It was Christmas break 1996 – that wonderful four weeks off in the midst of the college academic year – when God’s call came crashing down on my life.
Having spent the previous summer as a summer youth director in a local church and swearing that I would never have anything to do with local church ministry ever again, I felt the rush of God’s Spirit break through my frustration and disobedience so that I finally surrendered to His divine call.
The actual date was December 28, 1996. Nearly 20 years ago.
The college Christmas break is truly a winter wonderland. Whereas elementary, middle and high school students have roughly 10 days off, college students have nearly a month in-between semesters. This long break allows some students to squeeze in a J-term class, but most stay at home and veg out with family and friends.
For collegiate ministry students, I suggest you use your Christmas break differently. I suggest you take this time away from classes and books and put it to use for God’s glory and for your future in Christian ministry.
Here are a few suggestions of things you can do over the break.
1. Reconnect with your home church. Offer to sing in the choir. Be a part of the Christmas Eve service. Ask to fill in for anyone out on vacation in the youth or children’s ministry. If you are feeling a call to pastoral ministry, offer to preach a Sunday evening service for your pastor or cover one of the Wednesday night small groups. Offer to go and serve communion in a nursing home or to shut-in members.
At the minimum, ask one of your pastors if you can shadow them for a day or two to learn. Fold bulletins in the church office or sweep floors in the food pantry. Get your hands dirty in some ministry function, even if it seems like nothing at the time, I promise you it is something in the kingdom.
2. Update your ministry resume. A ministry resume is more than a simple piece of paper describing your education and past experience, it is, in many cases, your first impression to a church or para-church ministry. Therefore it is not something to be slopped together in one sitting. It should be created and updated with excellence and diligence. The Christmas break is the perfect time to sink some significant time into this document.
For help on this task, I have written several posts offering tips on creating solid ministry resumes. Find them here, here and here.
3. Setup your summer ministry internship. During the break, make a few calls, schedule a Skype meeting, even make a visit to the location of your summer ministry internship. Talk at length with your intended supervisor. See if there is anything that you need to prepare for during the spring semester.
Collegiate ministry students must, and I can’t emphasis must enough, take advantage of every summer to serve somewhere in ministry. Three good summers in ministry will nearly assure you a ministry placement upon graduation.
4. Visit a seminary. Even if you are not considering seminary at the present time, make a visit anyway. Take the tour. Make a day trip out of it. It will at least get you out of the house and possibly open your mind up to the possibility of theological education. If you are already planning to go to seminary, these visits are huge in helping you discern God’s will for where you are to study.
I suggest to my students visiting at least three seminaries before making a final decision. You can’t get the ethos or vibe of a school just by visiting a website or browsing a brochure, you must get on campus and pray onsite with insight.
5. Network. Network. Network. There is nothing more important in ministry placement these days than building your ministry network. We all know the cliché, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” I would add, “It’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you.”
Invite a ministry leader, denominational representative, former pastor, retired chaplain or missionary, whatever ministry you are feeling called to, to lunch. Ask them question after question. Bring a notebook and take copious notes or ask if you can record the conversation on your phone. Before the lunch, write 10-15 good, thoughtful, insightful questions and then fire away. Make it more about them and their experience than puffing yourself up.
If possible, do this a couple times over the break. Most leaders, even if you offer to pay, will want to help a poor ministry student out and will pick up the check. In the end, you glean from their knowledge, build your ministry network, and possibly even develop a new friendship and mentor in the ministry.
All in all, college ministry students, don’t waste your Christmas break. Use it wisely and purposefully. Besides, you can play Call of Duty and catch up on Netflix when you get back to campus. This might be your only shot to get out in the world and make those critical ministry connections for the long haul.