Posted by: naccm | December 9, 2009

What Are You Aiming For? A View from the Road by Benson Hines

The Heart of Campus Ministry is thankful to have Benson Hines guest blogging today as we continue our series in “Defining Succes in Campus Ministry”.  Benson has written an e-book called, Reaching the Campus Tribes you should check out if you haven’t already.  In the past few years Benson has traveled the contiguous 48 states logged countlous miles and probably thousands of conversations.  You can check his ongoing blog as a champion for campus ministry at Exploring College Ministry.

In the past few years of conversations with 400+ college ministers, I regularly asked one particular question that is especially dear to my heart.

And very often – perhaps more than with any other question – the college minister across the table from me had no immediate answer.

I have deep respect for the campus missionaries who toil among the collegiate tribes. And in many corners, their work is bearing plentiful fruit! But fruit and success are not the same thing – at least not in the success-measurement model I present today. And though it’s just one helpful model among several others, this idea certainly transformed how I understand “college ministry success” – not only in the long-term view, but also when gauging the success of individual activities and day-in, day-out tasks.

So to return to the opening lines of this post, here is the simple question that has befuddled many a college minister:

“What specific outcomes are you hoping to produce in your students over time?”

I believe a college ministry’s success – decade-by-decade, semester-by-semester, and activity-by-activity – should be measured in large part by the achievement of specific, aimed-for outcomes.

So, basically this definition of college ministry success is as simple as, “Hitting what we aim at.” The problem, however, is that we’re not doing a lot of aiming.

We are co-laborers with the Lord. Though He surely has “hidden purposes” in mind, I believe He also wants to give us actual, specific aims for the ministry we do. Then He gets glory not only as the God who bears fruit, but also as the God who initiates the work and involves His people as co-laborers and under-shepherds. By identifying what our students need most and need next, we are able to work with Him toward meeting those needs.

So, for example, God might reveal a few distinct things He wants to produce through your ministry next semester. Perhaps it’s increased evangelism. Perhaps it’s increased integrity. Maybe it’s better integrating with the campus. It could be understanding the Book of Hebrews. Perhaps it’s spending more time in prayer. Maybe it’s excitement about foreign missions.

It’s easy to try to aim for ALL these things and many more, but every season brings choices about priority, right? Or some of us may be more comfortable chasing vague outcomes like “lifelong followers of Jesus” or “knowing God’s word,” but actually aiming for such things requires knowing what that looks like in our particular students’ lives.

An example: When I served as a church college minister here in Dallas, I recognized the need for a culture of character within our collegiate ministry. So my short-term targets were four qualities – Focus, Direction, Integrity, and Commitment – and nearly all my teaching centered on one or more of those areas.

Meanwhile, I also recognized that our ministry would need leaders. So raising up student leadership was another outcome I aimed for, through a regular leadership prep study. And even individual activities were tied to specific outcomes – like choosing a Spring Break “Mad Libs eBay Road Trip” instead of a traditional mission trip, in part because our Dallas students needed to learn that planning shouldn’t be an idol.

In other words, I was bound to the targets God provided.

And that’s when this approach diverges from much college ministry work: when the outcomes determine the methods, instead of vice versa. What we teach, the events we hold, how small groups are structured, the leadership we use, even where we meet and who’s involved should serve the needs we’ve identified. So before I organize an outreach event or plan for the upcoming semester or sit down for a disciplemaking session or even plan a party, the first thing is to explicitly acknowledge the outcomes we’re aiming for. Then, working backwards, those outcomes determine the methods I’ll use to get there. To me, this is simply what it means to be a shepherd, who guides his flock to the grasses they need.

Call it Outcome-based College Ministry or Purpose-based College Ministry or Impact from Intentions or whatever… when we actually try it, it proves to be radically different from the way much collegiate ministry takes place. It won’t always look different to our students, but I believe it gives us the best shot at producing the most fruit.

If we’re supposed to be co-laborers and we’re called to be shepherds, then God is probably already showing us specific things our students need. For this year. This semester. This week. This Christmas party. And once we determine what we’re aiming for, measuring success gets a whole lot easier.



  1. […] So to return to the opening lines of this post, here is the simple question that has befuddled many a college minister… [KEEP READING] […]

  2. I find your conclusion to be right with in consideration. Often we make a decision about our program without any consideration to a larger plan.
    We ask ourselves what does our ministry need and then we say, we need to grow in evangelism. Though we never ask ourselves why wasn’t evangelism a part of what we do normally. The fact there is needs, suggests that there is weaknesses in our plan from the beginning.
    If we have a larger absolute that runs a current and defines our ministry for all of our life then we will be able to evaluate our outcomes on a minute to minute basis as apposed to a program evaluation at the end of the term(if we even do that).
    The lack of this defining absolute, that at best, prescribe solutions to immediate problems rather than address the undercurrents that is at the root of the problems. For example we might recognize that our fellowship is missing a component of Biblical literacy. So we spend the next 15 weeks addressing the issue with structured programs and large group discussions on God’s word. Though we never ask ourselves why the people that God has given me to shepherd has become a people that don’t know God’s word.
    What we don’t do as leaders of ministry is define what a disciple of Jesus is and then set that definition as the standard for any student entering our ministry. Meaning that if we see a problem in the ministry (talking strictly general problems, not specific issues that are not common to all college life) we address it head on because we see it. This is a prudent way to deal with a problem, but like a heart attack there is two was to deal with the issue. The first is through medicine and surgery. The second and better way is through prevention. We unfortunately treat these issues in the first manner.
    Having a detailed expectation on the members of a fellowship as well as having a high standard among the leaders of a fellowship create a different culture. A culture that knows what it must do to grow in the Lord.
    This transitions the definition of success from; a student will be biblically literate at the end of the term; to, students will start taking personal responsibility of seeking out their own weaknesses and finding solutions for themselves amidst the community of faith and among those who minister to them.
    That is a better definition of success.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts, Dan.

    I think I understand what you mean, but either viewpoint you mention comes under this approach.

    In both cases, you’re responding to God-revealed needs in the lives of students. HOW and WHEN desired outcomes are addressed isn’t in the scope of this definition – whether you’re creating a culture that disciples itself (as I described beginning to do in Dallas) or addressing “emergency” issues that arise, you’re seeking desired outcomes.

    “Prevention” is only aiming for those outcomes sooner rather than later. And I would consider the “spiritual self-care” you describe wanting to foster in students as not just a method, but also another outcome (worth aiming for) all on its own.

    If it sounds from the post like I view outcomes as mostly addressing immediate LACK, that’s my mistake. I actually believe our identified outcomes are simply NEXT NEEDS – not simply what our students need, but what God desires to address first. Knowing those things requires heaping helpings of wisdom and direction.

    Personally, I would disagree that the presence of needs indicates a weakness in our ministry. Remember, the “outcomes” we’re looking at aren’t just outcomes in our ministry, but outcomes in our students. Since we have new students each year, not all of their needs should have been addressed by us. Further, college ministry is always a first-things-first endeavor. We may identify 100 needs that we must address; choosing to address only 3 this year doesn’t indicate weakness as much as room to grow.

    But hopefully I’m not misunderstanding your post. Feel free to offer a rebuttal!

  4. I think I was honing in on the issue you mention of taking aim. I was more agreeing with you and drawing upon a dichotomy that you seemed to suggest. I was adding to the discussion suggesting why one was better than the other.
    However I do suggest, as I mentioned above, that general needs like Biblical literacy should never be a problem in campus ministry. Specific problems like drinking will always arise and very seldom would a ministry create a semester long program to address the drinking issue in their ministry unless it was a very specific problem to that ministry. Drinking would be a socially enforced standard within the group. Biblical literacy can be a socially set standard though if that is simply the case often the standard will be set low and believing in the rules of atrophy this will become a larger problem in the near future. This is what I meant. Setting a very clear picture of what a growing Christian looks like should not be set and re-set at the beginning of every term. ie… If a group identifies Biblical literacy is a problem and develops a program or uses material to address the problem; then to be a growing Christian in this ministry all one has to do is partake in the program. This is a fine enough solution except what if this not every students particular weakness? Then there is no challenge from the ministry to grow in areas where they are weak.
    This is why I defined success as a student should have the ability to take responsibility for their own growth with in the community so that they will become contributing members of the community to help other do like wise. I agree when you say “the first thing is to explicitly acknowledge the outcomes we’re aiming for.”
    I was making the point that the outcomes should be set early, shouldn’t really change and should cast a vision for a complete Christian.

  5. Benson,

    Thanks for posting. Recently the need we have seen, and probably because of things we have been reading as a staff, is to help students make right judgments about how to apply scripture to their life.

    Access to information, theological and practical is obviously immense, but access to a community that that helps students not just “act right” or “think right”, but judge correctly between the two is how we have begun to think of our community groups.

    So, in some ways, i think the current need we see (and seems to be ongoing) is not just to know scripture, but to discern the infinite number of voices about scripture accessible through the internet and social networking.

    On Sunday, I had a girl come up to me after a sermon to tell me I had mispoken about myrrh, that she “Googled it” during the message and it was not an “embalming fluid”…she was right! I knew it wasn’t “embalming fluid”, but what I said was that myrrh, was an oil used to prepare a body for burial, “like an embalming fluid.”

    Just reminded me, her source may have been one I would have trusted as well, but it’s possible she looked at the first one-two sites she Googled, that could have been written by anyone.

  6. Great post by Benson, and followed by some interesting comments.
    This post reminds me of a survey my NEWCHAPTER colleagues and I put together to help us better understand how a individual college ministry operates.
    Benson actually played a part in helping us make the language more Campus Minister type friendly. I’m planing on posting a blog about it later today. Let me know your feedback:
    Thanks again for keeping the discussion going.

  7. […] success in college ministry. I had the honor of guest-posting at Heart of Campus Ministry, and the approach I suggest is actually one of the most important things I’ve ever learned about ministry to collegians. […]

  8. […] Me on measuring success by achieving pre-determined aims […]

  9. […] Tim Hawkins, and others (go here for a complete list). A recent post on this subject from the Heart of Campus Ministry blog reminded me of something we tried here at NEWCHAPTER to assess the health or success of college […]

  10. […] a new approach to brainstorming, or define success in a new way (two guest posts I did at Heart of Campus […]

  11. […] Brainstorming must begin with – or at least be evaluated by – your purposes. When we brainstorm, purposes should either be our starting point or be the “bouncer” for each and every one of our ideas. Further, being sure about our purposes will actually help our brainstorming: The mother of invention is necessity, and you’ll be amazed how creative you can get when your necessities are clear and urgent. (More on this purpose-priority process here.) […]

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