Helping Churches Reach Students

For those of us in campus ministry, summer is a great time to have the kind of conversations we typically don’t have space for during the busy campus year. When we are home visiting partners we have an opportunity to cast a broader vision than our own work, and possibly help them take steps toward their own vision.

Here is an example. Many churches share your passion for reaching students. Often they don’t know what to do past vision for reaching lost students.

Jeff Grant, Partnership Specialist on our Student LINC Team, recently gave a metro team some practical ideas on the how and why of partnering.

Let me encourage you to go to his page http://staff.partnerwithcru.org/training/ and take 10 minutes to listen to three of his short clips:

  • 101 – Vision: Selling More Dresses,
  • 201 – How to Partner, and
  • 301 – Examples of Partnership.

Then before you listen to any others, consider which church might you have a conversation with about reaching out to a high school or college nearby when you visit this summer. Most of the eight clips currently available are only a couple minutes long.

Some time ago, I met with Abby and Johnny Schuler on Cru staff in Miami. They had a passion for pioneering new ministries and for engaging churches and volunteers to reach out to college campuses. They were given an open door in their own church to offer training and resources, as there was a significant core with a deep concern for college students.

The posture they took was one of “We want to help you accomplish what God has called you to do.” Such a posture lets churches see us as catalysts in their vision, and as having a kingdom mentality.

We in Cru have not always had such a partnering perspective. If we intend to see more than a million life-long laborers raised up, if we hope to give every student an opportunity to say “Yes!” to Jesus, if we hope to see movements of multiplying disciples established on every campus, and if we hope to see Christian leaders raised up in every nation, we will want to look for ways to partner with others.

Spring Coaching Tips

The Habit of Taking Time to Think.

When we think about the habits of spiritual leaders, we typically think about the spiritual disciplines—the devotional life, studying the Word, prayer, worship, ministry, service, etc. They are important.

But there are other habits often overlooked in our leadership development. For the next several weeks, I am focusing on some of those.

I first talked about reading that which broadens and sharpens us. Last week, I focused on listening to those who challenge our thinking.

Today, let’s look at the habit of taking time to think. Richard J. Foster, in his Celebration of Discipline, devotes whole chapters to meditation, study, and solitude. The input folks love his chapter on study; introverts value solitude.

I know some of us are external and verbal processors. Some of us are more comfortable planning, thinking ahead, and dreaming. Some are reflective, we journal, and we put things in context. Some are abstract and others more concrete in how we learn and process information; some are sequential, others random.

But regardless of your particular preference, if you don’t take time to put the events of your life together in such a way as to see what God is doing in and through you, we can easily fall into the trap of thinking we are simply being tossed about by chance or other factors beyond our control. You must have time to process.

You need time unplugged. And in our world we must be intentional about unplugging. It’s not comfortable, we are afraid we will miss something, and it is easy to elevate our own importance and indispensability.

Three years ago, Chris and her brother received some inheritance money. He and his wife planned to spend a week in Sweden and take a Baltic Sea cruise. Chris is half Swedish and half Norwegian. She asked if they wanted company. Sure! So we spent most of three weeks in a part of the world where wifi is everywhere, but you had to buy a meal or a service to get it!

We actually found ourselves unplugged for a good part of our time. That was an unusual experience for me. Unnerving at first, and then eventually, quite refreshing as I focused on the history and culture, time with family, the travel exper-ience, and time to sit and think apart from concerns back home.

Chris took a number of pictures of me sitting on benches, just sitting. This one shows me overlooking an inlet on the North Sea.

They say that men have a compartment in our brains with nothing in it. However true that may be, a leader develops his or her own way of taking the time to think.

 

Charity Toward Those Who Disagree With Us.

When we think about the habits of spiritual leaders, we typically think about the spiritual disciplines—the devotional life, studying the Word, prayer, worship, ministry, service, etc. They are important. But there are other habits often overlooked in our leadership development.

I talked about reading last week. Christian biographies, the works of Christian leaders, other aspects of the Christian life, and issues facing the church today are important. But so is reading the Classics, history, science, and other academic disciplines. It broadens our minds and sharpens our thinking.

So, also, is the habit of listening and engaging with those who disagree with us. I find that most Christians today are comfortable only with reading or talking with those whom we agree. We, actually, are better when we seek out, spend time with, and befriend those not like us.

My neighbor of some 15 years voted for the other guy in every election that I’ve known him. His views and values differ from mine. He reads and gets his input from different sources than I do. We don’t shy away from those areas of disagreement, nor do they define our relationship. I consider John one of my very best friends. We run together. We watch each other’s dogs when they are out of town. We share meals together. His friendship is most important to me.

But that hasn’t always been the case. I made some mistakes years ago in thinking I could change his mind and have him see things my way. But I had to learn not to focus on the differences but on those things that bind us together. Family is incredibly important to him. John and his wife are great parents. They take pride in our neighborhood and are respectful of others. They attend a different church and have involved themselves in mission and community development.

All that to say, the differences have sharpened and expanded each of us, but don’t define our friendship.

The ability to befriend those who think differently is not all that is at stake. It’s also how we actually discuss those differences that will either deepen a friendship or lead to one fractured. Listening without responding, hearing the position and the heart behind it without being defensive, and acknowledging the unspoken feelings and perceptions without posturing are all critical to building the relationship.

We naturally want to win. And by the time we arrive at a place of leadership, we’ve usually been right a good part of the time. But in my reading the Gospels, I find that Jesus usually answers a question with a question; and especially, the challenging ones.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer wishing to test Jesus about how to inherit eternal life was answered with a question. He gave the right answer and Jesus commended him for it. But the lawyer seeking to justify himself asked another, and that’s when he told this now familiar parable. Jesus ends with another question, which one was his neighbor? Then finally our Lord says, “Go and do likewise.”

I’m struck by what Jesus did not do. He didn’t argue. He didn’t “one up” or blister him with a zinger. He wasn’t cutting or defensive.

How do others receive us? Do we have an edge? Do we need to be right? Can we be charitable with those whom we differ? Do we immerse ourselves in groupthink? Are we afraid of being tainted, or losing control?

At the same time we don’t roll over and play dead. Being confident with our own thoughts and actions while comfortably engaging with those who live and believe differently is a habit of an effective leader.

Spring Coaching Tips

Habits of Leaders: Reading

Welcome to a six-week series of tips on habits of leaders.

A conversation with my son, Rick, this past week was confirmation of this concept I’ve been thinking about for weeks.

Howard Hendricks, professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and long time Cru friend, was known for saying, “A leader is someone who knows where he [or she] is going and can take others along.”

I’m an unlikely candidate for leadership. I don’t conform to the typical profile of a leader–directive, decisive, quick, or charismatic, attracting others to my cause or me. I grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania. I was one of very few in my extended family or high school to attend college. I am by nature, reticent to lead, slow to process complex information, and easily swayed. I am a true introvert, and slightly bookish! Maybe more than slightly!

So…if God can use me, He can use anyone!

With that said, I want to take the next six weeks to consider some habits of leaders. These are selective, not the ones most consider first. But taking time to think and dream, exercise, being generous, and elevating others are a few habits that have served me well.

Reading is one vitally important habit of leaders. I’ve been on a kick for the last dozen years to read classic literature and history, and recently presidential biographies. I wish I had started earlier.

Currently I’m reading six books—a novel, a presidential biography, a true-life adventure story, two Christian devotionals, and one on the state of the church. I don’t recommend that many at a time. But some are because I am in community, and others are yearlong projects.

I’ve read or listened to 19 books so far this year. I could listen to same classic rock Pandora station when I run or workout, but I’ve found that I enjoy listening to engaging audiobooks. LibriVox offers 10,000 titles in the public domain. They have an app for both iPhone and Android. I can’t tell you how many illustrations or illusions I’ve come across listening to books at zero cost to me.

The yearlong presidential biography I’m working through this year is Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald. I’m in no hurry, just a few pages each day. But at least as far as I’ve read to date, I’ve been able to identify with some of what he experienced. Though he had aspirations, one of our nation’s greatest presidents was a reluctant leader. He was gangling, socially out of place, cautious, and often at a loss with little precedent to follow. He was greeted before he ever arrived in office with seven seceded states and four more ready to follow.

On his journey to Washington to take office, he said, “While some of us may differ in political opinions, still we are all united in one feeling for the Union. We all believe in the maintainance {sic} of the Union, of every star and every stripe of the glorious flag.” He had been elected President, “by a mere accident, and not through any merit of mine…a mere instrument, an accidental instrument…the humblest of all individuals that have ever been elected to the Presidency,” a man “without a name, perhaps without a reason why I should have a name.” P. 275.

Abraham Lincoln had no pedigree and had little to commend his leadership. But he chose to take responsibility. The prophet Isaiah said, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” Nevertheless, he offered himself, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:5,8 NIV.

I am the Chairman of the Governing Elders in my church. I did not seek the role. But I seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit and I’ve always tried to be available to the Lord. I’ve never led at such a level with a pastoral staff of over 100 years in our church alone. But this position has stretched me in ways I could not have imagined. While it keeps me trusting the Lord, and we have some challenges, I have thoroughly enjoyed the growth process and seeing God’s leading and answered prayers.

Reading Lincoln’s biography has given me perspective and a long view of leadership. The true-life adventure story I’m reading is Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, that I’ve mentioned here. We all have assigned or work-related stuff to read, but reading, is a habit that is expanding me and helping me to be a lifelong disciple, learner.

So what are you reading? Here are some ideas if you need some.

Spring Coaching Tips

Acclimatization.

I passed a car today with a bumper stick that read, “It’s not all so ‘bumper sticker slogan’ simple.”

That’s true in politics, business, the Christian life, and, even re-organizational design.

I’m reading the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, detailing the 1996 expedition to the summit of Mt. Everest and the tragedy on the descent.

The month-long process of “acclimatization”, adjusting physiologically to the rarified atmosphere of high altitudes, was far from a straight line up the summit.

Krakauer was asked by the editor of Outside magazine to join an expedition to Mt. Everest, elevation 29,028 feet, and then to write an article about its commercialization. Having never ascended above 17,200 feet, he spent a year in preparation before joining the team in India in late March 1996 who would then take him to the summit.

They arrived at the 17,600 foot high Base Camp on April 12. At that altitude, the oxygen level is 50% of that at sea level. At the summit, it decreases to 1/3 of that at sea level. While the human body will adjust, it can take weeks to acclimatize. To do so they would need to reach various camps spaced about 2000 feet vertically up the mountain.

Krakauer’s expedition ascended and descended to these camps with varying rates and duration:

  • Base Camp to Camp 1, and then back to Base Camp.
  • Base Camp to Camps 1 and 2, then back to 1 and Base Camp.
  • Base Camp to Camps 1, 2, and 3, then back to 2, 1, and Base.

After a series of attempts and days of rest and recovery from different altitude complications, Krakauer reached the summit on May 10, more than a month after arriving at the Base Camp. He only remained at the top of the world for 5 minutes; hardly time to bask in his achievement.

In Romans 8:12-17, the Apostle Paul says, “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” NIV

Different tenses indicate past facts, present realities, and future outcomes in that passage. Past events such as Christ’s work on our behalf and our response of faith, make a difference in how we live today. And these present realities in our life of faith determine a future character and destiny. They are interconnected.

While time is linear, our walk of faith is not. We take steps forward and back, forward again two steps, then back. Sometimes we experience great strides, but other times it’s really tough slogging. There are moments of clarity, as well as dark perplexity. And we pray for times of rest and recovery along the way. But in all of that, growth is happening, “acclimatization”, if you will, is taking place, and Jesus is becoming both the object of our affection and our source of satisfaction if we take His yoke upon us.

There is joy in the journey. Do we believe that? What we are experiencing in our ministry today has required our own spiritual acclimatization. Only as we submit to His lordship and “keep seeking the things above” (Colossians 3:1) are we able to take higher ground.

And finally, from “The Valley of Vision”, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions, the one entitled “Openness” reads,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

 

Off and Running in the Fall.

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 typically my last one of the year. But after a two week break, I will do a summer series on some of the habits of leaders.

Today’s focus is on the importance of a strong start in August, 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.

Have a great week summer.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016

The mindset of Generation Z.

File this one away for when you give specific thought to the mindset of the students you’re reaching.  It’s Lit: a guide to what teens think is cool is being passed around in some of our circles. It’s a Google magazine highlighting proprietary research into the mindset of Generation Z by the Brand Team for Consumer Apps at Google.

“It’s Lit” provides a glimpse into US teens through what they think is cool. As the introduction states, “Cool is an indication of what people pay attention to, what gets them excited, and can often act as a manifestation of their hope and dreams.”

While our high school staff might find this particularly pertinent, incoming freshmen on our college campuses are very much a part of Gen Z as well. If this stimulates your thinking, reading the source material also provides further insight.

Spring Coaching Tips

Selected Tips from Fall 2016