Jun 22, 2015


Scheduling an Effective Week for College Ministry

Tim Casteel shares his best practices for scheduling an effective week for college ministry.

“After graduating (where what you need to do is mostly given to you) and transitioning to working full-time (where you mostly have to figure out for yourself what you need to do)… it helped me understand that the issue of defining my work was the primary challenge I faced.” – Matt Perman, “What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done

The issue of defining your work is one of the primary challenges in college ministry. There are many things that make that difficult (see “College Ministry is Hard”). But on a practical level, full time college ministers need to make two shifts in thinking:

  • We have an executive schedule
  • Full-time ministry is different than doing ministry as a student

We have an executive schedule

In most entry-level jobs, you are given tasks and told when and how to do them. As you progress in a company, your responsibilities and freedom increase in your job. You’re given bigger problems to solve and more space (time) in which to solve them. You move from, “Analyze these 5 spreadsheets by 5pm today,” to “Figure out how to grow productivity by 5% this quarter.”

College ministry is different. As new staff in college ministry, you come in and are given an executive schedule. You are given a problem to solve and then given a blank slate in terms of your schedule. You might have scheduled admin or staff meetings in the morning but you are on your own every day from noon-five. This is your problem to solve:

How can we get the gospel to every student on this campus and around the world?

So the most difficult part of your job is quickly figuring out how to organize your time. If you don’t schedule wisely and set up appointments, you will not have an effective week. Unproductive weeks yield unfruitful years. You’ll default to tasks that are:

  • easier
  • less important
  • doable by students

Things that are important (big rocks) often have something awkward/intimidating/difficult about them that keep us from wanting to do them. The small rocks are easy and therefore we want to do them first. You begin to fill your time with things that are easy. Usually, these are tasks that students could and should be doing. More on that in a minute.

It’s easier to buy groceries for an upcoming event than to go share your faith. It’s easier to crank out emails and work on a spreadsheet than doing the hard work to set up and share the gospel over lunch.

Matt Perman says the core principle of productivity is this:

“Know what’s most important and put it first… Which means: Don’t first ask, ‘What appointments and tasks are vying for my attention and how do I get them all done?’ Rather, you need to ask whether you should be doing those things at all and, before that, know what’s most important in your life.”

We have to be intentional to schedule our time to do the important, hard things. For most of us that means setting up a basic, routine schedule that sets you to do the things you want to do. For me, if it’s not planned out and on my calendar, it won’t get done.

Some examples:

  • Every Wednesday I’m going to get a lunch with a student leader and a student I met at our weekly meeting (Tuesday night).
  • Every Friday I’m going to take an up-and-coming student leader out to lunch to get to know them.
  • Tuesday/Thursday from noon-2 I’m going to meet a student leader and eat in the dorm cafeteria, seeking to share the gospel and meet people.
  • Tuesday 2-3, 3-4, 4-5 I’ll meet with guys I disciple.
  • Pro tip: It’s difficult to set up appointments on Monday. So try to pack your Mondays with set appointments (standing discipleship appointments).

Every week you will need to set up additional appointments, but it will be helpful to have sections of time blocked out for what you want to do. Don’t just say, “I’ll spend time with students.” Rather, intentionally decide where, how, and with whom you’ll do that.

Read this excerpt from Matt Perman’s “What’s Best Next” if you want to get serious about this. The excel spreadsheet/template My Ideal Week by Michael Hyatt was very helpful for me in blocking out my schedule.

Full time ministry is different than doing ministry as a student

Not only is it difficult to strategically use a blank executive schedule, but college ministers often have a hard time realizing that full-time is different than part-time. It’s not just that you used to have 10 hours free to do ministry and now you have 50. It’s a completely different paradigm.

We communicate: “You’re great at this as a student, come on staff! It’s like being a student but you get to do it full-time (with NO classes)!” That’s not true. Doing full-time ministry is a whole ‘nother deal.

In full-time ministry, you are no longer the one doing everything. It’s your job to empower. It’s not that there is a divide between pros and amateurs. The Priesthood of the Believers means that we are all pros. And all believers should be empowering others to do ministry. We hope that our student leaders make this transition in college. Seeing themselves as player coaches: running plays but always thinking about how to get more people on to the playing field.  But often it takes the title of “Full-Time College Minister” for it to sink in.

Here’s the problem: most college ministers come on campus to do ministry, not to empower others to do ministry.

The Apostle Paul wrote that the role of a Christian leader is to: “Equip people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up,” (Ephesians 4:12).

So staff’s job is not to do ministry. But to equip others to do ministry.

Here’s a few tips on how to set up an effective week in college ministry:

  • Always look to empower students to lead. Ask yourself, “Could a student be doing this?” Or alternatively, “What are the things that I, as staff, can exclusively do?”
  • Invest your “hot hours” well. Hot hours are when students (and you) are available. We tell our staff that noon-5 are hot hours. Spend your hot hours on campus with students (not responding to e-mail, prepping bible studies, etc.).
  • Take time (typically on Friday or Sunday) to set up apppointments for the upcoming week.

We give our staff a LOT of freedom to invest their time/life as they see fit. But here’s a few additional guidelines we give our staff:

  • Work at least 40 hours each week
  • Don’t spend a lot of time prepping discipleship and Bible Study. Do the same content with all your disciples. Use a pre-made Bible study like Cru.comm or Gospel Centered Life. And steal ideas. Don’t reinvent the wheel. There are many gifted people with far more training than you cranking out great, gospel-centered Bible studies. There are very few people willing to do the hard work of initiating spiritual conversations in fraternity houses, D1 locker rooms, and messy dorm rooms.
  • Have all your meeting with students on campus and on their turf – in their dorm, class. Look for opportunities to model initiating spiritual conversations with their friends.
  • Try to limit your ministry in the evenings to only one night perweek other than the weekly meeting. We want you to have a life outside of your job AND to do this for the long haul!

What would you add? What makes it difficult to schedule effective weeks in college ministry? What has helped you schedule your weeks more effectively?



about the author

Tim Casteel