Sep 21, 2015
6 Lessons I Learned from my College Pastor
Elizabeth Brock, a recent graduate of the University of North Alabama, writes about the lessons she learned from her college pastor.
As a recent college graduate, I have loads of wisdom to share with the world. Seriously, my diploma was basically my university telling me that I now know everything there is to know about everything in the whole world. Duh.
While that is an extreme hyperbole, and I hardly know anything about my own field, much less the entire contents of the universe, I will admit that I did learn a few things during my time in college. However, I only learned half of it in the classroom. The rest of my lessons came from my involvement in the college ministry of my local church. From the beginning of my freshman year, I was neck deep in the leadership team for The Well. And after all the lessons I’ve learned during that season, I’ve decided to offer a few ideas of my own.
College pastor, here is a list of six things the leaders in your ministry need from you.
1. Allow failure.
Sometimes, the most necessary lessons are the hardest to learn.
My freshman year was a blur of activities and volunteer projects. I wanted to be involved in EVERYTHING. I wanted to lead a Bible study, join university leadership teams, plan and execute a huge mission project, be everyone’s best friend, solve world hunger, etc. After spending the previous four years of my high school career doing my best to fill up every bit of white space on my resume, I was still spinning my wheels trying to do everything. Instead of an academic resume, however, I was trying to fill up my spiritual resume with stuff. Good stuff. But stuff nonetheless.
My college pastor listened with patience to all of my big ideas, nodded, asked questions, and told me to go for it. He knew all along that I could never maintain the projects with my fast pace and lack of experience. He knew I would fail.
But as I cried about my empty Bible study room, my rejected leadership applications, and my failed mission project, I heard the Lord speak clearly to me. He reminded me that He doesn’t dish out brownie points based on the good deeds I do. He sternly repeated that, though the things I was pushing toward were good, they were not what He had called me to do.
So, collegiate leader, when you see your leaders drowning in overambitious projects and tripping over personal inexperience, resist the urge to rescue the broken pieces or gently pat bruised egos. Because, ultimately, failure will teach us more than a salvaged plan, and it will develop us into better leaders in the long run.
2. Don’t allow failure to paralyze ambition.
Though it is a valuable teacher, failure could make or break a leader in your ministry. Encouraging words from a college minister can go a long way in helping to turn failure into fuel for future success rather than fear that stunts the growth of your leaders.
As student leaders in college ministry, we often have the hearts of lions but the legs of baby deer—shaky and unstable. The moment we realize our big ideas don’t match up with our ability to execute them is the moment our real leadership training begins. This is where you come in and remind us that just because we need to practice walking first doesn’t mean we can never know the thrill of running. We need your encouragement. We need your perspective. We need you to remind us that failure is not final. We need you to not give up on us.
3. Expect excellence.
There was a department at the university I attended whose brochure proudly advertised how easy it would be to obtain a degree in that field. Though it was a department in which I was not directly involved, I remember being so offended that the writer of the brochure believed I wouldn’t choose that field unless I was assured of an easy path.
As college students, society doesn’t expect much from us. If we can stay awake through an entire lecture and write a decent paper regurgitating information previously provided, we are doing well.
We’ve got enough people expecting mediocrity from us and rejoicing when we barely squeak by. We need you to expect more from us—demand more from us—because we are capable of more.
One particular phrase was repeated in almost every leadership meeting I took part in: “If we’re going to do that, we’re going to do it right.” And after each month, each team would give themselves a grade based on what was accomplished and how well it was executed. It forced us to be honest with our peers and ourselves. It was an accountability system that demanded we give our all in every situation. Not for ourselves, not for The Well, but for the Lord.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
4. Give me ownership.
The minute the success of our ministry becomes personally important to us is the minute our contributions become greater. We need to own every victory and every failure. We are the ones who need to be carrying the weight of this ministry. You are the one carrying us. This release of power and responsibility may be difficult for those of you who are Type A perfectionists, but hear me when I tell you that it is vital to the growth of your leadership team. How are we ever supposed to become leaders if we are never allowed to lead?
5. Equip me to lead.
As leaders to the rest of our community, we need you to be our leader. Jesus was the inventor of this kind of leadership. He picked twelve men in whom He invested and poured out His heart. In a dramatic domino effect, those twelve invested in their own disciples. The Gospel spread like wildfire through each ripple of relationships. You can’t invest personally in every person who walks through your ministry. It isn’t humanly possible. But what you can do is invest in the handful of leaders on your team. Pour your leadership into us, and equip us to lead others.
6. Remind me why I’m here.
At one meeting in particular, I remember being asked, “Why are you here?” Why did we choose to give our time to this ministry? My answer was simple: “Because it’s important.” This statement was not something that just came to me. From the moment I joined the team, the magnitude of this ministry had been ingrained in me. This was kingdom business, plain and simple.
It can be easy to get caught up in our calendars and head counts at events. We can get lost in our stack of programs and to-do lists. And while those things are not inherently bad, they sometimes cloud our vision of our main goal. In our busyness, don’t let us forget why we serve. Remind us that we aren’t here to plan events for the sake of events. Remind us that we are here to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our ultimate purpose in every situation is to honor the Lord and to see others come to know Him as Savior. At every opportunity, remind us of this.
If you’re reading this, and you have not yet established a leadership team at your college ministry, start one this semester. Even if your ministry is small, make sure you are developing a core group of leaders among your students. You need us, and there is no doubt we need you. We need you to teach us what it means to be servant leaders. You’re helping to build a new generation of leaders and preparing us for a lifetime of ministry to the Lord’s bride, the church.