Sunday morning I, like most Christians, sat on the couch with my family and watched our church service online. I gotta admit, it was kind of a cool experience! Later that afternoon, I caught a couple more services from churches around town. I watched as the CHURCH broke Facebook Live! Never before has the Church been so digital and so available! On the campus ministry front: our students have gone and our campuses have gone online. Therefore, we go virtual! Never before has this been an option in the history of the church! But, let’s not buy into the lie. In the same way that in-person worship services never produced the same quality disciples as the intentional one-on-one investment, the well done, live-stream worship service will fall short just the same. If nothing else, it will take consumeristic, church-hopping Christianity to the next level! Before we take our large groups online, what’s our plan for the intentional investment in a few? Comfortable viewers won’t change the world. Dangerous disciples will! If we want student leaders of our ministries when, God-willing, campus reopens in the fall, then we’d better let intentional, relational discipleship be our foundation and not our live stream event. Let’s live-stream! Let’s put it on IGTV, Facebook, and YouTube! It’s about time social media was flooded with the gospel! But let that be the icing on our cake, not the cake itself.
Let’s not take a break from disicpling our students in intentional one-on-one ways. Now more than ever our students need to hear from us – in a conversation, not on social media. They need to “see” us and know that we see them! Social distancing does NOT mean relational distancing. If nothing else, the gospel leans in closer in times like these! As we march off the map into strictly digital discipleship of our students, here are a handful of things to consider:
IT’S NOT BAD, IT’S JUST DIFFERENT
Let’s address the elephant in the room: sometimes online meetings are awkward. But the truth is that this generation is more accustomed to it than anyone, it’s probably just awkward for us. It is important though to talk through expectations and limitations. It’s easier to miss social cues virtually, harder to pick up on non-verbals, and; let’s be honest, it’s easier to hide sin. All of those things need to be addressed. Yes virtual is the next best thing to being physically present, but it has its limitations. We need to talk about that so we are all on the same page. One thing I feel like I’ve said a lot since going digital is: “I can’t always get a read on you on Facetime/Zoom, you are responsible for being up front and honest with what’s going on. I won’t expect you to know how I’m feeling or what I’m thinking, so afford me the same thing. Let’s ask each other more questions about each other and make less assumptions.” Virtual discipleship is needed, but it’s different.
CONNECT MORE OFTEN, IN MULTIPLE WAYS
College ministry pro, Arliss Dickerson always says, “walk through your Student Union on campus every day.” Every time I go out on campus I see someone I know and students I invest in. Most of us are having withdrawals! When we walked on campus or saw people at our events we got to have personal connections with them outside of our “discipleship” time. Social distancing and shelter from home has eliminated those chance meetings and social interactions. It would be wise to schedule a few more meetings or virtual hangouts. Meet for an hour to read Scripture together like you would on campus, but maybe add in a second meeting to do follow-up and ministry goal setting. Later in the week call and pray together, text back and forth prayer requests and God-stories. Good discipleships already have those in place, but with the fluid schedule and isolation, more connection will strengthen the relationship.
ADD STRUCTURE IN THE MIDST OF CHAOS
Pardon the rural, small-town Texas reference, but “people are like trucks, they drive better with heavy loads.” In a more civilized tongue it reads, “People do better when they have a schedule and more to do.” It’s called Parkinson’s law. Your to-do list will fill up whatever time frame you put in it. In the midst of unstructured, our students will have less on their schedule, less to do and still manage to get less done. Let’s face it, so will we. This is the time to help our students create a structure and develop their self-leadership. Let’s not be afraid to add a book to go through with them or develop an ambitious Bible reading plan. What would it look like for our students to have read through the New Testament by the end of the semester or finished a book on the spiritual disciplines?
NEW RHYTHM, NEW PLACE, NEW GOALS
I was Marco Polo-ing with a student today (video messaging app) and he said, “I just got my rhythm down and was regular with my daily times with God and seeing victory from my sin and then BAM! Corona hit and everything is thrown off!” Don’t we all feel that a little? Just like we sat down with our students in the fall and worked through their spiritual goals and plans, we need to do that again now. This is like the start of a new semester spiritually speaking. People are looking for a new rhythm and a new normal. We need to sit down with our students and help them assess their “at home” sin struggles and what accountability looks like. Wouldn’t it be amazing if an entire generation walked away from porn during COVID19? What impact could it have on a family when their believing student returns home, has a plan and accountability, and begins to live the gospel in front of his/her siblings and parents? If we help our students set goals and rhythms in this new normal then we could be a part of a generation walk in freedom – even if they can’t leave their houses.
PLAY OFFENSE, NOT DEFENSE.
If we allow our students to duck out of evangelism because of isolation then we have missed God. If our discipleships and ministries become more about maintaining who we have instead of reaching those around us then we have squandered this time. How can we help our students go on the evangelistic offensive during this time? What can we do to help them see and serve the people around them – their families, hometown friends, the stranded international students, and especially their classmates. Our role in this is to help our students understand the mission has not been cancelled. Part of our time with each student needs to be looking at how they are sharing the gospel with the people God has placed them in contact with.
I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but I keep hearing this over and over in my head: “I accepted Christ during COVID19”! What could the fall look like if we lean in and invest in our students to leverage their time and their talents for the Kingdom in such a strategic age? Could there be a wave of new believers come back to our campuses ready to go? In order to see that it’s going to take a movement of God started by students being discipled in close relational proximity. Let’s lean into the different, connect with them and provide the structure, help them create goals and walk in freedom, and go on the evangelistic offensive. The gospel leans in when everything else runs out.