By Bill Choate, Director of Collegiate Ministries, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board
After many months of holy noise – worship, ping pong, band practice, and more – it’s suddenly quiet. It may not have been calm in your ministry world since last July. One of the benefits of leading collegiate ministry is the experience of life seasons. I believe those seasons can keep a collegiate minister healthy and engaged for many years of effective ministry. If your primary focus of ministry is the campus, summer can be an important time. While there may be vital summer ministry programming, summer is generally the only time when there is space in the calendar. When that quiet spring day arrives, what are the questions you should be asking yourself?
How do we prepare for the coming year?
Take time to review. One of the benefits of seasonal ministry is the regular opportunity to stop and evaluate ministry strategy and methods. What is valuable and warrants more energy and resource? What needs tweaking? What should be added to the work? What should be culled from the calendar? Remember, everything in life is a pilot project. Peter Drucker said, “Unless strategy evaluation is performed seriously and systematically, and unless strategists are willing to act on the results, energy will be used up defending yesterday.” Don’t start a new year without knowing you are doing what you should.
Jeff Jones, University of Memphis BCM Director, builds this activity into his annual calendar. “Take time in May to get away from all distractions for a personal retreat (at least 24 hours) to pray, personally evaluate your walk with Christ, evaluate your ministry over the last year, dream about the future and set goals. Always include in that process a time to organize and plan summer, especially related to accomplishing the goals and needed adjustments for the ministry.” This practice has kept Jeff fresh and engaged on his campus for eighteen years.
Once you have evaluated, next year must be laid out, with attention to budgets and calendars. All partnerships must be bolstered – churches, associations, networks, university administrators, and funders. Involve leaders in planning and leadership development. Expand outreach to potential students through university orientation and regional churches.
Stacy Murphree, Austin Peay BCM Director, has learned she needs to “use this valuable time without a lot of distraction to plan for things that might even be months in advance. Plan out Bible studies you might be leading, messages that you’ll lead at large group meetings or retreats, and spend valuable time planning details for mission trips or other ministry events. These things may seem months away, but it is so much easier to plan these in the summer. Once students are back and campus is alive again, it is hard to focus.”
While focusing on the next year, don’t fail to maintain momentum from the previous year, creatively communicating with current students. For those away, build online opportunities. For those nearby, develop low-investment events that nurture community.
How am I being a good steward of what is invested in this ministry?
Many ministries benefit from long-term investment by supportive entities. By now you may have discovered you are in place for a limited period. All of us are temporary. Ask yourself, “What was in place when I arrived and what will be here when I leave?” Take time to assess and care for those assets.
For campus ministries that operate in a facility, it is crucial to care for that property over the summer. Cleaning gutters, clearing refrigerators and storage areas, painting walls, and updating furniture are spiritual activities if done in the service of Christ. Plan for this work so that materials and services are on hand when summer starts. Line up contractors and volunteers to help where appropriate.
Staffing is often an investment provided for the ministry you lead. Plan how you will care for staff over the summer. Provide training and build a sense of team with staff. Build an intentional, honest evaluative experience into the summer. Affirm often, specifically, and openly. Take time to hear clearly how they are experiencing the ministry. It may be different from your perception, and therefore instructive. Then protect staff members’ time so they can enjoy their own season of renewal, as well.
How am I preparing this ministry for twenty years from now?
One of the crucial assets that may sustain ministry in your location in the decades ahead are alumni. Work hard to bolster your alumni database. It’s possible the university development office might help you if you represent a cooperative recognized student organization. If you are using online tools to manage contact lists, copy all the information you can into a more permanent data source. Gather home addresses, parent addresses, email addresses that might last beyond college, .. whatever you can think of that could assist in informing and soliciting funds from alumni into the future. Your texting tool is not enough, and summer is the time to gather info into a solid, long-term information source. Then fold that info into any older alumni information you can.
A few years ago, Tennessee Baptists rebuilt one of our BCM buildings. Most of the two million dollars we spent came from alumni. We had been in constant contact with those alumni for decades working off a database we built thirty years before. You owe ministry of the future a solid base of support. Work on that over this summer.
How do I care for myself and family for the years ahead?
Few vocations allow for the healthy experience of seasons in the way collegiate ministry does. Plan for how you will reinvigorate your own spiritual life this summer, reinstituting disciplines you may have neglected over the busy school year. Plan large blocks of time to be away from your work with family. If you have a family, ask your spouse and children how you can be a better family member and make changes on their recommendations. Go away. Really. Lock the building, put someone else in charge of programs, and go. Reassess your personal health, start a new physical activity, and get outside. Stay outside all summer! Read fun books and revisit your hobby. You aren’t robbing the ministry; you are making yourself a better minister for next year and all the coming years.
You don’t think God is in favor of this way of summering? Isaiah wrote, “The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.” So, water that garden.
Make a plan before summer hits so it doesn’t slip away. Doing something different requires intention. Steve Roper spent over thirty years ministering on campuses. “For me, it was really important to have a schedule. It was certainly a different schedule but mentally it worked best if I could stay engaged every day….just at a different intensity level.”Plan. Be intentional. Don’t let the gift of summer get away.