Imagine yourself in the evening setting pictured here. The moonlight paints a glowing stream across the Intracoastal Waterway; you feel a gentle breeze, but more than that, you sense the touch of God’s Spirit. As the praise music fades, you join your friends in silent prayer. Master of Divinity student Isaac Sherry expressed it this way:
Worshiping God in an environment that’s so beautiful, you look up and see the stars. You think, “Wow, God! You really are so good. You made all this, and you still love us. Like, that’s wild.”
Believers of all kinds enjoy that precious service of worship, but on this recent evening, the worshiping group rejoiced with an extra-powerful sense of community. They are Palm Beach Atlantic University, student workers. They are discipleship leaders, upper-level students we call DLs, drawn together in the incomparable bond of a ministry team serving others in Jesus’ name.
“We have an incredible group this year,” said Isaac, discipleship coordinator with Campus Ministries. He leads a team of 10 discipleship leaders, male and female students who lead Bible studies for students in their residence halls.
You’ve probably heard of RAs (resident assistants). We have those too, and they’re invaluable, building community and leading students through the nuts and bolts of living on campus. Discipleship leaders, serving under our Campus Ministries department, have a more specific, spiritual role.
“The idea is to build personal relationships with people in your residence hall, helping take people from the point they were with God to the next point in their spiritual journey,” said Mark Kaprive, director of Campus Ministries. “It’s inviting this generation of students to worship and to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, sharing His love in our community and throughout the world.”
Looking out for those not yet ‘connected’
To that end, each week the discipleship leaders spend several hours preparing and leading Bible studies. They also meet together to plan and gel as a team. And Mark encourages them to “roam,” making connections with students and especially looking out for those who are not yet connected to the community.
“We want people to connect in a way that you can have a significant spiritual conversation,” said Mark. “A lot of students don’t have a friend who knows what life is really like for them on the inside.”
To reach students in this way requires being attentive to the “still, small voice” of God, Mark said. Of course, we all need to develop that attitude and practice. Otherwise, in the busyness of our daily lives, we might walk right past someone who’s quietly carrying a heavy load and desperately needing a friend.
In university life, naturally, those needs are especially important for new students. Anna Kate Vernon, a discipleship leader, and nursing major, recalls how freshman year was a “super vulnerable” time for her. Now she loves serving the students in her residence hall. And as she grows in ministering to them, she sees this fitting in with her major.
“I’m learning how to care for people emotionally and spiritually,” she said. “That’s definitely going to help me when I become a nurse.” Meanwhile, she’s having a lot of fun getting together with her fellow discipleship leaders. “Everyone has such a love and a passion for Christ and for spreading the Gospel,” she said.
Discipleship coordinator Isaac has felt a call to ministry since he was in eighth grade. “It’s what I was created for,” he said. But as Anna Kate demonstrates, you don’t have to be a ministry major to reach out effectively as a discipleship leader.
Committed leaders overflow with Spirit’s fruit
It takes someone “who knows the Bible and can share Scripture with others in a way that’s truthful and impactful,” Isaac said. It takes “a committed follower of Jesus whose life bears the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; so full of these things that it overflows to those around them.”
I love that image and concept of the Holy Spirit’s fruit overflowing from our lives. The result, Isaac said, reaches forward for generations.
“Getting to be a part of something that’s so much bigger than yourself has an impact that literally can change entire families,” Isaac said. Imagine when one student at this critical time in his or her life gets reached for Jesus.
“Then that student ends up having a godly marriage and a godly family,” said Isaac. “That’s a whole family being affected by someone stepping up and being a discipleship leader and pouring into others. You just never know the impact.”
Isaac is right. We never know the total impact of our investment on the lives of others. But as I consider these discipleship leaders and other service-minded young people at Palm Beach Atlantic, I’m convinced their impact is powerful and lasting. And for those students, I am truly thankful.
Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, a physician, researcher, and innovator, is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University. (www.pba.edu)