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Getting to the heart of your campus: prepare for the three stages of your ministry

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there” is an old saying that depicts many of today’s ministries. Student leaders, staff workers, or volunteers may be very sincere in their efforts to minister to students, but unless they know where they’re going and how to get there, it will be like taking a road trip but forgetting the map! Students will usually follow us, but we have to know where we are taking them! You can’t be satisfied with just having a lot of students coming to a weekly large group or involved in small group Bible studies. Many church and parachurch collegiate ministries get stuck in the addition stage of ministry and are unable to really multiply. You must have a plan if you’re going to raise up student leaders who will minister in years to come.

The way to begin your ministry on campus is to invite students to “come and see” like Jesus did in John 1:39. Next, challenge students to “follow Me” just as the Lord did in Matthew 4:19. Finally, offer a partnership to the faithful collegians in the same way Christ did in Mark 3:14 when He said, “join Me.” The Navigators call it moving from duck hunting to leading a duck hunt, and the key to this kind of generational ministry for them is recruiting students to hunt ducks with them, and once they get the hang of it, challenge them to lead a duck-hunting expedition of their own. You’re trying to shift the emphasis from the student helping you with your ministry to you beginning to help them with their ministry. In other words, you can spend all of your time giving fish out to hungry students, but why not start teaching them how to fish for themselves? Whether it’s ducks, fish, or students, you’re seeking to reproduce self-starters who can pass the vision and skills on to others! Here is a brief overview of the three stages of ministry each year. Understand and follow these and you’ll be moving toward your goal of raising up lifelong laborers for Jesus Christ.

A. Investigation

During August and September of each year, you are the Sherlock Holmes of the campus. You will want to know the who, what, why, where, and how of every corner of the school─at every hour. What groups are gathering for early-morning study sessions? Which fraternities hang out in front of the library? How is the cafeteria divided into little affinity groups? Which athletic teams are the most popular ones? What are the local hangouts where students congregate in the evenings? What dorms have freshmen or honor students in them? What values and perspectives are they embracing? Become the expert, and when students come onto “your campus,” act as their host. I knew one campus worker who did such a good job of investigating his campus and getting to know every group there that when he gave me a tour of the school in his jeep, he leaned over to me with a big smile and said, “I own this campus!” He knew that he had gone right to the heart and soul of that school and its students and was well on his way to impacting it─from the inside out.

B. Penetration

This is all about meeting students, building relationships, and sharing the gospel. The campus can be a spiritually dark place to bring the good news, and yet God wants to use you and me to take the light of truth to a multitude of students. In Kharkov, Ukraine, where I spent a year ministering to collegians, there were over eighty dorms in the city with at least five hundred students in each. Sometimes as I entered one of the old, unmarked buildings stashed behind some apartments, I got the sense that I was probably the first Christian worker to ever come into this dorm. As I entered room after room and saw group after group of spiritually starved students hang on every word of the gospel, I learned firsthand what it meant to bring light into darkness. This was Paul’s mission in life as expressed in Romans 15:20: “I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build on another man’s foundation.” Even as an old man, he never lost the cutting edge of penetration. Nor should we …

C. Concentration

Once a non-Christian comes to Christ or a dormant Christian is revived, now comes a time of follow-up and establishing. The fruit has been born; now is the time to conserve it. With so much of a “love ’em and leave ’em” mentality in our evangelism efforts, the question I have is this: If we don’t give the necessary attention and care to these newborn believers, why should we expect God to give us any more? Continuing to spread out to recruit more and more students may make the weekly meetings look impressive, but the students’ spiritual lives could end up being dangerously shallow. We should always be investigating and penetrating, but don’t ever forsake building the basics of the Christian life into faithful believers who can someday be your colaborers in the harvest field.

An Excerpt from The Fuel and the Flame
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