Editor’s Note: Threads recently had the opportunity to chat with Guy Chmieleski, university minister at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, about his experience leading college students. Chmieleski received a B.A. from Bethel University, a M.A. in ministry from Palm Beach Atlantic, and a D.Min. from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. He and his wife, Heather, have three children. In addition to his ministry job, Chmieleski also wrote the Spring 2010 Collegiate Bible studies. Follow him online at campusministryguy.blogspot.com.
Threads: How do you, as a young adult leader, facilitate quality Bible study?
Guy Chmieleski: For me, there are three keys to facilitating quality Bible studies. First, you have to know your stuff. You don’t have to have all of the answers, but you definitely need to have “studied up” so that you know the material well, and have had some exposure to other materials that can help to bring more understanding to the focus of your study.
Second, you need to know how to use what you know. I personally believe that as a facilitator, my role is to make sure that we’re not straying too far from the topic at hand, that everyone is getting an opportunity to share, and that theologically we’re doing OK. If the conversation seems to be heading in a bad direction—in one or more of these areas—a timely and intentional question or statement can really bring things back to the topic at hand.
Finally, as facilitators we need to create space for students to thoroughly explore the subject of our study. We need to create a space where students feel comfortable, know that they are cared about, know that it’s OK to “agree to disagree” at times, and can ask questions without feeling like they will be judged or laughed at.
Threads: How do you train leaders?
GC: Training leaders takes on so many different forms—it has to—because they’re all so different! Some practical things that we do include:
- A weekly training for all of our leaders. This is a great time for re/connecting on a regular basis, training on specific materials, addressing certain needs, praying corporately for our collective ministry on campus, etc.
- Host one-on-ones regularly with each leader. This is a great time to connect more personally, learn of any concerns or personal struggles, build open lines of communication … There are so many benefits from time spent this way.
- Hold a leadership retreat at the beginning of each semester. In the fall we take our leaders off campus for a three-day/two-night getaway that includes a lot of solitude and silence, some good group processing times, shared meals and activities, and space to connect and relate with one another, as well as the staff. In the spring we do a two-day/one-night retreat that takes on a similar look.
- Over the summer we will provide our students with a common book to read as a part of their spiritual formation and leadership development. We’ll look for opportunities over the summer (online) and in the fall (in person) to process the contents of the book.
Threads: How do you keep in touch with your students over the summer?
GC: The more connected we can stay with our leaders over the summer, the better the beginning of the new school year seems to be. Their sense of calling, their commitments, their ongoing preparation and their relationship with us and our ministry remains at the forefront of their minds. It’s important to know, before they leave at the end of the term, how best to reach them over the break.
For the vast majority of students Facebook will be the place. Most students live on it. Spending some good time, intentional time, on Facebook every day is almost a must. Maybe even better, creating a private Facebook group for your leaders that can serve as a virtual “workspace” for the summer—a place where you can post content and/or start conversations that help students to be thinking about the “right things” as they are preparing for their important position. Of course, e-mails/phone calls/text messages are all good ways to connect with students as well. Finding out the best way to connect with your individual students while they’re away is important.
Threads: What are you doing now to prepare for the fall semester?
GC: As the spring semester begins to wind down, it can be easy to be lulled into a false sense of, “Whew, the work’s all done.” The reality is, if you want to have a good start to the fall semester, then you had better do as much planning for it now as you can, especially if it involves recruiting faculty and/or student leaders. Identifying leaders in the spring gives you time to prepare them—albeit from a distance—for their role in the fall … Putting together calendars and speaker schedules are important things to begin working on as well. Publicity pieces—large or small—are good things to begin preparing so that there is time for multiple revisions if necessary. Another great way to prepare for the fall is to prepare for how you will make use of your summer months. Making plans now, for how you will 1) retreat for personal refocus and refreshment; 2) prioritize your family—or some of the other areas of your life that often get overlooked in the midst of the academic year; 3) make plans for some professional development opportunities; 4) assess the past year; 5) plan for the upcoming year, etc. Making plans for how best to use your summer can go a long way in determining how your fall will go.