Nov 17, 2014


Strengths-based Collegiate Ministry // Part 4

Jonathan Yarboro, a collegiate ministry strategist in North Carolina, shares the final installment of a four-part series on leading from your strengths in collegiate ministry. See Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3.

“Pray for me; I’m throwing up in the bathroom again.”

That was the text one of our student missionaries sent me one night.

No, he hadn’t fallen into sin. He didn’t have a problem with alcohol. And he hadn’t eaten some bad fish from a food truck. It was nothing like that.

Instead, Luke was getting ready to walk into the weekly meeting of the Pagan Student Association to make an hour-long presentation of the gospel…at their request.

A gifted evangelist, Luke had jumped into the Pagan Student Association two years earlier when we began mobilizing students to live on mission from within other student groups on campus. We called it infiltration. Missiologists and theologians call it incarnation. For two years, Luke had been going to their parties, eating dinner with them, and leading them to faith in Christ through long conversations at 2:00 in the morning. God had blessed Luke’s work, and the stories that poured out of his ministry were both captivating and sensational. Yet, here he was on a Wednesday night, in his moment of need, vomiting from stress, anxiety, and spiritual warfare…and he was alone. A year later, the ministry to the Pagan Student Association would dissolve with Luke’s graduation. For three years, Luke had honored Christ by using his unique strengths, gifts, and personality to lead some really messed up people to Christ. But it dried up for one reason: the absence of team.

Luke had invested enormous amounts of time into these people. They trusted him, and he gave to them selflessly. He sacrificed his own comfort, his sleep, his financial resources, and many of his relationships with other believers – all for the purpose of seeing these broken students come to know Jesus. But in his love for them, he became possessive of their trust. Even those students who desired to join Luke in living on mission in this bizarre world couldn’t measure up to Luke’s standards. What if they didn’t love those pagan students as radically as he did? What if someone let them down? What if someone proved to be less trustworthy than he was?

In Luke’s desire to safeguard his ministry by expecting anyone who joined him to act like him, Luke had, in fact, created a cult of personality. In the end, it was about Luke more than Jesus. Luke’s strengths are all relational. He needed strategic thinkers; he needed executors; he needed influencers. He needed a team like that even more than he feared it.

Building a team requires trust. It necessitates that we let go of our control. Building a team means inviting people who are different than we are into the grand mission of God. Sure, a charismatic leader can accomplish a great deal alone. Pied pipers can lead vast numbers of students to faith in Christ. Lone Rangers can disciple students to unparalleled depths. Dictators can create hugely successful programs that assimilate students until the cows come home. But for ministry to last, for it to have any real sustainability, it must be driven by a Kingdom-mindset. If a leader is doing it alone, it might still be a kingdom, but a kingdom only has one king. And if you’re the king, that means God is not.

It can be difficult for strong leaders to let go of that control. Team members who think differently will question decisions and direction. They will make leaders uncomfortable. They will sometimes slow the process down. They will sometimes stop the process altogether. But they create a holistic kind of health when they are all connected to the mission. When we build teams well, the mission becomes central, and a clear mission is far more lasting than a single personality.

Do you have a similar story?

In the comments below, share with us how you’ve benefitted by a team approach in your ministry.

about the author

Jonathan Yarboro

Jonathan is a collegiate ministry strategist with the North Carolina Baptists and previously served as a campus minister at Appalachian State.