52 Weeks of Chaplaincy

Today marks my one-year anniversary as the Chaplain at Ohio Northern University, and what a year it has been!  At this time last year, I was busy filling out employment paperwork, finding my way around campus, and figuring out how being a college chaplain is different from being the pastor of a church.  Boy, is it different!  I’ve learned a lot of things over the last 52 weeks, but I thought I’d share 52 of my favorite lessons from my first year as a chaplain.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  1.  There is never a dull moment in campus ministry.
  2. You can get more done over one cup of coffee than in three hours of meetings.
  3. Don’t be afraid to try new things, or do old things in new ways.
  4. You are not an authority.  On anything.  (Get used to it.)
  5. The people in Student Affairs are your best friends.  Get to know them.
  6. Word spreads fast on a small university campus.
  7. Meetings sometimes start late.  Like, really late.  Sometimes 9 or 10 at night late.
  8. Freshmen look scared, but what they sometimes don’t realize is that inside, they are braver than they think.
  9.   Seniors (and P5s/P6s) look like they have everything under control, but sometimes on the inside they are more scared than the freshmen.
  10.   Faculty members are not the enemy.  In fact, they can be the chaplain’s biggest ally.
  11.   Never put your robe on too early before an academic ceremony—it can get hot!
  12.   Being part of a “platform party” is not as fun as it sounds.
  13.   The leadership potential of emerging adults is tremendous.
  14.   Part of the chaplain’s job is to encourage and draw out leadership potential in students who seem least likely to possess it.
  15.   People of different faiths and belief systems can get along if they are authentic in expressing who they are and what they believe.
  16.   Prayers don’t have to end “In Jesus’ name…” to be in Jesus’ name.
  17.    If you’re not sure about your theology, you soon will be.
  18.   Plan.
  19.   Do a review after every event.
  20.   Utilize the talents and gifts of others.
  21.   Take time off.
  22.   Be prepared for times of great busyness and activity, followed by periods of quiet and solitude.
  23.   Make good use of school breaks.
  24.   Find out where things are on campus.  Take frequent walks.  If you’re wearing school colors/logo, someone will stop and ask you for directions.
  25.   Meet students where they are, but don’t leave them there.
  26.   A college campus is like an ecosystem—everything works best when there is a balance.
  27.   If you tell someone that you are not very busy, they will find something for you to do.
  28.   Having an “elevator speech” about your project/program is essential.
  29.   The chaplain’s “congregation” leaves town at Christmas and Easter—this can lead to a lot of extra adrenaline over the holidays.
  30.   Strive to maintain your personal spiritual disciplines.
  31.   Build a good relationship with your building custodian/housekeeper.
  32.   (Almost) everything they taught you in seminary about being a good pastor applies to being a good chaplain.
  33.   The things that don’t apply are crucial, and should be respected.
  34.   You don’t have to preach for 30 minutes to get your message across.
  35.   Most of the time, you don’t have to preach at all.
  36.   The message isn’t yours, anyway.  It’s God’s.
  37.   A good administrative assistant is worth his/her weight in gold.
  38.   When a student comes into your office and says, “Can we talk?” get ready for some serious listening!
  39.   Always show up at a campus event ready to pray, if asked.
  40.   Get to know the academic deans and their staff members.
  41.   The same applies to the people in financial affairs, admissions, security, athletics—you name it.
  42.   Never neglect time with your family.
  43.   Clergy and parachurch organization colleagues are precious resources.
  44.   Reach out to local churches—be a “fill-in” preacher.
  45.   Be a part of a small group where you aren’t seen as ‘the chaplain’ for one hour a week.
  46.   Network with other chaplains and campus ministers.
  47.   Learn how to use social media.
  48.   Build up your student leaders.  Train and encourage them.
  49.   Show up at student events.
  50.   Campus ministry is not “Youth Ministry 2.0”
  51.   Campus ministry does not exist in a vacuum separate from the Church.
  52.   Campus ministry is the hardest, but most rewarding, work I have ever done.

Well, that’s it–52 things I’ve learned over the past year as a chaplain.  There have been many, many more things I’ve learned, but these are my favorite.  It’s been a steep learning curve, but I’ve really felt blessed this year to have the opportunity to work with such wonderful students, faculty and staff, and I look forward to many years more.




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