Dec 05, 2016


Don’t Ask Anything of Your Students

Chase Abner writes about a perspective shift that could help you clarify whether or not you are asking the right things FOR your students, not just OF them.

Don’t ask anything of your students.

That’s right. I said it.

One of the biggest mistakes you’re making right now is requiring things OF your students.

Instead, start asking things FOR your students. Require things FOR them.

This doesn’t mean lowering standards and commitments for your students. However, it does mean raising standards for yourself and how you design your ministry. Namely, I’m asking you to carefully assess every requirement you have of your students to determine whether they are critical to your mission.

This nuance came to me recently as several college ministry leaders challenged me on all that we require of student leaders in Salt Company. Each week, we ask them to attend our large group on Thursday night. We ask them to attend our Sunday morning church services. We ask them to lead a weekly small group. We ask them to be in a weekly discipleship group. We ask them to attend three to four retreats per year. We ask them to help clean the football stadium (a fundraiser) about eight Saturdays per year. We ask them to attend a monthly training event on Sunday mornings. And that’s all on top of asking them to be good Iowa State students with admirable GPAs.

Admittedly, that’s a lot of commitments. A lot. My eye starts to twitch when I list them all out like that.

But then I step back and recognize a few keys that help me remember that these aren’t just haphazard requirements, but are vehicles we’ve designed to disciple student leaders in one way or another. We don’t just use our student leaders as a resource to accomplish our mission. Developing these student leaders IS our mission. This perspective helps us say no to a lot of things and to maximize any activities we embrace.

In our model, we essentially have just three years to invest in student leaders. Realistically, we only have them about eight months per year. We can’t afford to waste time or to burn a leader out. We want them to return to leadership every year they are eligible so that we can further pour the gospel into their life as they pour it out on campus. Leader retention is a critical metric for us because it indicates that we have a healthy cost-to-benefit ratio. In other words, our students find that what we ask of them is critical for their growth and their impact on campus.

Let me propose a few questions to help you assess whether you’re asking things OF your students or asking things FOR your students.

1. Would the students do this even if it weren’t required?

This question is pretty self-explanatory. It gets at the heart of whether or not the requirement actually benefits the student in a way that is clear to them. Another way to ask it would be, “Does this commitment benefit the student to a level that is appropriate for the level of sacrifice it requires?”

Let’s go back to the list I made earlier of our Salt Co. leader requirements. When I stepped back and looked at those, I realized that the vast majority of students who apply to be leaders are already participating in three fourths of those weekly requirements. They already attend our large group, our church services, and participate in a small group. When they become leaders, we only add the weekly requirement of the discipleship group. That is something completely focused on investing in them. For most students, participating in a discipleship group is one of the main motivators for joining leadership. They want to be discipled. I think it’s safe to say they would do it if it weren’t required!

2. How does the requirement benefit the student?

We all know that there are times when you simply need all hands on deck to a get a job done. Many hands make light work after all. Maybe it’s setting up a bunch of chairs or stuffing a bunch of fundraising letters. However, if you aren’t careful, you’ll keep tagging on more and more of these activities to make your life easier without thinking of if and how it benefits the student.

For instance, we require our student leaders to help clean the football stadium after home games. It’s easily our greatest fundraising opportunity each year. It’s hard work and it would be fairly miserable (especially frigid November night games) if it was solely on the backs of our staff. On the other hand, it’s a great chance for students to learn servant leadership and they get to rub elbows with our staff in the process. We’ve tweaked it to make it as social as possible by getting students free tickets to the games and adding a pizza party at the end of the cleanup. It is by no means convenient, but it is actually kinda fun. Again, we’ve found a way for the requirement to truly benefit the students on multiple levels.

3. Is there a more efficient way to get the benefit?

This site provides evidence that there are many faithful ways to disciple college/university students. Chances are there are ways you could better disciple your students that would cost you and your students less. Now, I’m not saying that ministry doesn’t require blood, sweat, and tears. I’m saying that we all have ways that we could improve our ministries.

A couple years back, Mark Vance (Salt Company director) killed our Freshmen Group. It was a weekly worship service just for freshmen that gathered about 200 students each week. Yes, it did much to help freshmen connect to our ministry and to one another, but it also cost three of four staff members about eight hours of work each week. Plus, there were a number of student leaders who served at this event on top of the requirements mentioned earlier. Mark figured that we could actually reach and retain as many freshmen if we simply tweaked several of our other activities and empowered all staff and student leaders to focus on freshmen. He was right and now we are able to create the same benefit and get better outcomes while better stewarding the commitments of our staff and leaders.

Again, remember that I still believe in having high standards for our students. I still believe in asking them to do hard things.

But don’t just ask things OF your students. Ask things FOR your students.


about the author

Chase Abner

Chase is Church Planting Catalyst with the North American Mission Board serving in Ames, IA.