The Discipleship Journey with College Students

Recently, I sat down with a college student who wanted to “dive in” to the spiritual waters of discipleship in a deeper way. This is a student I’ve been alongside of as a spiritual mentor for a couple of years now and it’s always encouraging to know that a college student wants to put some emphasis on developing their faith as well as their academic and vocational life.

What can be a bit frustrating at times in college ministry is that a student you’ve spent time with demonstrates a lack of understanding when it comes to basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. With this particular student, biblical intimidation seems to be the main obstacle. Some have a fear of reading the Bible for themselves because they don’t believe they have the tools for interpreting the Bible or the ability to “get anything out it.”

So I took this student through a simple exercise of reading a brief passage (James 1:1-8) and demonstrating some simple ways of asking questions about the passage, journaling, asking practical questions, and then writing out a prayer in response to the passage…inviting God to bring wisdom as they try to apply biblical principles to their lives. In about 15-20 minutes, we had a great experience together in God’s word and the student walked away encouraged about the simplicity of the process.

This “discipleship conversation” was a great reminder to me of the benefits of sitting down with a student and simply reading the Bible together. As I reflect on that conversation, I thought it might be good to outline the process here which may help others:

Step #1

Pick an appropriate passage. There are parts of the Bible that lend themselves to easy understanding and simple application. I have found the short letter of James in the New Testament to be a great place to start.

Step #2

Read through the passage and make notes of key words or topics. Try to put the author’s intention in your own words. Before we get to “what this passage means to me” we need to have a good idea of the author’s intention.

Step #3

Ask questions of the text. Who is the author speaking to? What do you think the historical context of the original audience was? What is the main principle or teaching in the passage that might apply to our own lives? Is there something going on in your own life that the Holy Spirit might be calling your attention to? What would it look like to incorporate this biblical principle in your own life?

Step #4
Pray. Sometimes it’s good to write out a simple prayer. From this passage in James, a prayer might look like this: Lord, help me to see the trials in my life as opportunities to grow and mature in my faith and not just opportunities to complain or stress out.

Step #5

Take Action. What is one simple thing I can do this week to apply this teaching to my life? When a trial or difficult circumstance pops up, I want to immediately respond with a simple prayer: Lord, help me see my life and this obstacle as an opportunity to grow closer to You.

In the same way that physical exercise and good nutrition can lead to physical health and growth, spiritual exercises need to be a consistent part of our lives if we want to be spiritually healthy and fit.

Jesus’ Last Name


This is the book I’m digging into currently. Richard Rohr has been a favorite author and speaker for me for a few years now. This particular work is his attempt to help us reframe our ideas about Jesus & the Christ. What’s the difference? Isn’t “Christ” Jesus’ last name? Or is there more to it than that?


Well, I’m not done reading the book yet, but I’ll share just enough here to tease you into exploring the book or at least the idea for yourself. Jesus is actually the 2nd incarnation, the archetypal human showing us the way to wholeness and fullness. Christ is the cosmic principle, pattern, and source of all creation. Jesus is sometimes co-opted by particular groups to exclude those who don’t believe a certain theology. Christ is the universal acknowledgement that all of creation is anointed and part of the incarnation.

So far, I would say my most practical take-a-way is that there’s something “bigger” about Jesus Christ than simply having a personal relationship so be saved from eternal punishment.

Check it out if you’re interested. I might serve up a follow-up post once I finish the book.

Launching My 11th Year of Campus Ministry

In exactly 23 days (from the time this post drops), about 45,000 students (28k undergrad) will swarm the University of Cincinnati campus once again.

That includes about 7,000 first-year students (aka freshmen).

Campus ministers typically coach one another about how critical the first few weeks of a new semester are. In fact, one author I remember reading early on famously stated that you have about 3 days from the time a new student begins classes to capture their attention (with your organization) and invite them to be part of your community. Otherwise, chances are slim that you’ll EVER connect with them. Wow, no pressure, eh?!

As a more “mature” campus minister (i.e. old) with my own 3 kids to parent and a coffee roasting business to manage and a non-profit coffee shop to help run, the pressure of Welcome Weekend and a new semester can be intimidating but here are my three main strategies as I prepare to launch my 11th year of ministry at UC (after about 15 years of youth ministry in the local church which means I’m starting my 26th year of full-time ministry…again, that tells you I’m old!)

The 3 strategies could be summed up with 3 words: People, Product & Process. Yeah, I may have stolen that from Marcus Lemonis.

#1. PEOPLE: I’m building a team of student leaders and equipping others to invest relationally with college students. Also, a focus on people in campus ministry means working hard early each semester to connect with as many students as possible and invite them to events and conversations.

#2. The “product” we are inviting students to “consume” (engage would be a better word) is community and belonging steeped in Christian hospitality. Basically, we want to help students connect deeply with some Christian community during their time at UC.

#3. PROCESS: In our specific context (a non-profit coffee house called The 86 Coffee Bar), our process is built on our core leadership (staff) as well as a “congregational” element of student volunteers who help run The 86 daily. Every semester we have 40-60 students who volunteer in the cafe and those students are the ones I am most immediately responsible to in terms of ministry or pastoral care. Our process also includes leveraging our relationships with other campus ministries and their leaders to create a bit of a hub or network of campus ministries who are part of our cafe community.


So for anyone launching a new year of university ministry, these three principles could be a great guide: People, Product (or Purpose), & Process. Evaluate your people resources as well as the people you want to reach. Know your purpose (the “product” you are providing for students) and then develop a Process which is efficient and sustainable. Blessings on your outreach to college & university students!

Jubilee Conference ReCap

Great things always seem to happen at this conference with college students. And last week I had the privilege of journeying to Pittsburgh with 8 students to engage in great times of worship, spiritual rap sessions, and all-around social goodness

We walked to the subway and hopped on the “T” to get over to the North Shore area for dinner one evening. That turned out to be a slight miscalculation in terms of timing, but there’s always some good memories like this!

Over the next week, we will be working on a little highlight video where each student may share something transformational about their Jubilee experience. It is always a fun challenge for me personally to figure out how to help students translate what they’ve learned into new neural and behavioral pathways.

The point of the Jubilee Conference (at the risk of over-simplifying) is giving college students of vision for how the Gospel “transforms everything.” It’s about helping students discover what it means to live faithfully in every area of life. This is my 10th year of taking students to the Jubilee Conference. Not every year does every student get it…or walk away transformed. But this year was one of those years and I’m glad each of these students came away seeking to follow Jesus with their entire lives.

Discipleship Resources for Campus Ministry with Byron Borger

For 8 years, I was on staff with the CCO (ccojubilee.org) and through that organization met one of the most brilliant yet approachable book nerds on the planet, Byron Borger. Byron and his lovely wife, Beth setup an incredible display of books every year at the Jubilee Conference from their bookstore in Dallastown, PA (http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com)

Recently, I reached out to Byron for some book recommendations as I prepared to engage some new students in our ministry through the journey of discipleship. Since it has been awhile since I added any new “tools” to my campus ministry toolkit, I thought I’d see if Byron has come across any good books that I’ve missed lately (I knew there was a high probability of that outcome!)

I love his initial response: “I guess I’m sort of of the opinion that nearly any book is an opportunity for disciple making and faith formation. So as you mentor and guide others, any book can get at that.”

Byron continues, “I often recommend  Learning for the Love of God which gets at the notion of worldview, calling, vocation, academic faithfulness, and seeing God in all things — pretty basic for whole-life discipleship!”

Actually, that book is one that I have given to dozens and dozens of high school seniors over the past 10 years to help them prepare for life as a college student with an emphasis on loving God with all their minds.

 In the past, I have used a book called Discipleship Essentials (by Ogden) but it can be little intimidating and workbook-y. Byron countered that with, “For what it’s worth he has a much slimmer volume, similar, but not a half a years worth of stuff. It’s smaller and is called Essential Guide to Becoming a Disciple: Eight Sessions for Mentoring and Discipleship (IVP; $15.00.) It is still that conversational- Q & A – discussion format with inductive questions about Biblical texts, so it may have the same feel, but it is shorter, at least. Ha.”

After pointing me to a list of books that is often featured at the Jubilee Conference, Byron suggests, ” One of the best sellers and most used books is called Faith on the Edge by a variety of authors —  Paul Tokunaga, Kevin Blue, Greg Jao, and others (I even helped a tiny bit with one or two chapters)which includes small chapters for busy students and great reflection questions. It is arranged in three levels or concentric circles. First is one’s relationship with God, then pieces on one’s relationship to others, and then stuff about our relationship to the world. It covers a little bit of everything. Really good for Christian students just learning about all these various ways faith can impact our lives, our relationships and our world and I think a great guide for making and mentoring disciples of Christ. It’s from IVP and sells for $16.00.

Then Byron continued with these recommendations…
Think, Act, Be Like Jesus: Becoming a New Person in ChrisRandy Frazee (Zondervan Publishing) $15.99  We’ve told so many people about this book as it is very basic, but transformative. Here’s the thing: it takes a topic a day, and demands a little bit of reading and reflection and consideration, but it isn’t much.  It is arranged in three main sections: the stuff we believe, the stuff we do, and the traits we develop. The stuff we “think” about includes basic Christian concepts about God, truth, faith, the Bible, salvation, more things that are standard.  The things we do are things like pray, attend church, trust, serve, give, hope, share our faith with others, worship, and the like.  Then the third section — suggesting that if we believe like Jesus and do the stuff Jesus invites us to, then we become filled with the fruits of the spirit (faith, hope, kindness, patience, and more.)  So this three-fold format is helpful, balancing ideas, behaviors and virtues. And there’s 10 “sessions” for each.  So one can do one a day for 30 days. There are key verses, key truths, key concepts, key applications. It’s very clear and useful but there’s a lot in it.

It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die Jefferson Bethke (Thomas Nelson Publishers) $16.99 I love this book, as every chapter starts with a fairly conventional Christian truth and explores what it “really” means, getting a bit more insight and practical stuff to revolutionize one’s faith perspective. He’s popular among younger adult readers, pretty cool, very faithful to the Scriptures, but pushing us towards a wider, deeper, more relevant faith.  This is good for anyone who grew up in the church and has some standard info, but needs to explore it’s better meaning and the implications.  OR, it’s also very good for newbies, as it really does present all kinds of basic Christian stuff that is vibrant and relevant. 

Of course CCO’s own Steve Lutz wrote King of the Campus  Not an inductive Bible study, but a regular book, so it’s fun to read, without getting bogged down in workbook stuff —  but it covers a lot. I think this is just about the best guide for basic Christian living for young adults on college campuses.  There’s a great study guide in the back making it useful for discipleship classes, leadership groups, Bible studies or book clubs. He exposes the idols on campus and invites us to ask what it really looks like to have Christ be the King of your campus.  Highly recommended.

Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith Preston Sprinkle (NavPress) $14.99 I love this recent book which is just a bit more passionate and serious than Kyle Edelman’s Not a Fan — it invites us to think well, serve passionately, be serious about faith and making a difference as we see ourselves as mini missionaries in all we do. Fantastic, upbeat, exciting, getting us going. It actually came out of some research done by the Navigators (through Barna) asking what people think being a disciple means, what discipleship is, etc.

One.Life:  Jesus Calls, We Follow Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $ 14.99 Well, I had to list something of McKnight, and this is his upbeat book about “whole life discipleship.” Fantastic. His books on the Bible, his book on prayer, his book on fasting, and his New Testament scholarship all have this good edge to them, relating everything to a vision of discipleship. Don’t forget his very important (and quite readable) King Jesus Gospel (Zondervan; $19.99) or the detailed, practical The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (Paraclete; $16.99.) These are great for anyone pondering the how and why and daily habits of intentional discipleship. Anyway, I think his One.Life is a pretty useful book to read together with a young person wanting to become a more intentional disciple in all of life.

So that’s the “meat & potatoes” of Byron’s response to my inquiry. As I engage with college and university students at various points along the discipleship spectrum, I found these suggestions to be exactly what I needed to be reminded of some great resources but also informed about some things I was unfamiliar with.

I hope these suggestions might be useful for others who are engaged in discipling others…especially young adults and college students. Blessings on your relationships and conversations!