I reached across the aisle to slap Cam an enthusiastic high five. With his tousled red hair and matching beard, he looked like a young Scottish highlander—no doubt his roots reside in Scotland like many New Zealanders. Cam, an Otago University alum, is one of my new teammates who works with Student Life and he had just shared the big picture for the Christian student leaders at their Student Life leadership conference. His words were inspiring: “Trust God that He can do something in a person’s heart that we can’t make happen.” In his thick accent, he added, “How will your life reflect the fact that Jesus is your Lord and King?”
The staff members here in Otago are a high performing team, trusting the Lord for 50 students to accept Christ this first semester. Last year they saw 37 students surrender their lives to God, and in this year’s goal-setting session, each staff member unflinchingly planned to lead multiple action groups, disciple the 17 student leaders, share the gospel message in every appointment and doggedly pursue students to engage with Student Life activities. They are a determined and energetic bunch with big expectations of themselves and of the Lord. I am impressed with their tenacity. What could we possibly have to offer such a high-functioning team?
A couple of weeks ago at our Facilitator School we concentrated on setting an environment for growth. We helped the team clarify their norms and squeezed into a darkly lit room to experientially address walking in the light. We also focused on living in grace and truth rather than performance. The truth is that we need the redeeming and sanctifying work of a Holy Savior. Our weakness forces us to rely on God and exalt His greatness, rather than our own. And THAT is what reflects God. These concepts are crucial to spiritual growth, to avoid “good works” burnout, and to joyfully reflect Christ. More than anything, we want to help the team see the value of being real.
Our Otago teammates have great faith in the Lord, and we want to help them live even more authentically in dependence on Christ. We want to give them the gift of the freedom to fail, that they may see Christ work in their weakness. We want to encourage them to be vulnerable so that they can be truly known and loved for who they are. We also want to give them the tools to minister experientially, in the moment, rather than solely through lecturing or discussion, so that Biblical truths are put to action and practiced.
Dan and I and the Lovejoys were super encouraged to see the Otago team so quickly applying what we had discussed just days earlier. Cam did more than share a bold vision, he took a risk and expressed his humble honesty about his own fears in sharing his faith, and in doing so, the students could relate to him as a fellow human, and no longer felt shackled to an unattainable standard. They could envision themselves in the same boat, taking courage from the Lord in the same way.
Later in the day, Gracie, another staff member, incorporated experiential elements into her talk on the Holy Spirit, and had students write down what they want to be known for, along with the weaknesses that could sabotage their efforts as leaders in ministry. She told the students that “these weaknesses are opportunities to showcase God’s power.”
Our Lifelines team also had the opportunity to lead a night simulation to experientially teach the student leaders about evangelism. The activity involved students hiding in the darkness with unlit candles waiting for their peers to find them and spread the flame. Each student had a role that often happens with evangelism: people respond in various ways to the gospel, the sharers encounter obstacles like unbelief, spiritual warfare, etc. The debrief went long into the night because no one could stop talking about the experience and making connections to real life. This was important because the students were about to enter into a week of intense outreach with the beginning of the semester. The event was a huge success and the Otago ministry wants to repeat it with all of the students who are involved in Student Life.
All of us, our kids included, were excited to spend a weekend away with the student leaders. It was a double blessing to receive such a positive response to our Lifelines activities and to see the staff members incorporate so much of the training we had done with them. We pray that it will make a lasting impact.