For a student, belonging precedes believing. Through encounters that establish friendship and community, we connect with students in faith-forming ways.
Availability. Jesus was accessible. He talked with the woman at the well (John 4:5-42). He joined the wedding celebration at Cana (John 2:1-11). He traveled to Sidon to interact with a foreigner (Matthew 15:21-28). He was available for Nicodemus outside office hours (John 3:1-21). To connect with students, we must first be accessible. Student must sense that we value them, that we have time for them. They should never conclude that we are bothered by their “intrusion” on our time and activities. After all, they are the reason that we are here.
Conversations. Relationships are built on conversations. Ask any young man or woman who is developing a relationship. Find opportunities to talk with students. Show an interest in their lives. Ask about their background, their interests, and their dreams. Then listen! Many students are longing for someone to care, to understand. Then, when you speak, direct the student toward faith. If the student is discouraged, share a promise from Scripture. If the student has achieved, celebrate! And praise God for His role in the accomplishment.
Prayer. Prayer is a powerful relational strategy. A colleague of mine was attending a conference when a young man walked up. He was a student from a few years before, now a professional. “I’m so happy to see you!” he exclaimed. “I have never forgotten you. One day, you noticed that I was worried, and you asked. After we talked, you offered to pray for me. That was the only time during the years I was at the school that someone prayed just for me.” My colleague said that it was a bittersweet moment. Sweet, in that a prayer, which he scarcely remembered, made a lasting impression on a young person’s life. But then he wondered, how many other students went through their experience at the school and no one ever prayed just for them. Seek opportunity to pray with and for the students. Prayer transforms lives.
Spiritual community. Not long ago I was invited to speak at the alumni homecoming of an institution where I had served some years before. It was wonderful to see my students again! Then several approached. “Teacher, you taught us so many things, and now we have forgotten almost everything!” I felt a bit disheartened. “But,” they continued, “there is something we always remember. You and your wife invited us to your home one evening. We ate together, and you shared with us some of your experiences. We have never forgotten.” That same homecoming, another two students recalled the Sabbath when we had gone to the mountains together as one of the highlights of their experience. I was surprised, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Creating community is one of the most effective ways to help students connect with one another and with God.
When we create occasions of friendship and spiritual fellowship, we touch lives for eternity.