It is not difficult to look at our families and see the influence of technology on our identities at all ages: toddlers asking Alexa to play Baby Shark, the viral influence of the bottle flip challenge, teenagers with Instagram selfies, the virtual note-passing world of Snapchat, and parents sharing their child’s first and everything on Facebook.
Technology offers us beautiful ways to be connected, to make life simpler, and to grow in knowledge. However, families need to be engaging in conversations about how identity is often silently being shaped by technology.
Andy Crouch, in his book Tech Wise, articulated these words,
“Technology in its proper place helps us bond with the real people we have been given to love. It’s out of its proper place when we end up bonding with people at a distance.”
True identity grows in an environment built on trust, respect, and love where your behavior, words, and emotions can be shared with others face-to-face. Technology’s broad assortment of communities can deceive us into feeling known and lead us away from authentic relationships toward loneliness, isolation, and a loss of self.
Take time this month to pay attention to your family’s interaction with technology and how you are engaging with the growing smorgasbord of options in your home, on the road, or in your hand. Watch each other to discover how technology is being a positive or negative identity influence.
Is it helping with eating healthy, monitoring exercise, keeping you punctual, and encouraging learning? Or is it creating a disconnect in family relationships or promoting a lack of eye contact and respect and an increase in laziness?
Cultivate a culture in your home of regular unplugging from technology to turn away from the noise of society and the words of strangers to focus on the source of our true and everlasting identity.
God, you are…
Remember God’s character by creating a list of words from the Bible that describe Him.
God, I am…
We are image bearers of God. How do you see God’s image growing in each other’s lives?
God, we will…
Pray for God’s guidance to see where your identity in Him has been shaken. Ask Him to reveal a course to correct it.
In the coming weeks many of our students will be returning to school. Some will return to the schools they were in last year, while others are starting afresh on a new campus, or in a new building with new teachers and new classmates.
No doubt some of them are finding this season to be fraught with difficulty, while others may be elated by the chance to reconnect with old friends, or make new friends. Regardless of where they are on the emotional spectrum, we wanted to share this prayer of blessing as they continue on in their calling as students in this season of life.
Whether you have kids or not, we invite you to pray this prayer over all of our students.
Father in heaven, the start of every school year brings with it a mix of emotions. With so many changes that can be both overwhelmingly joyful and unbearably sorrowful, we pray that you would be found to be the unchanging God who remains constant in a world of ever changing variables.
Lord, as our students enter their schools may they know that you are already there and that you have gone before them. If they go to chemistry class, behold you are there. As they ride the school bus, you are also there. When they enter the locker room, indeed you are there.
But may they not simply be aware of your presence in their lives. May they also see your glory and your hand at work in the subjects that they study. May they see your beauty in their art classes. May they see the glory of your creation in biology. May they see your providential hand in world history. May they see your creative brilliance in mathematics.
And in all of this, may they see your great love as they grow in the knowledge of you and your world.
We pray that this year would be a year of relational, intellectual, moral, cultural, and spiritual renewal for our students and for those that they come in contact with. May they come to see the beauty and truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ that tells of the good news that we have not just been saved from something, but that we have been saved for something. May they live as your “sent ones” in the world as they display your goodness, proclaim your truth, and live out your mission.
Oh Lord, may this year be used by you to equip our students to more faithfully and fruitfully love and serve others for the common good of all and to the glory of your name.
We pray this in the name of Christ and for his glory.
In college, you become an adult. At least, that’s what they tell you.
But sometimes, I wonder if that’s true. I know just last month, I had popcorn and carrot sticks for dinner.
Nevertheless, my undergraduate education is in the rear view mirror. And I managed to leave school with good friends, great memories, some savings, and a degree.
Not too bad, if you ask me.
In the next month, thousands of freshmen will begin their college careers at campuses across the country. And a good number of students from our church will head off to the places God has called them to learn and grow.
It’s an exciting time. But in the midst of the frantic activity that accompanies this period of incredible change, it can be easy to neglect long-term planning. Few people take intentional steps to cultivate their mental, emotional, and relational health while at college.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Here are four things first-year students can do in their first five days on campus to ensure that their time at school is healthy, balanced, and well spent.
1. ESTABLISH A RHYTHM
Habits are easy to form, harder to break, and impossible to avoid. Given time, everyone develops a rhythm. In your first five days at school, think carefully about your routine. How will you fill your day?
If your first few nights end on YouTube at 3am, chances are high that you’ll have a nocturnal semester. If you spend those early afternoons at the gym, your odds of uncovering that six pack by Spring Break will dramatically increase. If you go to church your first Sunday, you’ll keep going. If you don’t, you probably won’t start. Habits are like that. They develop quickly and sometimes unintentionally.
There are many ways to craft a routine. The worst way is without any thought.
Be deliberate about what you do during your early days on campus. Establish an enjoyable, sustainable, and healthy schedule. In November, you’ll be thankful you did.
2. TEXT NEW PEOPLE
It will be impossible to accurately describe the things you’ve done and the people you’ve met to your high school besties. So don’t. Stop texting them so often. Live where you are.
Too many first-year students avoid the healthy social awkwardness that accompanies new places and unfamiliar people by doubling down on their digital relationships with old friends. Don’t make that mistake. Old friends are good. But new friends are worth making. And your first five days at college present an unequaled opportunity for beginning new relationships. Everyone’s looking for friends. New bonds are easily formed.
This incredible social openness only lasts a little while. Don’t waste your time.
Join clubs and attend events. Get new numbers. Make plans. Do fun and fascinating things on your new campus with new people. Then, you’ll have good stories to share when you see your old friends at home during Thanksgiving Break.
3. GET REAL WITH YOUR ROOMIE
Dorm life and international flights have a lot in common. Both involve sharing a small space for a long time with a relative stranger. Though polite conversation can make the first hours pass pleasantly, the moment comes when you realize you’re stuck with the person next to you until the trip is over.
You’ll be living with your college roommate for the next eight months. The honeymoon will end. Friction is coming. Start preparing now.
Many take time to get to know their college roommate in their first few days on campus. But few establish healthy lines of communication that will facilitate successful coexistence over the long run.
Though it’s exciting to explore a roommate’s past loves, favorite movies and biggest regrets, the discussion must progress. It’s important to determine how you will approach each other with frustrations, to set expectations for borrowing items and inviting guests into your space, and to schedule regular times to address simmering conflicts or to clean common areas.
These discussions aren’t always fun. But they’re the kinds of conversations that make long-term relationships work.
Healthy communication with your roommate will go a long way in guaranteeing that your first year on campus is absent from unnecessary conflict and stress.
4. REFLECT THOUGHTFULLY
College will change you. Expect it. Exposure to new ideas and people brings transformation.
But not all change is good change.
Before the semester has time and space to shape you, sit down with a pen and paper. Give yourself 10 minutes. Write down who you want to be, what you’d like to do, and how you want to interact with others. And be honest. This exercise is worthless if you aren’t.
This written record of your aspirations and values won’t be useful for a few months, so store it someplace safe. But after some time has passed, pull it out and read it. See if you’re still on track to be the person you wanted to be.
Maybe your goals have changed. If they have, ask why. Use this document to assess if your new perspectives and ambitions are for better or for worse.
A college student who reflects on who they are and how they are changing is a rare thing. Making this small effort during your first five days on campus could pay huge dividends, allowing you to use your four years on campus to bring about the type of maturity and growth you’ve wanted when you began.
College life flies by fast. Your first five days will be over before you know it.
Enjoy them. Fill them. And use them wisely. Take time to do what’s meaningful and healthy. A little bit of thinking and effort at the beginning can save you from a whole lot of problem solving at the end.
I first began seriously considering vocational ministry when I was a junior in high school. I began to sense a calling to student ministries, in part because of the positive influence of both my middle and high school pastors. “I want to do for others what Brandon and Dan did for me,” I thought.
By the beginning of my senior year, I was convinced of the path that lay ahead: college at a Christian institution to study the Bible, seminary training, and then the pastorate. Only one pesky detail remained before my “perfect plan:” one more year of high school.
The sad truth, as I reflect upon it now, is that my “Sunday to Monday gap” significantly widened upon my decision to pursue pastoral ministry. By “Sunday to Monday gap,” I mean my faith convictions professed on Sunday did not inform or influence my decisions or actions on Monday, or the rest of the week.
In other words, I was perpetuating what is far too common in the church: the disconnect between my faith and my work, which at the time consisted of history and English classes. As a consequence, I was less motivated during my senior year than before. I developed a dangerous attitude toward my education, thinking, “What will I need calculus for when I’m serving God as a youth pastor?” I thought I was honoring God by answering a call to serve him as a pastor, but in the interim, I was dishonoring God by ignoring my call to serve him in my current vocation as a student.
The reality for students, from kindergarten to grad school and beyond, is that their primary work is school. All activity, paid or unpaid, apart from leisure or rest is meaningful and sacred work. But often, as evidenced by my personal testimony, Christian students don’t view school this way. Instead, school is at best viewed as a utilitarian means to an end, or at worst a mandated sentence to be endured.
Thus, as my understanding of a proper theology of work grew, I purposed to make it part of my work with students to help them see value and purpose in their work as students. I don’t have it all figured out, but here are three simple practices I integrate into my ministry with students that I encourage parents and anyone who interacts with youth to embrace:
- Celebrate school instead of disparaging it
Students are often workquick to complain about school: a difficult subject, a tough teacher, the early mornings, and on and on. In a well intended effort to enter their world, youth leaders and parents often subtly encourage this negative attitude toward school.
Questions such as “What’s your least favorite subject?” or “Have you been caught this year texting in class?” can produce short-term wins—“they get it, school is the worst”—but ultimately result in the long-term loss of the disconnect between the faith of that student and their work in the classroom.
Instead, we should acknowledge the real and frustrating challenges of school while seeking to convince students of its worthiness through celebrating the parts that are good.
To do this, you actually have to know the good parts: Is there a teacher they like and find compelling? A subject they are mastering? An extracurricular activity that is giving them life? Our job as a mentor, parent, and leader is to enter into their lives, ask good questions, and then celebrate those things with our students.
- Teach about the idea of school as work
How well does your instruction or teaching to the students in your life prepare them for what they spend the majority of their time doing? Important issues such as dating and sex, friendship, technology, etc. are worthy and helpful. But students spend more than 40 hours a week engaged in their work of school. Isn’t that worthy, too?
Point them to Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,” with this driving question: “What if God were your teacher?” Sprinkle in stories from your time as a student, and challenge the students in your life to start seeing their schooling as one of the primary places they follow and obey Jesus.
- Begin a conversation about future work
While I believe it best that everyone remain a lifelong learner, no one does (or should) remain a lifelong student. So while it is important to convince students of the significance of their current work, it is equally important to begin a conversation about what their future work will be. Engaging in the discussion of future work will help create an environment where all work is discussed, and hopefully, celebrated.
As you begin this conversation, remember not all high school students should go to college. While many students will attend college, others will need to know the value of gaining trade skills that help society in invaluable ways. And, there are other worthy paths beyond college and trade school, too, such as the armed forces, or entering the workforce immediately after high school. It won’t be one-size fits all, and that’s a good thing.
Be a mentor for upperclassmen as they discern next steps. Ask them diagnostic questions: What are you curious about? What comes naturally to you that others seem to struggle with? What threads of interest have been most consistent to this point in your life? Then, speak the truth of what you see in your student and offer to pray with them.
More broadly, with students of all ages, ask them what they want to do when they finish school. You might be tempted to think this is too “young” of a question for middle or high school students, but you’d be surprised how much they are thinking about this. When I asked this question in the middle of a message in our youth group, it gave me the opportunity to affirm the vocation and work of stay-at-home mothers as one young woman shared that she wants to be a mom when she grows up.
As parents, student ministries leaders, and anyone who interacts with youth, one of our jobs is to care about how our students view their education as work. We can help contextualize the wealth of resources available about faith and work in a way that helps our students as they walk through seasons of school, transition, and discovery. Let’s work at implementing these three practices and continue to explore how to best help students connect their Sunday faith to their Monday (home)work.