really more about the world we live in offering a “patchwork” of breaks, opportunities, and “arbitrary advantages”, and how some better avail themselves of those advantages.

While Gladwell asks if our world could be different from the one we’ve settled for if we understood those arbitrary advantages, I think many of us have become painful aware that there are systemic concerns that mitigate against some being able to accomplish the vision God has given to them.

The first story Gladwell mentions is the Major Junior A hockey league in Canada. “By the time players reach their midteens, the very best of the very best hockey players are channeled into an elite league known as the Major Junior A.” p.16. We might think that it was skill alone that got them there. Gladwell would say, “Not so fast.”

At about eight or nine years of age, when players are getting into the sport, there is a key age cutoff of January 1. Those who are closest to that cutoff have a several month growth advantage over those born later in the year. At that age, those 6-12 months of growth make a huge difference.

What Gladwell noticed was that the majority of the best high school players had birthdays in January and February. What’s more, in other sports and in other countries, elite players had birthdays during the first quarter after the cutoff.

“A boy who turns ten on January 2, then, could be playing alongside someone who doesn’t turn ten until the end of the year—and at that age, in preadolescence, a twelve-month gap in age represents an enormous difference in physical maturity…coaches start to select players for the traveling “rep” squad—the all-star teams—at the age of nine or ten, and of course they are more likely to view as talented the bigger and more coordinated players, who have had the benefit of critical extra months of maturity…He gets better coaching, and his teammates are better, and he plays fifty or seventy-five games a season instead of twenty games a season like those left behind in the “house” league, and he practices twice as much…In the beginning, his advantage isn’t so much that he is inherently better but only that he is a little older. But by the age of thirteen or fourteen, with the benefit of better coaching and all that extra practice under his belt, he really is better…” p.24,25.

Hockey is just a sport after all, but Gladwell observes that the same age advantage shows up in things of more consequence, like education. “The small initial advantage that the child born in the early part of the year…persists. It locks children into patterns of achievement and underachievement, encouragement and discouragement, that stretch on and on for years…” p.28.

For the sake of time, and your continued attention!, I won’t go into his findings from Trends in International Math and Science Study. But they mirror those outlined above. The researchers concluded, “So, early on, if we look at young kids, in kindergarten and first grade, the teachers are confusing maturity with ability. And they put the older kids in the advanced stream, where they learn better skills; and the next year, because they are in the higher groups, they do even better; and the next year, the same thing happens, and they do even better again.” p.29.

(Full disclosure. The cutoff for school for me was February 1, and I was born February 18. I grew up thinking I was just a bit smarter than others in my class. I experienced advantages throughout. When our boys were starting school the cutoff was August 1. We kept each of them out of school for one more year to give them an age advantage on their peers.)

But I explain all of this to set up this question: Are there arbitrary criteria that we have front-loaded into our ministry, that unintentionally determine the trajectory of those who get involved? It might be an interesting exercise for our teams to consider.

I can think of three areas in which this might be the case.

  1. Our language, processes, and environment are friendlier to those in the majority culture and, unfortunately, present challenges for those who are ethnic minority.
  2. Our ministry is effective for the traditional student and for the traditional way we train and develop leaders. But those who are entrepreneurial and enterprising, the pioneer going after new places, and those who look to minister to the marginalized, can feel marginalized themselves.
  3. For 24 years, I have done distance coaching. We absolutely need more high school and college distance coaches. There are far more leaders out there seeking our expertise and encouragement than our ministry is currently servicing. But is there something in our ministry that predetermines satisfaction meeting with a person over a cup of coffee at Starbucks than coaching a leader impacting their campus over Skype, and doing that again in multiple places? Our ministry values both “growing where we are” and “going where we aren’t”. Can we add to the personal satisfaction of impacting a life, the strategic-ness of multiplied touches over a distance?

I hope you’ve enjoyed these synopses of books that aren’t our typical ministry textbooks. I have enjoyed sharing them with you. I will be taking a two-week break before starting another year of Coaching Tips August 8.

Summer Tip Series

Spring Tip Series

Got a New Friend?

Have you met someone this summer who could start a movement? I can almost guarantee you have.

Maybe when you were on a summer mission, or at an MPD location, you encountered a Christian who…

  • wants to make a difference in a high school?
  • an International Student just beginning to grow in her new found faith?
  • an ethnic student looking to start something in his ethnic community?
  • someone on a campus where we don’t have a ministry?
  • a faculty member? Graduate student? ROTC cadet, athlete?

Read on for a story of how easy it is to start something and to connect them to a specialist who will help them start a movement right where they are.

Neil Cole, author of Organic Church, tells of a conversation with his 15 year-old daughter about starting a church among her friends.

“The next day she said, ‘Dad, my friends all want to do it!’ ‘Do what?’ I asked. ‘Start a church.’ I told her that she would have to do most of the work, and I would coach and lead only a little. She said that was fine. The next day she arranged a house to meet in, picked a night of the week, and found a worship leader; flyers were soon being passed out to friends on campus.

“After the church had been meeting for several months, I met with these students and we all sang praises to the Lord. I felt the Lord’s pleasure. I asked the students what was the biggest church they had ever been to. Living in Southern California there are many options of mega-churches, and a number of churches were mentioned, ranging in size from two thousand attendees to more than fifteen thousand.

“… ‘How many of you think you could start a church like one of those mega-churches?’ No one raised a hand. I asked, ‘How many of you think you could start a church like this one?’ and all raised their hands…

“Hey, if a fifteen-year-old girl can do this, how about you?” pp. 211-212.

When we think about starting a movement we often have in mind the organization on our campus of a few to several hundred. Starting something like that is overwhelming. But every one of those started small. Let’s consider what one person with five to ten friends can do, and give them the best shot at starting a movement of God on their campus or in their community.

So… back to my original question. Whom have you encountered this summer who could possibly start a movement on their campus?

Call Pat Senkbeil at 1 800 678-5462, or email her at Pat.Senkbeil@cru.org with their name, school, and possible context for ministry. She can pass on your individual to someone who will help them start a ministry in their high school, their college, with any of our Ethnic Field Ministries, Bridges International, or Valor, etc.

PS.  Might I suggest that you not try to do this yourself. You may have every intention of trying to assist them, but once things start in the fall, you will get busy on your own campus. Let someone who does this all the time take it, unless the campus is in your scope.

“A Cry of Hope, A Call to Action” by Charles Gilmer.

If I could add my voice to the chorus of so many lamenting the violence of this past week.

When we consider that every person is made in the image of God, He has a plan and purpose for every one. The two African American men and five law enforcement officers killed last week either went to a Christ-less eternity or had God’s purposes for them cut short.

Add to those losses, those in Orlando, San Bernardino, and others in the US, as well as in Istanbul, Baghdad, Medina, Bangladesh, etc. internationally, we see the depravity, and depth that sin takes us. Our hearts grieve. And for us as believers, we long for God to break through.

Several years ago, I read founder and former president of The Impact Movement, Dr. Charles Gilmer’s, A Cry of Hope, A Call to Action. The book, subtitled “Unleashing the Next Generation of Black Christian Leaders”, is a visionary call to make a difference for Christ. Charles chronicles his own spiritual journey and staff history with Campus Crusade for Christ,  and tells how the Impact Movement was born.

The message of hope and transformation is more needed today than when Charles wrote the book. Why not find your copy or pick up one to read sometime before school starts. And then consider sitting down with African American leaders on campus this fall to hear their story. The book may make a great gift, but for sure, listen to their own journey with injustice and inequality.

And if you want to dive further into these issues of injustice and inequality, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, is thought provoking and sobering. Our high school executive team read and discussed it this spring. For most of us it was very eye-opening.

Summer Tip Series

Spring Tip Series