Jan 04, 2016
When Semester Breaks Attack
Chase Abner writes about the downside of semester breaks and how you can help your students bounce back.
As collegiate ministry leaders, we know that semester breaks aren’t purely time off for us. We’re using the time to assess, plan, or possibly raise support. We still have plenty of work to do, but semester breaks give us opportunities to slow down our pace of ministry. This is crucial for us if we don’t want to bonk. And yet…
Semester breaks are the WORST.
“How is that?” you ask.
Let me answer with a story:
Once, I was discipling a student who God gloriously saved from a lifestyle of drunkenness. He got deeply connected with our ministry and eventually became a leader. He was growing in holiness and becoming a good small group leader. One Thanksgiving break, he went home and received some family news that drastically affected his future career. Then, some old friends invited him out and few hours later, he found himself drunk for the first time in a long time.
When our group next met, he confessed his sin through tears. He was surprised at what had happened. I wasn’t. I looked around the room and asked, “Would that have happened if any one of these guys would’ve been with you that day?” He just shook his head.
You see, I dislike semester breaks because they are spiritually dangerous for our students.
Think about it. Classes cease. Residence halls close. We suspend our worship gatherings and small groups. Students pack up their laundry and head for home. In other words, our students have lots of idle time and are forced to separate from what has become their primary spiritual community. For a few days or weeks, they return to the places and relationships that remind them of who they used to be.
They’re hanging with the old friends who expect them to laugh at the same jokes and have the same kinds of fun as before. Some are sleeping in the bedrooms where they’ve viewed pornography hundreds of times. Others are navigating conversations with family members cannot understand why they want to spend their summer overseas on a mission trip. They’re experiencing all of this without the support and accountability of their closest Christian friends.
It’s inevitable that some of your students will sin in ways you, nor they, thought possible. They’ll return to your ministry crippled with regret and burdened by guilt. If you aren’t prepared for this, your ministry could suffer but more importantly, you’re missing an incredible opportunity to help students grow in the gospel.
Let me share three tips on how to be prepared when semester breaks attack.
1. Foster a gospel culture.
Maybe that seems far too elementary, but I’ve been around long enough to know it’s often a presumption, not a reality. It’s entirely possible for your ministry to have a “Christian” or “evangelistic” culture, but not a gospel culture. The former say, “If you like or do the right things, then you belong here.” Giving the right appearance or sharing your faith become the standard for acceptance. A gospel culture says, “If you know that you’re not okay, then you belong here.” Authenticity becomes the standard for acceptance. In a gospel culture, your students know they don’t have to hide because they know Jesus came to save sinners. What is more, they begin to desire the right things and share Christ with others. When this is achieved, students can be reminded that their identity is in Christ, not in what happened over break.
2. Give students opportunities to confess sin and repent.
It would be a great blessing if your students would return from break and seek out Christian friends to whom they could confess their sins. However, the reality is that some of them don’t yet know how important confession is or aren’t quite sure yet if they can truly be honest inside of your community. By creating a time for students to reflect on their break, confess sin, and turn back to Christ, you are communicating some big truths to them:
- You must take sin seriously.
- It is right to confess your sins to your local body of believers.
- This ministry is a place where sinners are accepted and pointed to Christ.
At The Salt Company, we pay particular attention to providing our student leaders these opportunities. We give our students a considerable amount of time during our leadership retreat in August for confessing their sin and being reminded of the gospel. After winter break, we have a special night of worship where we want to remind them of the gospel and give opportunities to repent and refocus for the semester ahead.
3. Teach about the importance of Christian community.
As illustrated by the earlier story, students’ failures over breaks are often tied to the absence of their Christian community. Though it’s a temporary absence, we must not underestimate our need for regular gospel encouragement and accountability. In fact, our need for Christian community is rooted in our utter fragility apart from the grace of God. Remember what the author of Hebrews says:
“Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God. But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.” (Hebrews 3:12-13, HCSB)
There is no reason to believe that we or our students are any less in need of daily encouragement to cling to the living God. When we teach these things, we are making disciples who understand their need for Christ and value Christ-centered relationships.
Be prepared. This means you’ll get lots of questions about how to find a good local church in town X, Y, or Z. However, there’s little that makes my heart more glad than knowing I’ve discipled a student in such a way that leads them to seek out a good local church!
Because of the rhythm of college life, you are likely in the middle of or within a few weeks of a semester break attack. You are going to need to cry with, rebuke, or restore a student who has been momentarily crushed by sin. If you are prepared, the moment will provide an incredible opportunity to shepherd them and for the gospel of Christ to be gloriously displayed.