Archives For Leadership

In the last post I looked at the value of conferences for the development of our staff – as an opportunity to get to know other leaders and grow our network of advisors.

In our organization (Cru) most staff love staff conferences, but there’s definitely seasons where staff get conferenced out. On top of our staff conferences, we typically have 4-5 student conferences that we put on every year (August Leadership Retreat, Fall Retreat, Winter Conference, January Leadership Retreat, Spring Break trip/conference).

It seems that a lack of enthusiasm for staff conferences comes from three sources:

  1. They take us off campus
  2. We have to pay for them
  3. They’re mandatory

Here’s some ideas on how we can look at each of these and make conferences better for our staff.

They take us off campus

  • This, for me, is the biggest cost of conferences.
  • In moderation, I think conferences are a great investment (see previous post). But we’ve had seasons where our staff are off campus every other week all spring for various regional conferences. And it kills our momentum in our ministry to college students. Conferences were made for staff, not staff for conferences.
  • Particularly for more isolated campuses (I live in Northwest Arkansas) travel to and from any conference costs me two days. That’s before we even get to the conference.
  • We need higher-up leaders to help protect the local level from unnecessary conferences. Because the reality is there’s often not communication between the different regional/national leaders as to how many conferences we are asking our staff to go to. Someone needs to step up and say, do we really need this conference? Could we accomplish this objective in another, less costly way?
  • Maybe they do this already, but maybe regional leadership could keep a 12-month view of a typical staff’s year, a typical Team Leader’s year, a typical intern’s year, and think through how often they’re off campus.

We have to pay for them

  • To be blunt, that’s why you raise support. To be able to develop as a minister of the gospel. Not to be cheap. You can be bitter about having to pay for all those conferences. But your life in full time ministry will be FAR more enjoyable if you just suck it up raise enough support to account for conferences.
  • BUT, Team leaders – consider investing financially in your staff’s conferences. It communicates “We believe in you, and think you’re a great investment! We want to invest in your training give you time to pull away and sharpen your saw.” For our region’s Field Training in February we’re investing $200 in each of our staff. Hopefully they feel the love and see the week as an opportunity rather than an obligation.

They’re mandatory

  • I wonder if we should make more conferences optional. It would definitely affect how people come into the conferences (begrudgingly or eager to learn). I understand that there are some conferences we need everyone at. But there are some that we don’t.
  • The danger in mandatory conferences is a lack of excellence and making them worth it. If we made some conferences optional, it would force us to make them worth it – to make them useful enough that staff would pay to be there! It’s what we do on the local level – every conference is “optional” for students so we work our tails off to 1) make them excellent and 2) convince students of the benefit of the conference for their growth. Consequently, every year our student conferences are greatly improving. Because the free market forces us to innovate and improve.
  • It’d be great if we could integrate our conferences with the New Staff Development (NSD) that interns and staff already have to complete. If by going to the Sent Conference, that is required for all Interns, they could have checked off a complete module of development (because really, that’s better content/development than the 8-12 hours of official NSD they would be doing, and the same amount of time). That might help interns/staff see how a conference is moving them forward, helping them progress in their development.
  • We should heed this wisdom from Brian Virtue: “Eliminate any of them that can even remotely have their objectives met in an online context or distance format.  If you can do it without forcing people to travel and spend time away from their family and context, then you should.  If you’re doing it because it’s always been done or because it’s a source of income then you’re behind the times and contributing to oppression by conference.” (it would be worth reading all of Brian’s thoughts on conferences here).


What are your thoughts? How can we improve how we do staff conferences?


Cru staff sometimes joke about us being Campus Crusade for Conferences (OK, I may have been that guy), like this tongue-in-cheek tweet:
crurumor conferences
But this is great vision for the value of staff conferences:
One of the biggest examples of investing for the long run for the knowledge worker is attending conferences. I believe that all knowledge workers should go to every conference they can because these are prime opportunities to connect with people and share ideas — the essence of knowledge work. But many think that going to a conference is a luxury or a bonus, something to do only if you can get your other, “real” work done. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Going to conferences is a key part of the work of any leader and manager. It is one of the many intangibles that define the essence of knowledge work in our day.
Matt Perman in his book What’s Best Next
I’m not saying sign up for every conference you can go to. Mostly, take advantage of the conferences you HAVE to go to!


For me, it’s not the content of the conference. I have been tremendously impacted by the people I’ve met at conferences. They have formed my loose-knit, non-official network of advisors. Quick conversations at conferences have opened up to me a wealth of wisdom and college-ministry-know-how. Both the content learned in those conference interactions and the open doors for future phone calls and emails to learn over the years.


Big, generic leadership conferences like Catalyst have not been as helpful as targeted college ministry conferences (in Cru, it’s our regional and national staff conferences; and our Team Leader conferences). Again, because what is beneficial is not the content (which was great at Catalyst) but the conversations and meeting other college ministry leaders.


My boss (Tim Norman – Cru National Director for the Red River Region) shared with me a conversation he recently had with a UT professor who is an expert in leadership:
“I told him about one of the challenges of leading in a non profit is not being able to reward people–there are no bonuses for a job well done. One of the things he suggested was investing in the training of your people.”


Our region is having a week long “Field Training” in February for many of our staff. What if, instead of bemoaning having to be off campus for a week, staff saw that week as an investment in their professional development and expanding their network of advisors?

This is great Biblical insight from Tim Norman (that he recently shared as the Missional Team Leaders (MTL’s) prepared to pull off campus for a conference:

Paul makes a passing comment in 2 Cor 2:12-13 that has intrigued me over the last 4-5 years. He writes “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said good-by to them and went on toMacedonia.” When Paul arrived in Troas to gospelize the area; the Lord opened up a door for him—a door of evangelistic fruit. Yet, Paul pulled away from a fruitful ministry, which is something I would have never imagined him doing. But, he expressed concern for his fellow laborer, Titus, and he wanted to know what the Lord was doing in the Corinthian church (this was the message that Titus was to give to Paul). This is one of the many passages that highlights that Paul was so networked into a first-century gospel network. Paul was plugged in to connections that went beyond himself and his concerns were beyond what stood in his face. He valued hearing from those who co-worked the gospelization of the world with him and wanted to hear the news of what the Lord was doing whether good or bad, whether prayer-letter worthy or something we’d all just as soon forget.

One of the aims of the upcoming MTL conference is that the Lord would use it to refresh you and create a place where you can be with fellow laborers, who like you have been making themselves ‘slaves to all so that you might win some.’ Some of us have seen great fruit this Fall. Some of us have experienced a difficult and puzzling Fall. We trust that this time will give you a chance to hear from your friends about what God is doing, to share our joys and our struggles. Across the region you’ve been leading staff and students to trust Jesus more and to encourage them to take steps of faith that they would have never imagined. That’s hard work. We trust that our time will refresh you in the midst of your labor, which is not in vain.

In the next post I want to look at three reasons why there is a lack of enthusiasm for staff conferences – time, money, and mandatory – and what we can do about it.

Some great wisdom from Brian McCollister here.

3 Keys for the First Week on Campus

    1. students on denver campusStaff must lead in evangelism. All else must suffer for the sake of getting face to face with freshmen. I tell our staff that your first six discipleship times of the year must be primarily spent in evangelism. If your upper classmen balk at this then that is evidence that you may not be working with the right upper classmen. There ought to be time to develop and teach but evangelism has to happen those 6 times.
    2. If you pay the price in the first six weeks of the year you will reap the rewards for the next four years. If you blow the first six weeks you will pay the price for the next four years. I can tell how well we did in the first six weeks of the last four years by looking at the size of our classes.
    3. Directors must mobilize their best people assets into evangelizing/gathering freshmen into freshmen groups (staff/ student leaders).

We teach that discipleship is doing the right things (doing ministry together, time in the Word, relationally connecting) with the right people (faithful, available, teachable).

Here’s the key: those three things – Ministry/Word/Relationship – don’t have to happen evenly over the year. In other words, the first 6 weeks of the year will be HEAVILY weighted toward doing Ministry together. Talking about life and their summer and the new year as you walk on the way to share your faith. That’s one reason a Leadership Retreat before move-in week is so crucial. It gives your staff time to connect relationally with student leaders before you jump in the trenches together.

I always try to grab one-on-one lunch (Relationship) with each of my staff guys in the calm before the storm of the first 6 weeks because I know that August and September will be heavy on doing ministry together and lighter on Word/Relationship.

What are your thoughts on Brian’s 3 Keys?


In Cru, we talk a lot about being “Student Led, Staff Directed”.

But I fear that staff communicate to students, often more by actions than words: “We staff would love to reach this campus on our own but since we don’t have the manpower to do it, we’re gonna need some of you students to help us out.”

bleachersBud Wilkinson, legendary former head coach at OU was once asked, “what contribution does professional football make to the fitness of America?”

He answered: “A professional football game is a happening when 50,000 people desperately in need of exercise sit in the stands watching 22 people desperately needing rest”

I wonder how similar our ministries are to Bud’s description of a football game: Staff running around frantically trying to share our faith, put on weekly meetings, lead 2 Bible studies while students applaud from the sideline.

What’s at stake is more than ministry effectiveness on our campus. We are training students in the Biblical Priesthood of Believers for a lifetime of effective ministry. Is ministry just for an elite, professional class? Or is every Christian a minister/priest/ambassador?

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9

So what exactly is the role of staff in a Student Led ministry?

The Apostle Paul wrote that the role of a Christian leader is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” – Ephesians 4:12.

On our team we talk about success for our staff is to get as many students as possible onto the playing field. We want to help as many students as possible to  experience being used by God to change someone’s life.

As Steve Sellers said at the National Cru Staff Conference: “Students can do ministry. We can help.”


In what ways do you think we, as staff, communicate: “staff can do it, you can help”?

What are some ways your team helps students get onto the playing field?

photo courtesy of Johnny Lucus 

soularium groupSoularium is a pack of 50 pictures that Cru developed for sharing the gospel. It is an especially great tool for sharing the gospel with international students because they can communicate deeper thoughts (via pictures) then they would be able to articulate in English.

Just wanted to share a quick idea of using Soularium picture cards as an Icebreaker as your team plans for the fall.

On our first day back as a team for planning, we spend the majority of the time connecting with each other, sharing about our summers, and talking about how we feel going into the fall.

We pass out Soularium cards and have everyone pick two photos that represent their summer. Each staff then shares for 4-5 minutes about their summer using those two photos. We then ask: “What one card represents how you feel coming into the fall?” We’ve found that it facilitates better (more real) sharing. Having a photo representing their feelings someone helps – staff can share “I’m exhausted” when they might normally gloss over and put up a front.

The Soularium cards are also great for icebreakers for small group Bible studies:

  • “Which photo best describes how your week is going?”
  • “Think about your life so far. Which image best describes what you’ve experienced spiritually?”
  • “As you think about the upcoming year, which picture depicts what you want your walk with God to look at the end of the semester?”

We’ve found that the images are particularly helpful for guys to be able to articulate those mysterious things called “feelings”.

One of the greatest challenges in leading in ministry is finding the balance between planning/strategy and empowering/releasing. I don’t like messy. But I wholeheartedly believe that you have two options: You can either Control or Empower. You can’t do both. Control is orderly. Empowerment is messy.

There’s a lot of wisdom on this topic in a recent post by Jon Hietbrink:

surfingMany organizations run like machines–they thrive on alignment, order, discipline, and consistency, but movements are like organisms–they feed on change, complexity, empowerment, and freedom.

Most of the ministries we lead are some combination of both organization and movement.

I cringe at the inference that anything planned or organized is somehow less influenced by the Spirit [love this sentence!]. That said, I’m increasingly aware of our need as leaders to become experts at calibrating the edge of chaos–we’ll never catch a movement by hanging back in consistently safe places devoid of risk and adventure, but we’ll also never see exponential growth if we go boldly careening over the edge of chaos and into the abyss of confusion and disorder. How then do we navigate this tension? How do we surf the edge of chaos?

As a leader who actually tends toward order and structure, it’s been important for me to embrace the chaos as appropriate and good. If we want movement, it won’t be easy, clean, or predictable, and part of the journey for us as leaders is settling this in our souls–our tolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty has to increase.

We must foster environments of interdependence where folks are not just allowed, but encouraged to seek help from any and every source. A mentor of mine used to tell me that the job of a leader is to build “webs, not wheels”– an ever-expanding web of interconnected, interdependent parts, not a wheel where all the spokes connect back to me at the center [great metaphor- webs, not wheels!].

I encourage you to read the whole thing here.


How are you learning to surf the edge of chaos as you lead a movement?


photo courtesy of chausinho

As you start the fall of college ministry, there are three big things your staff need:

  1. Connect as a family (who) – 71% of Millennials want their coworkers to be a second family
  2. Direction and clarity of role (what) – what does it look like for me/us to succeed?
  3. Vision for reaching college students (why) – “You can pretty much assume that most staff return [in the fall] willing and able but not very motivated and with little or no vision.”

feet on dock

A few helpful starting-the-fall tips for Team Leaders:

  • Encourage staff to get all personal things done before they report back. I usually email something like this:
    • “Please have all your personal stuff done before next week (moving in, raising support, prayer letter, etc) as we will be pretty slammed starting Aug. 8 (so take advantage of the next few days to get all personal stuff done!)”
  • I highly recommend reading this short article – Orienting Your Team
  • Pick staff to fill two key roles: First Week Director and Follow Up Director. This frees the Team Leader to focus on the team/movement instead of the millions of details associated with the First 4 Weeks.
  • Don’t assume that everyone is on the same page as far as Ministry Philosophy. Communicate clearly on how we do things. We have a one page sheet called “How we do Ministry – One Page” which, as you would expect, tells our entire philosophy of ministry on one page!
  • Discuss Team Norms together (how we operate as a team)


I think it’s always interesting to see how other teams operate.

Here’s what our planning week looks like:

  • 2 days of planning 9-noon. Afternoons spent working on reserving locations, getting donations from local businesses (for door prizes for cookouts), working in smaller groups with other staff on specific tasks
  • 3 days on a staff retreat (all fun/no work)
  • 2 more days planning 9-noon. Afternoons working on team to-do’s.
  • 2 night student leadership retreat
  • First Cookout and Move in Week activities

Team Leaders- what do you do with your team before the school year begins?

Staff – what are your primary needs going into the year?


photo courtesy of  Yasin Hassan – ياسين حسن

hbrSome interesting insights on leading Millennials from Harvard Business Review:

They share well with others (and expect to be shared with):

They are adept at finding information and expect it to be readily available. They are comfortable reaching out directly to people in a way that can be disconcerting to older employees whose workplace relationships have traditionally been constrained by the organization’s hierarchy.

As Nilofer Merchant has observed, social technology is changing the nature of power in organizations.

When you are accustomed to and skilled at finding and freely sharing information, it makes no sense to have information locked up in various parts of an organizational structure. In fact, it feels frustratingly antiquated. What this means for older managers: they must shift from being controllers of information to facilitators of its sharing and collaborative use towards achieving organizational goals.

I love this and think it’s extremely encouraging for the future of world-changing enterprises. Sharing and collaboration FTW.


What motivates Millennials is what motivates all employees:

It’s crucial to understand what motivates Millennials. The most powerful tool to build Millennials’ commitment to the organization is this: offering regular opportunities to learn and develop — not just through training, but through a variety of challenging tasks, the opportunity to work with people who impart valuable knowledge, and regular developmental feedback. As it turns out, this is how you build commitment in employees of all ages.

Despite what the stereotype might suggest, effectively engaging Millennials is not about letting employees wear jeans and bring their dogs to work, dude. The key is providing challenging, meaningful work, communicating, helping employees to see their contribution, and making sure they have opportunities to learn and grow.


In college ministry, I think we provide ample opportunities for:

  • Challenging, meaningful work
  • Opportunities to learn and develop

I think what we could improve on is “helping them see their contribution”.

Whether this is student leaders or Interns/Staff – we could improve at clearing communicating:

  • “THIS is the meaningful, challenging work that you are doing.”
  • “Here are 4 ways you are going to learn and develop this year.”
  • “Through doing _____ you made a unique contribution and lives were changed eternally.”

A little intentional communication could help Millennials connect the dots in realizing that they actually ARE doing challenging, meaningful work that is making a difference.


What are your favorite takeaways from the HBR excerpts?


Money to Fund the Mission

December 12, 2011 — 1 Comment

Mark Driscoll tweeted this weekend about a video in which he describes THE game changer in the history of Mars Hill.

A single thing that took them from 40 people to 800. A turning point that made the difference between their church shutting down and being the global influence that it is today through the Acts29 Network and Mark Driscoll’s teaching.

It wasn’t hiring a key staff. Putting on a big outreach. Giving a great sermon. Getting a new website. Him yelling at a bunch of men (that was a different video).

It was money.

A gift from a generous couple – a $200,000 gift that was 100x greater than any gift they’d ever received.

As ministry leaders we spend countless hours thinking through how to reach more people with the gospel. We plan ways to raise up new leaders. Get excited about new books/ideas that could be gamechangers. Dream of new websites that will singlehandedly reach the campus with the gospel. But we rarely think of money.

We just finished a week of planning and money didn’t come up once. I like to think that we can just suck it up and make do with what we have. I rarely, if ever, think “if we had all the money we needed, what would be the most effective way to reach this campus?”


Bill Hybels in his book Courageous Leadership calls the lead pastor (and in my case Campus Director) the CRR (Chief Resource Raiser).

He recalls when he first realized the necessity of money to fund the mission: “my romance with the notion of building an Acts 2 church had blinded me to the harsh realities of funding one.”

He goes on to say:

Theologian RC Sproul once asked me how much ministry I thought I could do for a hundred bucks. I assumed he was hoping for some deep theological response, but before I could think of one he answered the question himself, “You can do about a hundred dollars worth.” He was simply making the point that a fruitful ministry requires resources.

Be as theological as you want to be, but the church will never reach her full redemptive potential until a river of financial resources starts flowing in her direction. And like it or not, it is the leader’s job to create that river and to manage it wisely.


I just wonder what would change if our ministries and staff were abundantly funded. Imagine what God could do.


photo courtesy of Sprengben


I love reading articles together as a staff team. There are few better ways to align your team and learn to speak the same language.

They’re short and to the point (at least the good ones are!).

And the articles can be the bad guy- they can speak authoritatively on a topic and staff don’t hear “my director is trying to get us to _____ (share our faith more, do more work)” they hear “that author who is infinitely wise is saying that we should ______”.

Whether your senior staff are reading these ideas for the 10th time or it’s a new staff reading it for the first, foundational ideas need to be over-communicated repeatedly.

It doesn’t always have to be articles, I’ll often print up a bog post (even my own!) to read with our team.

Here are some of the staple articles that have shaped our team (and that we’ll likely be reading this fall):

  • The First Two Weeks– our team reads this every year in preparing for the fall. Really short and to the point. Sets your team’s expectations for the first weeks (16 hour work days!):
    • Gathering Christians, reaching non-Christians…or both?
    • What to do on appointments
    • What to do with returning students
  • Building Movements this article has shaped our movement more than any other. Jim Sylvester shares his considerable wisdom in what it takes to build a thriving movement.
  • Going from 20 to 200 – a shorter and easier to read version of Jim’s principles. 5 principles to grow a small ministry into a thriving movement. This one might be better to read with your team or students than Jim’s.
  • Hearing the Music Of the Gospel – a longer article but so good. Are you carried along by the rhythm of God’s Spirit through his Word or doing the mechanical dance steps of behavioral change? This is a good one to have your team read over an hour of time with God and then come back and discuss as a team.
  • Empowering Staff thru Staff Jobs– great wisdom from Eric Swanson on empowering staff to lead as directors. This fall we just quoted from this article and used the ideas as we communicated to our team on staff jobs – but a great read for team leaders.
    • “Each job is “director level” in that the other staff are subordinate to him or her in this area.”
    • “Each job is “owned” by the staff in charge and is autonomous in its responsibility. If the staff does not carry it out or motivate others to do so, it simply doesn’t get done. No one bails him or her out.”
    • Each staff is expected to be an “expert” in his/her job. He needs to read books, articles, magazines, listen to talks, and interact with other staff from other campus to develop expertise. He or she becomes a resource for the other staff in their area of expertise. You and the other staff may be purposefully ignorant: “I don’t know, but Rabs is the expert in that area.”

What are some of your favorite articles?