Each year about this time I spend a couple of days at a monastery (the Abbey of Gethsemani) and “do” what I call my annual prayer retreat. Typically, I take a few books along for the quiet time in my “cell.” The first one I got to this year was a re-read of Falling Upward by Richie Rohr (that’s what his close friends call him. ha!)
So the gist of Rohr’s book is talking about how to navigate the transition from the first part of life to the second. Often, this transition is instigated by some sort of “falling” down in life. He seems to imply that most people go through this transition (if at all) between the ages of 35-55. So at the ripe old age of 48, I’m right on track since I would suggest that my “falling up” began about 5 or 6 years ago.
The basic premise is that you spend the first half of life establishing identity and building a certain “container” for life. Then for whatever reason, the container cracks…life takes an unexpected turn…some sort of crisis unfolds…etc. In the second half of life, ideally, you go a little bit deeper into some soul-full territory. You realize the limitations of superficial structures and either-or (dualistic) thinking. Rohr loves the language of unitive consciousness…moving from either/or thinking to both/and or “yes” thinking.
I’m finding a parallel journey in campus ministry from the first half to the second half, although in this case it’s the first and second halves of a school year.
In the first half of a year with students, I’m establishing identity and connection…building a sort of container for our relationship. Now in the second half (spring semester) it’s time to go a little deeper. I want to use the foundation of relationship which we’ve established in the first part of the year as a platform for launching towards something more.
So my hope in the 2nd semester of each school year is to see these relationships go a little deeper in several directions. I will challenge students to plunge a little deeper into the God-waters…moving out of “kiddie pool” spirituality into the depths of trust and exploration. I will also challenge them to deepen their relationships with others. Perhaps it’s time to be a little more vulnerable, or to care a little more for those closest to them. It could be in a small group, in a class, with a roommate, or any significant relationship they have developed. And of course, I want to deepen my relationship with the student if that’s what is most beneficial for the student. Although in some cases, I will encourage a deeper mentoring connection with someone else if I’m not necessarily the best person to fill that role in their lives.
The goal is always transformation and growth. The second half of this school year is about to begin. Here’s to seeing a few students go from spiritual immaturity to maturity over the next few months!
Ironically, as I was reading Falling Upward at the monastery and enjoying some Pneuma Coffee in a cool Star Wars mug I had just gotten for Christmas from my daughter, this happened…
Recently, I sat down with a college student who wanted to “dive in” to the spiritual waters of discipleship in a deeper way. This is a student I’ve been alongside of as a spiritual mentor for a couple of years now and it’s always encouraging to know that a college student wants to put some emphasis on developing their faith as well as their academic and vocational life.
What can be a bit frustrating at times in college ministry is that a student you’ve spent time with demonstrates a lack of understanding when it comes to basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. With this particular student, biblical intimidation seems to be the main obstacle. Some have a fear of reading the Bible for themselves because they don’t believe they have the tools for interpreting the Bible or the ability to “get anything out it.”
So I took this student through a simple exercise of reading a brief passage (James 1:1-8) and demonstrating some simple ways of asking questions about the passage, journaling, asking practical questions, and then writing out a prayer in response to the passage…inviting God to bring wisdom as they try to apply biblical principles to their lives. In about 15-20 minutes, we had a great experience together in God’s word and the student walked away encouraged about the simplicity of the process.
This “discipleship conversation” was a great reminder to me of the benefits of sitting down with a student and simply reading the Bible together. As I reflect on that conversation, I thought it might be good to outline the process here which may help others:
Pick an appropriate passage. There are parts of the Bible that lend themselves to easy understanding and simple application. I have found the short letter of James in the New Testament to be a great place to start.
Read through the passage and make notes of key words or topics. Try to put the author’s intention in your own words. Before we get to “what this passage means to me” we need to have a good idea of the author’s intention.
Ask questions of the text. Who is the author speaking to? What do you think the historical context of the original audience was? What is the main principle or teaching in the passage that might apply to our own lives? Is there something going on in your own life that the Holy Spirit might be calling your attention to? What would it look like to incorporate this biblical principle in your own life?
Step #4 Pray. Sometimes it’s good to write out a simple prayer. From this passage in James, a prayer might look like this: Lord, help me to see the trials in my life as opportunities to grow and mature in my faith and not just opportunities to complain or stress out.
Take Action. What is one simple thing I can do this week to apply this teaching to my life? When a trial or difficult circumstance pops up, I want to immediately respond with a simple prayer: Lord, help me see my life and this obstacle as an opportunity to grow closer to You.
In the same way that physical exercise and good nutrition can lead to physical health and growth, spiritual exercises need to be a consistent part of our lives if we want to be spiritually healthy and fit.
For 8 years, I was on staff with the CCO (ccojubilee.org) and through that organization met one of the most brilliant yet approachable book nerds on the planet, Byron Borger. Byron and his lovely wife, Beth setup an incredible display of books every year at the Jubilee Conference from their bookstore in Dallastown, PA (http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com)
Recently, I reached out to Byron for some book recommendations as I prepared to engage some new students in our ministry through the journey of discipleship. Since it has been awhile since I added any new “tools” to my campus ministry toolkit, I thought I’d see if Byron has come across any good books that I’ve missed lately (I knew there was a high probability of that outcome!)
I love his initial response: “I guess I’m sort of of the opinion that nearly any book is an opportunity for disciple making and faith formation. So as you mentor and guide others, any book can get at that.”
Byron continues, “I often recommend Learning for the Love of God which gets at the notion of worldview, calling, vocation, academic faithfulness, and seeing God in all things — pretty basic for whole-life discipleship!”
Actually, that book is one that I have given to dozens and dozens of high school seniors over the past 10 years to help them prepare for life as a college student with an emphasis on loving God with all their minds.
In the past, I have used a book called Discipleship Essentials (by Ogden) but it can be little intimidating and workbook-y. Byron countered that with, “For what it’s worth he has a much slimmer volume, similar, but not a half a years worth of stuff. It’s smaller and is called Essential Guide to Becoming a Disciple: Eight Sessions for Mentoring and Discipleship (IVP; $15.00.) It is still that conversational- Q & A – discussion format with inductive questions about Biblical texts, so it may have the same feel, but it is shorter, at least. Ha.”
After pointing me to a list of books that is often featured at the Jubilee Conference, Byron suggests, ” One of the best sellers and most used books is calledFaithon the Edge by a variety of authors — Paul Tokunaga, Kevin Blue, Greg Jao, and others (I even helped a tiny bit with one or two chapters)which includes small chapters for busy students and great reflection questions. It is arranged in three levels or concentric circles. First is one’s relationship with God, then pieces on one’s relationship to others, and then stuff about our relationship to the world. It covers a little bit of everything. Really good for Christian students just learning about all these various ways faith can impact our lives, our relationships and our world and I think a great guide for making and mentoring disciples of Christ. It’s from IVP and sells for $16.00.
Then Byron continued with these recommendations… Think, Act, Be Like Jesus: Becoming a New Person in Christ Randy Frazee (Zondervan Publishing) $15.99 We’ve told so many people about this book as it is very basic, but transformative. Here’s the thing: it takes a topic a day, and demands a little bit of reading and reflection and consideration, but it isn’t much. It is arranged in three main sections: the stuff we believe, the stuff we do, and the traits we develop. The stuff we “think” about includes basic Christian concepts about God, truth, faith, the Bible, salvation, more things that are standard. The things we do are things like pray, attend church, trust, serve, give, hope, share our faith with others, worship, and the like. Then the third section — suggesting that if we believe like Jesus and do the stuff Jesus invites us to, then we become filled with the fruits of the spirit (faith, hope, kindness, patience, and more.) So this three-fold format is helpful, balancing ideas, behaviors and virtues. And there’s 10 “sessions” for each. So one can do one a day for 30 days. There are key verses, key truths, key concepts, key applications. It’s very clear and useful but there’s a lot in it.
It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You DieJefferson Bethke (Thomas Nelson Publishers) $16.99 I love this book, as every chapter starts with a fairly conventional Christian truth and explores what it “really” means, getting a bit more insight and practical stuff to revolutionize one’s faith perspective. He’s popular among younger adult readers, pretty cool, very faithful to the Scriptures, but pushing us towards a wider, deeper, more relevant faith. This is good for anyone who grew up in the church and has some standard info, but needs to explore it’s better meaning and the implications. OR, it’s also very good for newbies, as it really does present all kinds of basic Christian stuff that is vibrant and relevant.
Of course CCO’s own Steve Lutz wrote King of the Campus Not an inductive Bible study, but a regular book, so it’s fun to read, without getting bogged down in workbook stuff — but it covers a lot. I think this is just about the best guide for basic Christian living for young adults on college campuses. There’s a great study guide in the back making it useful for discipleship classes, leadership groups, Bible studies or book clubs. He exposes the idols on campus and invites us to ask what it really looks like to have Christ be the King of your campus. Highly recommended.
Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith Preston Sprinkle (NavPress) $14.99 I love this recent book which is just a bit more passionate and serious than Kyle Edelman’s Not a Fan — it invites us to think well, serve passionately, be serious about faith and making a difference as we see ourselves as mini missionaries in all we do. Fantastic, upbeat, exciting, getting us going. It actually came out of some research done by the Navigators (through Barna) asking what people think being a disciple means, what discipleship is, etc.
One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow Scot McKnight (Zondervan) $ 14.99 Well, I had to list something of McKnight, and this is his upbeat book about “whole life discipleship.” Fantastic. His books on the Bible, his book on prayer, his book on fasting, and his New Testament scholarship all have this good edge to them, relating everything to a vision of discipleship. Don’t forget his very important (and quite readable) King Jesus Gospel (Zondervan; $19.99) or the detailed, practical The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others (Paraclete; $16.99.) These are great for anyone pondering the how and why and daily habits of intentional discipleship. Anyway, I think his One.Life is a pretty useful book to read together with a young person wanting to become a more intentional disciple in all of life.
So that’s the “meat & potatoes” of Byron’s response to my inquiry. As I engage with college and university students at various points along the discipleship spectrum, I found these suggestions to be exactly what I needed to be reminded of some great resources but also informed about some things I was unfamiliar with.
I hope these suggestions might be useful for others who are engaged in discipling others…especially young adults and college students. Blessings on your relationships and conversations!