7 Ways to Minister to College Students

Recently my friend Guy Chmieleski asked me to write for his blog Faith on Campus. I wrote under the heading “If I were a college pastor today.” Here is that post adapted for my blog.

Living in a college community, I can’t imagine not investing in the next generation intentionally at that college. Austin Peay State University, our local university, is not only the fastest growing university in our state (Go Govs!), it’s also my alma mater. I also have two college-aged sons (one a graduate), which naturally draws me to the age.

I love college ministry, because it involves college students. Sounds like a fair reason, right? College students are confident, idealistic, and full of hope and passion for life. I love investing in them knowing they have years to carry out what they are learning. We have an incredible college ministry at Grace Community Church, led by Brandon Reed, a great college pastor, but I must be honest, sometimes I envious of his time with college students. I take advantage of hanging out with students whenever I get the chance.

So, while I’m not a college pastor, if I was one these days, I think I’d:

Help students understand their worth in Christ – When a student can operate out of this identity it will help them withstand some of the temptations they face.

Intentionally mentor a few superstars – I can’t reach all of them, but I can invest in a few. I would work to develop leaders who would in turn invest in others.

If invited, meet on their turf – I was invited to a college apartment recently. As they cleaned a place off the couch for me to sit and kicked various drink cans under the bed (which was in the same room), I was reminded that this was a special opportunity I had been privileged to attend. I felt I had enter the sacred grounds of college life again.

Feed them – I like to buy lunch for college students. Now if any of ours read this my requests will increase and I may have to say no, but it’s amazing how open students become when there is a free meal in front of them.

Let them be themselves – I think it’s important not to try to change them or conform them to a standard, other than Jesus. They are in a period of discovery. Let them explore and stay close enough to help steer them to Christ.

Be myself – Don’t try to “fit in” with college students if you aren’t one. Be the age you are and the person you are. They can spot an impostor quickly.

Have fun – College is a fun period of life. It should be less stressful. When you are hanging out with college students, don’t expect to be serious all the time. There will be times when they are very serious (even deep), but sometimes are just to hang. That’s okay.

I’m not a college pastor, but if I was…I’d love it! Anyone looking to hire one? (Just kidding…kind of…)

What would you add to my list?

A Mid-Life Letter to My Wife

Cheryl,

You may have noticed, I’ve written quite a bit recently on mid-life. You may recall, for example, that I wrote recently 10 Thoughts on Mid-Life I’m Learning (I’m trusting you still read my blog :) ). As I’ve been so intentional about this phase of our life, moving downtown, exploring writing and speaking opportunities, etc…some may question if this is a mid-life crisis of sorts…though tame it may be.

You know I get bored easily and I love change. You’ve seen me become restless many times in life. You recognize that I’m never completely satisfied in so many professional areas of my life. It occurred to me that with all the talk of life change and life realizations, that you may wonder where you fit into my current thoughts at this point in my life.

I can’t imagine you’d question my intentions or my commitment, and I’m thankful for the closeness we have in our marriage, but I also know you aren’t wired as I’m wired. Saying “I love you” once might seem permanent to me, but you tend to want to hear this more often. :)

So, just to clarify, I decided to put my words in writing.

I’m here for you! Mid-life crisis or not, I’m as committed to you as I’ve ever been. You are the best evidence of grace that God has given me apart from my salvation.

I can’t imagine life without you. We’ve been through more than most couples ever experience…you’ve often referred to it as our “abundant life”. Thanks for dreaming with me…and letting me dream bigger dreams. Thanks for giving me freedom to be random at times and for following me into the unknown. God has taken us places we never could have imagined, some we hoped for, some we didn’t, but He’s always proven to be faithful.

Thanks for grounding me and for being a living example of faith and resolve. Your strength is amazing and your tenderness for me and others always inspires me. I could only hope to be loved as much as you are loved by so many. You brighten every life that you touch.

Just to be clear…since I know you love clarity and details. :) I’m not going anywhere. Even though we see so many around us giving up on marriage, even at this stage of life, I am stuck on you. You are stuck with me!

It’s a good feeling to know there is one person always in my corner. Thanks for being that one!

Love you,

Ron

10 Current thoughts on mid-life…

I’m what many would say “middle-aged”…

Of course, mid-life is a relative term, and based on average ages of life-expectancy, I’m past that point, but where I am is in between raising my family and becoming a grandparent. I’m concentrating on the next half of my career. I’m “mid-life”.

I previously wrote 10 Benefits of Being Middle-Aged.

It’s a subject I think a lot about, because of the changes that come as I’ve entered this season of life.

Here are 10 current thoughts on mid-life:

You start missing things, people, places you’ve experienced and known even more…

You increase your consideration of “down the road”…

You reflect even more on “days gone by”…

You become more intentional about “what’s next?”…

You are expected to be fully “grown up” but you have more days of wanting to be a kid again…

You think high school wasn’t so bad after all…

Your parents impression on you becomes even more realized…

You forget more than you remember…until the memory hits you again…

You can still push yourself physically, but you pay for it afterwards…

You love bumping into someone you haven’t seen in 20 plus years…

Any mid-life stagers out there? What have you learned?

I’m the Leader, It’s Not My Job to Make You Happy

I encounter people who think it’s someone else’s job, perhaps my job as a leader, to make them happy. You may have also seen this same expectation of a spouse, a friend, or a parent. Some people expect other people to make them happy.

In fact, to me, that doesn’t even seem fair to the person wanting happiness. I may define happiness different than they do. What makes them happy may not make me happy. They may be happy on days I’m not so happy.

Happiness is a much more personal subject than something I can or care to control for someone else. I have enough trouble dealing with the issue personally.

The fact is, as a leader, I need to create an environment where:

  • If they love the vision…
  • If they can respect my leadership…
  • If they are willing to work responsibly…
  • If they are generally healthy individuals…

They can be happy.

But their personal happiness is out of my direct control.

I want people to be happy, but I can’t make them happy.

Here’s my advice, seek your happiness in the contentment you find in your relationship with Jesus Christ. Count your blessings…name them one by one. Find happiness in the simplest times of life. Choose happiness as a desired emotion. Put on a happy face! You have far more control over that in your life than I do.

Have you been expecting someone to make you happy? Is that a realistic expectation?

A Guaranteed Way to Improve All Communication

Do you want to improve communication in a relationship?

Remove the barrier…

In almost all miscommunication, there is a barrier to communicating effectively. Find the barrier, remove…or at least address it, and communication will improve every time. I guarantee it. (Or your money back for this advice. :) )

The barrier may be:

A personality difference…

A perception…

A thing…

A language…

A misunderstanding…

An attitude…

That may involve turning the television (thing) off when trying to talk with your spouse or children, recognizing the differences in two people (personality), or letting go of a prejudice (attitude).

Whatever it is, you find the barrier…address it…and you’ll improve your communication. You may not be able to remove the barrier completely. I’m assuming you won’t throw away your TV when you can’t communicate, but with intentionality you’ll at least be able to minimize the barrier.

What other barriers have you seen to effective communication? 

7 Issues to Address in Pre-Marital Counseling

As with most pastors, I’ve performed a fair number of weddings. Part of being in ministry is helping couples enter the most important of relationships…marriage. It’s a daunting task and responsibility. Prior to a wedding, however, a minister has access to speak into a couple’s life in a way unique to any other time in their life.

I feel it’s important to help couples, as much as I can, be prepared for marriage. With time always at a premium, I frequently suggest couples walk through the book “Preparing for Marriage“. I’ve found it a helpful tool in thinking through many of the issues a marriage will encounter. I also try to make sure, as a minimum, the couple understands a few key principles prior to their wedding day.

Here are 7 issues I try to teach in pre-marital counseling:

You are different – Opposites do tend to attract. Each spouse is not only differently physically, but there are differences in backgrounds, outlook on life and the way to approach a situation. This is not intended as a curse against marriage. God designed those differences for a reason. The more a couple learns to celebrate those differences, the stronger a marriage will become. (I address this issue in previous posts HERE and HERE.)

Leave and cleave – Don’t let either set of in-laws dictate how you lead your new family. Decide in advance that no one, related or otherwise, is going to be a wedge between you two. Every couple has lots of other relationships, including perhaps children someday, but none of them should be allowed to interfere with the oneness God intends to create with the marriage. (I address these interferences more in THIS POST.)

Expect surprises – Life won’t always be as blissful as it is today. There will be hard days, whether self-induced or life-induced. Life brings changes and those times have the ability to catch even the best marriages off guard if not prepared for them. We can never be fully prepared for what might come, but we can prepare ourselves that when something comes, whatever it is and no matter how hard it is, that we will handle it . Couples should use these times to improve the strength of their marriage rather than allow them to pull the marriage apart. (I talk about this issue in a post on keeping the marriage fun. Find it HERE.)

Make a commitment to the marriage no matter what – Couples usually assume they are doing this by standing at the altar together, but statistics would say otherwise. Many times these days a person is saying “I’m committed until it becomes difficult or until the love we have today fades.” That’s not the Biblical picture of marriage God designed. Marriage is more than simply a feeling of love, it is a commitment to love…for better or worse…from this day forward. Verbalizing and agreeing to that on the front end, and continuing to remind yourself of that through the difficult days, will help the marriage last. Couples who should ask for help soon, not letting problems in the marriage linger too long without asking for help. Remove the fear of asking for professional counseling if necessary. It would be better to get help early than to see the marriage disintegrate beyond repair. (I preached a message on the commitment of marriage HERE.)

Model after the right couples – I encourage couples to find a couple whose marriage they admire and follow them closely. Most likely they have some stories to share. Things may not have been as wonderful throughout their marriage as they are today. No doubt they have learned some practices to having a strong marriage. I challenge couples to learn all they can from the couple they want to be like. (I did a post about this issue HERE.)

Evaluate often – Couples should ask  themselves often, are we growing together as a couple or further apart? Is the marriage growing stronger or are there holes that need addressing? Don’t assume your spouse feels as you do. (I’ve learned this is especially true for men who often don’t know there is a problem until it’s a big problem.) Establish the understanding early in the relationship that you have the right to periodically check on the state of your marriage. (Read a post about questions to assess the health of a marriage HERE.)

Put Christ first – This is the one most couples expect the pastor to say, but it’s not just the preacher answer, it’s the best secret to a lasting marriage. “A chord of three strands is not easily broken.” A couple’s individual and collective relationship with Christ will ensure they can endure the hardest days of a marriage. When the relationship with Christ suffers, the marriage will often suffer. Satan looks for any excuse to destroy the marriage. Pour your heart and life into Christ and let Him strengthen and sustain your marriage. (I preached on Christ’s standard for marriage HERE.)

That’s my list. I’m not sure they apply simply to premarital couples. These are good principles for couples regardless of how long they have been married.

Just so you know, I have, at times, simply shared with them this list. Sometimes I weave them into the discussion. Regardless of how you choose to do it, make sure you are strategic in helping couples begin their married life together.

Pastors, how do you do premarital counseling? What would you add to my list?

7 Random Pieces of Advice for the Younger Leader

I love working with younger leaders. It keeps me young and it helps to know I’m investing in something and someone who will likely last beyond my lifetime. I want to share some things I’ve learned from experience. Some of it hard experiences.

Here’s a random list of practical advice for young leaders.

If you can learn and practice these early in your career it will help you avoid having to learn them by experience.

Never attend a meeting without some way to take notes – It helps you remember but it also communicates you care about what is being discussed. If you take notes on your electronic device (phone), be sure to tell people that’s what you are doing.

Respect your elders – The fact is, you may not always feel respected by them, but that’s their fault not yours. Showing respect to people older than you now will ensure you receive natural respect from others when you’re the elder in the relationship.

Learn all you can from everyone you meet – This includes the awkward, even difficult people that you encounter. (You may actually learn more from them if you’re willing.)

Keep a resume handy and keep revising it – You may never use a resume again in today’s work world, but the discipline of gathering your experience as you gain it forces you to think through your worth to a future employer. You’ll likely be asked to defend this someday and need to be prepared.

Never burn a bridge– You’ll be surprised how many times relationships come back around. Don’t be caught by surprise.

Be an encourager in the organization – Encouragers win the approval of others and are rewarded because they are liked. Be a genuinely positive influence on your team.

Never underestimate a connection – When someone introduces you to someone, consider it a high compliment. Follow through on the opportunity to know someone new. You’ll be surprised how often these relationships will work for good.

Drop the defensiveness – Young people often get defensive when a person with more experience shares something they do not yet know. This is especially true when being corrected by a leader. Remember you don’t know what you don’t yet know. It’s okay. Learn from your mistakes. Grow from your correction. Be patient with those who are trying to teach you. Get the chip off your shoulder and allow feedback to make you better. Over time you’ll win over those who see you as inexperienced.

There are 7 random suggestions. Elders, what other suggestions would you advise?

Does Your Church Value Your Family?

Ben Reed is community groups pastor at Grace Community Church where I serve. Ben is an excellent leader; truly becoming one of the sharpest minds on small groups in the country. If he’s not on your radar he should be. You can learn from him and he loves helping other churches. Recently Ben had a family situation that took him out of the office. Our email and text exchanges through that time prompted this guest post.

Here is a guest post from Ben Reed:

As a church, we say that we value the family. Now I can personally vouch that we do.

I know that older generations accuse my generation of not working hard. But if you spend much time around me, you’ll realize that I don’t fit that mold. (and, in fact, I’d submit that my generation isn’t lazy…we just work differently)

I really enjoy hard work. And when I have to be out of the office for an extended amount of time, it drives me nuts. Not because I’m being pressured  from other team members or not living up to perceived expectations. It’s simply because I love what I do, and I love working hard at it.

When Family Calls

So when I had to be out of the office for 10 days, it was tough. I felt torn: I wanted to be at the office, but I desperately didn’t. See, my wife’s grandfather was rushed to ICU, then transported to hospice care, and I was at his side with my wife’s family for the better part of 10 days. And I wanted to be there, at his side, the entire 10 days.

But I texted Ron, saying this:
I hate being out of the office so long. It is not my style. Sorry I’ve been so absent the last week and a half. I know it’s ‘excusable’ but I also know me being out isn’t ideal.

His response:
It’s ok Ben. It’s one of our values as a church. Family first.

I tell people all of the time that we are a church that truly values family. By the way we’re structured (very simply), we get the chance to tell people, “Gather with us on Sunday, join a small group, and the rest of the week invest in your family!”

But this time, I got to experience this. I was given the freedom to be present with my family when I needed to be present with my family. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my church staff supported me being absent.

We put our money where our mouth is.

When push comes to shove, we value family. Even if that means that things have to slow down. Even if that means that a team member is absent. Even if that means a team member’s voice isn’t present at the table.

We know that if our team members don’t do a good job at home, they can’t do a good job leading their ministries (1 Timothy 3:4). And intellectually, I get that. I’ve even said that to people.

But it was an entirely different matter when I needed to apply that to myself.

My church values my family. Which makes me even more proud to serve her.

Does your church value your family?

7 Personal Development Benefits of Saying No

The more experience I get in life the more I learn the importance of personal development. And, one of the most important aspects of personal development I have learned is the unique and rare skill of being able to say “No”.

In fact, learning to say no may be the most important personal, professional or leadership development tool one can have.

We have lots of opportunities to say yes. The old saying, whether it’s doctrinally true or not is fully practically true. “If Satan can’t make you bad he’ll make you busy”. I’ve seen throughout my life, especially with my personality wiring for achievement, that if I’m not careful I will say yes to things God has never planned for me to do and often I’m not capable or the best person to do them. Does that ever happen to you?

Saying no, as hard as it is for some of us, comes with great reward:

  • Saying no is the power to help resist temptation…
  • Saying no keeps you from the stress of overcommitting…
  • Saying no protects family life…
  • Saying no provides adequate time for what matters most…
  • Saying no preserves energy levels for prioritized work…
  • Saying no allows others opportunities they wouldn’t have if you always say yes…
  • Saying no permits you to control your schedule for an ultimate good…

The value of learning when to say no, and actually practicing it, is immeasurable. (I’m sure you could add even more values to my list., but I’m kind of stuck on the number 7 :) )

I highly encourage learning the power of “No”.

In what area of your life do you most need to personally develop in your ability to say no?

I’m Off Today…Here’s Why

I’m off today…

My “Type A” personality says I probably should be working…

I’ve been traveling a great deal lately…

I have work to do…

It’s called catching up…

But I’m off today…

Why?

Because my wife is off today…

And I love my wife…

Here’s the reality I try to live everyday…

If I don’t protect my marriage I can’t help yours…

If I don’t invest in my marriage, I can’t invest in your marriage…

If my marriage is struggling, so will my other work…

In fact, so will every part of my life…

I’m a better pastor when my marriage is strong…

So, don’t work too hard today…

I scheduled myself off…

BTW, be honest: What’s the state of your marriage today?