In my previous post, we talked about potential areas of awkwardness for students when they come home for the holidays. I gave you one idea to bless them. Here I want to give you five thoughts to keep in mind as you have conversations with these students.
- Be aware of their potential discomfort. Any time you have been away from something for a few months, it is going to be a little bit odd to reengage with it. This could be anything from a job to relationship with a neighbor, parents, friends…or you. You may be excited to see each other, but it doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t a bit awkward at this point. There is a lot that happened in your lives apart from each other that, well, is simply impossible to share over one cup of coffee. For students to try to articulate everything they went through emotionally, physically and psychologically is daunting, to say the least. That to say, I would recommend intentionally keeping this in mind and embrace the reality that you are going to leave this meeting not knowing everything…but that doesn’t mean it is not meaningful.
- Ask direct/specific questions. Asking an open ended question like, “So, how was your semester?” can be overwhelming and lead to them feeling like they can’t connect with you. To think through and articulate everything in that short of time is too much, and your students can leave feeling like their life is too separated from you. I’ve found it’s much better to ask specifically about their roommate, favorite class, closest friend at school, involvement on campus ministry (or lack of), favorite or most frustrating class, or even if it’s a bit awkward for them to come back home…things like that. These types of direct and specific questions allows you to really connect, on at least some levels.
- Share about your personal life. You pursuing your students for a time of coffee or lunch will likely be great, but it can come across as formal – or maybe even an “accountability time” from their perspective. This can be okay, but I’ve found it’s MUCH better if you take the “pastor” hat off and share about yourself. Now is the time to intentionally begin to treat them like a friend, especially if they were in your high school ministry. This can really bridge any separation and kill any awkwardness they may be feeling about their “home church.” Sharing about your own struggles, doubts, family life, etcetera can be a great next step for your relationship – as long as you don’t dominate the conversation!
- Ask for prayer request. At the end of your conversation specifically ask them for ONE thing you can pray for them about. This let’s them know they don’t leave your mind as soon as they leave, and let’s them know your relationship means more to you than just being a part of your job! Periodically over the next few months make sure you send them a text message or six letting them know you’re still praying.
- Ask them if they’re being encouraged. You could get a whole spectrum of answers on this one, but it’s a great question to ask. Some might break into tears, while others will simply be encouraged you asked. Either way, I’ve found it to be a great question to ask. It can also give you insight into areas where you can personally encourage them. Some will be more open about this than others, but you may want to ask them specifically how their relationship is with their parents, an ex, their best friend they had in high school, etc.
- Chuck / @chuckbomar