by Jordan Terrell
About 7 years ago, I had the opportunity to lead a ministry of about 40 students. Our staff team of 5 fulltimers worked diligently to care for the students, meet new students and cover every element of our ministry. One of the staff handled all the administration needs, another was responsible for all of the programming and music for the weekly gathering, another was responsible for leading small groups, another was responsible for planning outreach projects and events, and I spent most of my time leading our team and preparing teachings for our ministry. So with 5 staff and about 40 students, it seemed at the time as if we were going to be an instant success because we had every base covered, right?
Wrong. Although we started the year with about 40 students, we ended the school year with less than 20.
A few years later I was given the opportunity to take on another role as a college pastor at a church but this time I was the only college staff…there was no other staff to help me lead the ministry. I found myself overwhelmed with all the hats I needed to wear to run our ministry. From planning a college service to executing events to developing leaders to handling all the administrative tasks…I got desperate. So I did what any college guy would do—I went out and found some students who wanted to help me build a college ministry. Within a month I had a team of about 10 students. That quickly turned into 40, and within 1 year we had well over 300 students involved in our college ministry while still only having one staff.
There are many things that I have learned from this experience, but the most important lesson is this: There is incredible power when you let your students own your ministry. Below is what I learned from being overstaffed and not allowing students to own our ministry:
#1. Because we were overstaffed, we had so much buyin from our staff, that there wasn’t any buy-in left for our students.
#2. The students didn’t care about the ministry because it wasn’t theirs. It was ours.
#3. The students didn’t bring other students to the ministry because it wasn’t theirs It was ours.
#4. The only reason students came to our events was because they felt obligated to a staff member who was buying them coffee three times a week. But that was not enough to give them reason to bring any of their friends.
#5. Students eventually moved on from our ministry because they didn’t feel like we needed there help.
If you want your ministry to grow, let your students own it. Then, when they go to class, are interacting with co-workers, or are at home with their roommates, they will naturally talk about the ministry because it will not just be something they attend; it will be something that they are apart of—it will be theirs.
Sometimes I talk to college leaders who are so protective of their ministries that they wont let any student help out, saying that “students are not responsible enough to lead” Although this is true for some, there are probably students in your own ministry who could do some of the tasks better than you could. So let them. Students want to lead, students want to be needed. They want to run with things and use their gifts. Think about it—every major university in the country has a student body that oversees many aspects of the school. At the University of Colorado where we are, the student body oversees a 33 million dollar budget. These same students are now running our ministry, leading our groups, and using their brains and their hearts to dream up much bigger things than I ever could.
Sometimes our experience in life and ministry keeps us from taking the necessary risks for actually accomplishing things. For instance, 3 years ago I had 3 female students, all 20 years old, go to Uganda for a humanitarian trip. They literally googled “Uganda” and signed up with the first organization they found. While there, they came across 80 orphaned kids who were left on the street because their shelter was just shut down. So these 3 girls took a risk. They called their parents and said that they werent coming home and then they started an orphanage called Musana (www.musana.org). I actually advised them not to do this because I thought it was too risky…they didnt listen.
Three years later Musana it is one of the most sustainable, healthy children’s programs in Uganda. They have a school, clinic, housing facilities, a farm…and its completely staffed by local Ugandans. Currently there are over 250 kids living at Musana, and over 1000 kids attend their school daily. These girls took a risk and did something with their lives I am so glad that I didnt succeed in getting in their way.
The bottom line is this, when it comes to college ministry, more than any other age stage of ministry, we have to utilize the gifts and talents that our students bring to the table. If we do we will accomplish two important things. First, we will help prepare them for the “body” we will literally develop the future leaders of our church. Secondly, it will help us grow our ministries.
Today our ministry continues to grow. We have multiple staff and interns, but the question we are always asking ourselves is this: How do we create space for students to own our ministry and be the hands and feet of everything we do?
Jordan Terrell serves as the college pastor at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, CO.