Finding and Sustaining Missions Partnerships for Your College Ministry

Chad Stillwell

As college ministers, we know the importance of involving our students in mission. The command from Jesus is clear and pressing (Matt. 28:18-20). We have seen the unending needs for the Gospel in every corner of our campuses and the world (Matt. 9:35-38). We also know from experience how much God can do in the lives of our students in a week or a summer. Generations of missionaries and church planters trace their callings to these experiences. 

Given the importance of mission partnerships for our ministries, how do we go about finding and sustaining those partnerships? 

  • Make a commitment to have God’s global mission as the core DNA and vision of our ministry. Jesus does not say, “Go therefore, reach your campus and stop.” College ministries that have the global mission of God as their core mission thrive. I have personally witnessed this after 15 years of traveling the country and world. Challenging students to something that starts on their campus but ends with the world will not only help the world, but also help you reach your campus. 
  • Find partners with the same vision of God’s global mission. We often think this is difficult, but we have many resources at our fingertips. It is often as simple as asking “Who in the world is advancing the Gospel and needs help?” Who do we ask? If you are Baptist, start with your friends and co-laborers like: 
    • International Mission Board – Andy Pettigrew leads this team. His email is apettigrew@imb.org. 
    • North American Mission Board – Steve Turner leads at NAMB. His email is sturner@sendrelief.org 
    • Your state convention missions team
    • Alumni – Where are your alumni serving? Contact them and see if they are looking for a partner. 
    • Referrals – Ask other trusted college leaders where they partner and why. Those partners may need a new partner. 
    • College campuses that are not reached – The vast majority of the college students in the live in some of the least reached states in the US and provinces of Canada. The Found List – Forgotten50 will show you many of these campuses in Canada and a few in the US. You can also contact the college leaders of other states where there are few churches who have needs. You can find that list here > Directory – College Ministry. Choose a state outside the south and contact their leader. 
    • Personal Passion – You already have a heart for a ministry. If you have a heart, it is more likely that you will be able to communicate a vision and commit long-term. The same is true for your students. They have callings and passions to help with certain types of ministries. I have a heart for the ministry center where I served as a college summer missionary. Our team now partners with this center in New Orleans. I work to make sure this partnership continues and we help. It is personal to me. That helps me stay focused and committed when challenges arrive. 
  • Set up a DTR. Every partnership needs a ‘Define the Relationship’ talk (insert 90’s soundtrack). Missions partnerships should be more than to do lists. They are best when based on relationships. There are things you are looking for. There are things the mission partner is looking for. Where do those overlap? Often college ministers are looking for locations where the supervisor will invest in their students and where the schedule/logistics of trips work. Mission partners are often looking for long-term workers. They want students to visit on a trip and then come back to serve for the long-term. If you know your mission partner wants long-term help you must ask yourself, “What do we do over the course of a few years to get students to consider long-term service?” Mission partners need to ask, “Do you only want to provide a short-term experience for college students?” If you do not agree on shared goals, it is best to look somewhere else. You will both be frustrated as your expectations and the realities do not line up. 
  • Involve your leaders. Leaders are called leaders because they lead people to do things. Good leaders rally others to their cause. Always start a mission partnership by rallying your leaders to know your partners and care for and about them. In our state, we do this by sending our college ministers on a vision trip to meet our mission partners and then we ask them to become an advocate for that partner. In a local setting, this is best done by choosing a group of your student leaders and taking them to your partner. Help them see the need, hear the heart of the missionary, and challenge them to lead other students to the need. 
  • Make sure the partnership is a two-way street. We often assume we are the ones helping others in need in our partnerships. This is true, but we also need to learn from and serve alongside our partners. We are not the big brothers or sisters to our partners even if our partners have fewer resources. Partners in challenging locations can often teach our students and us much about:
    • Depending on God, not resources to accomplish the task
    • The ability to engage a culture where there is no advantage to being Christian – Many of our ministry settings are rapidly becoming like less reached areas of the country.
    • Challenging people to answer God’s call despite fewer resources
    • Sharing the Gospel in a hostile environment 
  • Build structures to support your mission partner. The mission partner’s location makes it a challenging place to be. As an established ministry there are things you should bring to a partnership. Your partners need prayer and encouragement. As you enter a partnership, recruit advocates for those partners. Advocates can be your staff or students. Advocates will serve to check on your partner. They can keep your group updated and make sure your group is praying for your partner in an informed way. They can also work to bless and encourage the partner. This can be as simple as texting to check on them or as elaborate as sending the partner resources or surprises that give them encouragement to carry on. Without this step, our partnerships become about trips and can often lack the care, concern, and support that people serving in difficult places need. 
  • Movement takes time. Be constant and consistent. In our state, we launched a new partnership with Salt Lake City. Why? First, the spiritual need is great. It is one of the least reach places in the US. Second, one of our alumni (who we sent years ago as a summer missionary) is the leader of church planting efforts in that city. Third, our area is culturally religious like the Latter-Day Saints of Salt Lake City. We launched this partnership during COVID, so it was difficult. First, we sent our college ministry leaders. Then we sent short-term student teams and full summer teams. We encouraged students to go multiple times. Despite the COVID challenges we have gone over and over during the last 3 years. The result? Our students know and talk about Salt Lake City. They are starting to graduate and look for jobs there to join church plants. Some are even considering planting churches. It has taken years, but we are starting to see movement. God has enabled and blessed this constant and consistent effort. Your ministry can start a movement that changes the future of generations of students in a hard to reach place. 

By making mission going core to your ministry, looking for partners who you can lock arms with, avoiding the pitfalls of paternalism and being committed and constant in your partner relationships, your ministry can have an outsized and God-driven impact on places near and far. 

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