Dec 12, 2016


Helping Collegiate Leaders Thrive All Winter

Mike Filicicchia shares a strategic process that will help staff and student leaders thrive through the winter months (and the rest of their lives).

While the fall semester provides tantalizing ministry opportunities like reaching the new crop of freshmen, envisioning first-time leaders with their ministry potential, and sending our supporters what will likely be the most impressive numbers they will see from us all year, I’m fully convinced that the winter months provide us with the best opportunities to see lasting spiritual transformation in college students and subsequent multiplication of disciples over time.

In other words, I believe that both the quantity and quality of leaders in our ministry two years down the road has more to do with how we invest our energies this winter than how we invested them in the fall.

I’ve worked primarily with freshmen in my ten years of campus ministry, and I’ve experienced the winter months as the season where their masks come down and the uglier truths about their lives come forth. As emotionally taxing as this can be on us leaders, it provides a sacred opportunity to minister the redeeming power of the gospel into the most desperate and vulnerable parts of these students’ souls. When these squishy, wounded parts get touched by the gospel, there’s no telling how new life might begin to spring forth in the days to come. The key to making the most of these opportunities is an engaged student leadership core with the capacity to be physically and emotionally present, walking in step with the Holy Spirit, to love richly when the proverbial crap hits the fan in these young lives.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Physically and emotionally present, walking in step with the Holy Spirit, loving richly” might sound a bit idealistic for your student leaders in early February. These same student leaders have, in all likelihood, been following Jesus for all of twelve months. They are up to their eyeballs in midterms and haven’t seen the sun for days.  It can be tempting to define success as merely showing up to small group every week. We’ve found that one of the best things we can do to help our leaders thrive in these months is to use the beginning of the semester to develop a strong Prayer & Planning habit. The often embarrassing unspoken truth behind much of the winter blues (both in our lives and our students’) is that a good portion of it could be prevented if we didn’t waste so much time.

If you’re not sold yet, take me up on this challenge: Ask every one of your student leaders what percentage of their waking hours would they consider wasted in an average week. Define “wasted” as time spent doing something that they would not have chosen to put into their schedule that week had they sat down and prayerfully submitted every hour of their week to God. I’m not sure what it’s like on other campuses, but at the University of Michigan, I usually get answers in the ballpark of “20% on weekdays, 50% on weekends.” And let’s be honest, they’re not exactly prone to rounding up here.

I’m convinced that wasted time is the single greatest threat to our leaders’ fruitfulness. Helping them invest their most precious resource into things that bring life rather than drain it is one of the closest things I’ve found to a silver bullet in ministry. So we train them in a process called Prayer & Planning. This process involves four initial steps (which only need revisiting once per semester or so) plus five weekly steps. Let me share those with you now.

Initial Steps:

STEP 1: Identify the primary roles you play in your life and write them down.
When I was an undergraduate, these were “Child of God”, “Small Group Leader”, “Evangelist”, “Apprentice”, “Student”, “Employee”, “Friend”, “Son”, “Human” (my catch-all logistics category), and occasionally “Boyfriend”. Now that my life is more complex, I use 13 roles.

STEP 2: Choose a subset of these roles for which you want to make weekly steps.
Our small group leaders can usually handle consistently praying and planning through 2-6 categories every week, depending on their skill and commitment levels.

STEP 3: List these roles on a document in order of importance and urgency.
This will help put “first things first” in your weekly prayer and planning time.

STEP 4: Write up an envisioning prompting phrase for each role that will orient you, point you in the right direction, and remind you of what you need to remember every week as you consider your next steps.
For example: “Child of God: Spend quality time with God listening to his voice, meditating on his word, abiding in his love” or “Small Group Leader: Train the men in my small group to know and live like Jesus.”

Once these are completed, you have your weekly Prayer & Planning template. The following steps are things we ask students to do every week (usually 1 hour) to assess how they’re living and make the most of their upcoming week:

STEP 1: Look at your previous week in your calendar.
Fill in any open places in your calendar with what you did in that time, to give an accurate reflection of how you spent your week (this may require 1-2 minutes nightly)

STEP 2: Assess which next steps from last week’s next steps list you completed and which you did not (as well as additional steps you took which were unplanned).
Give yourself a letter grade on how faithfully you lived in each category for the past week (which is different than the portion of next steps completed; sometimes God gives new opportunities midweek).

STEP 3: Beginning with your first category, spend time praying about next steps God would have you take this week.
These may include uncompleted steps from last week as well as brand new steps. List the steps underneath that category in order of: (1) Important and Urgent, (2) Important and Not Urgent, (3) Not Important and Urgent, (4) Not Important and Not Urgent.

STEP 4: Block off space in your upcoming week’s calendar for these next steps.

STEP 5: Repeat Steps 3 and 4 for every other category, in priority order.

As we’ve built a Prayer & Planning culture among our students at New Life, we’ve seen students’ personal health and ministry effectiveness improve significantly. Despite the tedious nature of the thing, we’ve found students to be surprisingly zealous to learn and master this practice, even making it one of our most requested trainings every year. So I dare you to take the plunge: train your students to pray and plan out their weeks, and see what God will do when your leaders live with their hours intentionally yielded to him.

You can learn a lot more from our podcast episode with Mike on the Campus Playbook.

about the author

Mike Filicicchia

Mike is the North Campus Region Director at New Life Church, Ann Arbor. He is passionate about multiplying house churches among undergraduates and developing effective training tools and structures for mobilizing students in ministry.