StartLeading: Challenge or Opportunity, Part 1 — Jason Gaboury

I was visiting with some ministry partners recently. They told the story of having a visit from a young woman who works with a different campus ministry. “She was delightful… Her passion was really something.” I smiled waiting for the question I knew was coming. “Can you remind us, what’s the difference between your ministry and that one?”

I’m meeting with student leaders. The tension in the room is palpable. My heart is echoing in my chest and in my ears. An influential leader has just passionately clarified vision for ministry that has nothing to do with InterVarsity’s mission. I have 3 seconds to redirect this conversation or watch the chapter drift away from mission, or head over the cliff of division.

Goldfish jumpSheila asks, “Can I be a leader here?” Sheila is a Buddhist student who has been hanging around for a few semesters.

“I thought you guys were committed to prayer.” Bently says. “You should join in the campus wide prayer and worship gathering.” The invitation is a trap. Either we can go along with the event, and thereby prove our commitment to prayer, or we can say no and be branded as unspiritual.

These experiences are just a few of the examples of the challenges that InterVarsity leaders face. Over time, I’ve come to see these challenges as opportunities. The question is how. How do we take moments of challenge and transform them into moments of opportunity? Here are 3 ways you can do this:

1. Get Clear: Underneath each of these situations (and many like them) is a key question that leaders can learn to identify and answer. Answering these four questions, “What do you do? How are you different? What do you believe? How do you behave?” with clarity and passion can help you turn a challenge into an opportunity.

2. Enter the Danger: Leaders need to enter the dangerous places where there is potential conflict, confusion, or discontent. We need to become comfortable entering into the danger instead of avoiding it.

3. Call for Commitment: It’s not enough to simply enter the danger and clarify the truth. Leaders have to make the ask. We have to call others to join us in our mission unapologetically. Do you see moments like those above as challenges or as opportunities?

Write a comment about a challenge you’ve faced recently. (This is the first of a series dedicated to turning challenges into opportunity.)


StartLeading: Throwing Your Nets on the Other Side – Jason Gaboury

We are headed into the most dangerous time of our ministry year.

Enthusiasm for new student outreach has propelled us forward. We’ve seen great advances. And now the great temptation is to settle down and return to the familiar and comfortable. Peter does this in John 21. He says, “I’m going fishing.” And those early followers of Jesus say, “We’ll come with you.” This wasn’t a recreational fishing trip. Jesus had just risen from the dead! Jerusalem was consumed with conversations about Jesus! But, despite all this, Peter goes back to what he knows. Fishing. Peter’s not the only one.

throw nets

We often start out with an enthusiastic plan for reaching new students. But before long our chapter activities, outreach activities, and weekly meetings all begin to look pretty much like they did last year.

Some leaders feel the tension. They think, “We wanted to engage more people. We’d hoped to start new ministries. But, people are tired, let’s just settle here for a while.” Jesus comes to them. His first words indicate that he’s well aware of their situation. “You haven’t caught any fish, have you?” Then he invites them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. I think that John, the most symbolic of the gospel writers, has a leadership principle in mind.

We can’t go back to what we know. Following Jesus and leading people into mission requires that we throw the net onto the other side. It requires us to do the unfamiliar. It requires us to engage new communities. To cast our nets where Jesus directs us instead of asking Jesus to fill the nets we’ve decided to cast.

Let me get practical. Do your chapter activities and demographics look pretty similar this year compared to last year? Are we essentially reaching the same types of students we reached last year? Are we starting the same kinds of groups and hosting the same kinds of meetings?

What would it look like to cast the net on the other side? Who did we meet at NSO who could open up a whole new ministry opportunity for us? What kinds of activities can we do that would have the best chance to integrate large numbers of students into our chapters? How do we need to change our activities so that we are throwing our net on the other side?

Share in the comments where God might be calling you to cast your nets in the coming week.


StartLeading: Questions Lead to Transformation by Jason Gaboury

Here’s a story that might make you think, “I never have experiences like that.”  Or worse, “I’ll never have an experience like that.” Read the story, though. It demonstrates the power of the gospel, God’s persistent love, and hope for transformation. Diane, InterVarsity’s staffworker at CUNY-Lehman College writes:

Today, I ran into a student that I met last semester named Brianna. She told me that she had a really rough summer and didn’t believe in God. This was a change. Last semester, she was curious about Jesus but didn’t get connected to one of our groups. I asked her what happened during the summer. She said she’d tell me later and walked away. I didn’t know if she’d come back but she did!


Brianna told me stories involving lots of alcohol and a boyfriend that she admitted she was using to feel loved. I asked to share a story from John 4 with her.  She identified with the Samaritan woman.

Then I asked if she knew the core message of the Christian faith. She said no.  So I shared the gospel with her using my New World app on my phone.  I emphasized many times that Jesus loves her and asked her to identify where she is in relationship to him.  She said she experiences the brokenness of the world and has not turned toward God for transformation.

So I asked if she’d like to follow Jesus & she said yes!

After we prayed she had a huge smile on her face.  One of our new members came over to high-five/hug her. It was awesome! I asked her to go to church with me on Sunday and she said yes.

While every story is unique, “the spirit blows where it will” (Jn 3), I believe that all of us who are willing to start leading can have experiences like this one. So what’s the key skill?


Read the story again.  Notice how Diane asks Brianna questions. “What happened?”  “Can I share?”  “Where are you?”  “Would you like to follow Jesus?”  “Will you come to church with me?”

Too often we think of leadership (and evangelism) as having answers.  Diane asked questions.  Jesus asked questions.  Great leaders become practiced at “making the ask.”

How are you at asking?  Think through a leadership or outreach conversation you’ve had in the last week.  Who asked most of the questions? What can you do in your next leadership or outreach conversation to increase the number of asks that you make?

Share some of the questions you intend to ask at your next leadership or evangelistic conversation in the comments section.