Disruption and isolation have been regular experiences for students since early 2020. COVID has taught us that we struggle when we are apart from each other for considerable lengths of time. We all need relationships, connection, interaction, and friendships with people. And we need these to enable the gospel to be shared.
Connecting with Jesus
In John 15 Jesus emphasises the need to stay connected to Him. It is only as we connect with Jesus that we can connect with other Christians and together share and embody the gospel:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. (John 15:5-6)
As his trial and crucifixion nears Jesus is emphatic about the need to remain connected to Him. The words, “apart from me you can do nothing” are sobering. Furthermore, a branch that is separated from the vine becomes worthless and is thrown away.
TSCF staff regularly read and study God’s word with students to help them establish good habits of connecting with Jesus. Often this is done on campus, in one-to-one or triplet meetings, with an encouragement for students to do this with other students.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:51). We need food to keep us alive. I can’t easily recall what I ate for dinner last week, but I know it has kept me alive. And so it is spiritually: being connected to God, through Scripture, prayer and the Holy Spirit, is crucial for fruitfulness.
Connecting with Brothers and Sisters
A vine has many branches, all connected to each other through Jesus, the true vine (John 15:1). Through connection to Jesus, Christians are connected to each other.
Allowing time for people to develop friendships in TSCF campus groups has been important this year. Good friendships within groups are catalysts for health and growth.
TSCF-wide, we do this within campus groups, across cities, and at a national scale. In late-June TSCF students and staff gathered together in Queenstown for Summit, our annual national conference. It was a very special time of being together: worshipping Jesus; growing in God’s word; discipleship; and grappling with campus mission.
Connecting with the lost
Jesus said that those staying connected to Him would bear much fruit. It is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), which shapes our desire to connect with other people. It is by the Spirit that we are enabled to love people and share the gospel in our words and actions.
To embody this, we need to be able to connect well with others. That’s not easily done in the midst of a global pandemic which has led to responses such as physical distancing and online-learning It has been, and still is, a challenging time in student ministry, which relies so much on in-person connections for friendships to grow and deeper conversations about worldviews, spirituality, Jesus and faith to occur.
As we look towards 2023, we pray for more in-person opportunities to be together. We look to God to help us re-grow student connections and friendships. Australian missiologist Mike Frost writes that, “Becoming and being a friend isn’t easy. It takes intentionality and training.” He raises the concern that building good friendships is becoming something of a lost art, and that not doing this well is a risk to the Church’s future. This should also be of concern and interest to our TSCF campus groups and their students.
I’m continually challenged by Paul’s “whatever it takes” mentality of 1 Cor 9:22: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some”.
Living out this verse could begin by simply seeing needs and trying to serve people. In Tauranga, we’ve recently combined serving with hospitality. The University of Waikato’s Tauranga campus opened its first student hostel this year, housing 90 students. Since mid-June our campus group has run a monthly pancake night in the hostel, to bless students. It has been well-received and has helped create connections and enable friendships which lead to the sharing of the gospel. We can all look to meet the needs of people where we live, study or work, so that, “by all possible means we [Christ through us] might save some.”
I encourage us all to “remain in Jesus” for connection with Him and others, bearing fruit as disciples as, together, all followers of Jesus grow God’s Kingdom on earth, connected to the true vine that has come down from heaven.
- David Hodgkinson Waikato/Bay of Plenty Team Leader