Thursday, February 2, 2012

Student Leadership Season

Because I am writing this without an outline of some sort, or some point that I'd like to make, the shape of this post may not be as nice as some of the others,

Student Leadership is something that is talked about often and promoted a lot on campus, both by Student Life staff and by students. Leadership development is something that likely was advertised to you when you were looking at the university and it is most definitely something you have come into contact with as a student. Student leaders are everywhere, they lead your UNIV 101 small groups, they greet you in the collegium, and they run your dorm meetings or bible studies (discipleship groups). You would have to be a very specific type of student* to not interact with student leaders, and personally I think that "forced" interaction is great.

Now, a couple months ago something I like to call "Student Leadership Season" (SLS) started. In November of every year applications for leadership positions for the next year open up. Looking ten months into the future while you are at the same time deciding which classes to take in less than two months is slightly terrifying. If the process wasn't complicated I would suggest (as I have often internally suggested) that they push leadership applications back a bit. But what this early consideration period allows us is a time of contemplation, of evaluation, and prayer before committing to our decisions.

This also gives us time to weigh into our friend's decisions, to help them figure out what it is they would like to do, where their strengths lie, and if you're a good friend where they should steer clear of. As a goal-oriented person I like to know where I am headed ASAP, but I also like to take some time to consider where I feel God is leading me. While I don't want to open up a theological debate about God's will and free will, I will say that I believe it is pretty clear that there are decisions we can make that can help further God's Kingdom in big ways and choices that would do so in smaller ways. As students are seeking after these student leadership positions I hope that these things have crossed most people's minds.

Now, let's backtrack to the friend's responsibility for a moment. First, social protocol changes during SLS, it is now nearly mandatory to ask your friends if (or what) they are applying for for student leadership next year. Just like after Summer or Christmas you have to ask how their break was (even when you know they'll say "good"), you must now ask which positions people are applying for. And then you have a choice to make, you can choose to react in an honest way or in the "Christmas was good" way. Personally I try to err on the side of honesty, because nothing is more awkward than filling out a reference for a student who you don't think would be ideal for the position they are applying for.
I am not in any way discouraging these interactions, in fact I do it all the time. There are a couple of good reasons for it. First, you are encouraging the person that you think they have leadership potential. Secondly, when they have more than one position you have the opportunity to encourage them further in at least one of them. Thirdly, you get the chance to hear what others have to say about your leadership skills and potential and what they have to say about which roles they think your personality fits. When I started writing this I chose not to talk about which roles I am applying for, but because I feel confident in the steps I have taken I will disclose them for the sake of this example which I think demonstrates this really well. Sometime last month I was talking with a friend I hadn't seen in a while and she asked me what I was applying for. I responded with RA and SOSC. She then said "You would be such a great SOSC." It was really good to hear that because up until then I had been receiving encouragement in the RA role I was applying for, but this person obviously thought I was better suited for the SOSC role. Now, this was good to hear because it made me think about two things, not everyone thinks I am a good fit for the RA role, and some people think I would make a good SOSC.

Soon we will be in the post-season of Student Leadership and the verdicts will be out. Some people will be offered multiple roles, some will be offered one and others may not be offered any. My encouragement as we are getting through interviews and heading very soon into the post-season is that these are just man made appointments, not to take away from the great things you can do with these roles. But consider what God can do with you and for others in each of these roles, if you are offered three or offered zero God is not limited to using you as one type of student leader or a student leader at all. Just yesterday I realized that one of my really good friends isn't a "student leader" but it took me all year to realize this (and half way through a conversation with him about leadership at that). He has made more of a difference in the lives around him this year than I think many student leaders do with their roles all year.

And if you are one of those people who doesn't get a position, remember this verse, I hope I will: 1 Thes 5:16 "Be joyful always"

So, don't feel limited and don't try to take too much control in this time. God has a plan, and His plan includes using you for His purpose. Take comfort in that and move forward in faith.


Example from earlier:
*This is the best type of person I could come up with in my minds that could avoid significantly interacting with a student leader: A transfer student with enough credits to not take UNIV 101, who commutes because they are old enough to not live in on-campus housing and never visits a collegium.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

New Semester, New Beginning - and how the Sabbath fits into that

It is now the second week of our new semester here at TWU, the Spring '12 semester. With everyone now settled back into their dorms or temporary homes in the Langley area, classes are off to a great start - with very few lost student stories as far as I know.

Everyone I know seems to be pretty content with their classes, and everyone feels pretty confident that they will do well this semester (often qualified by saying something along the lines of "better than last semester"). However, we all know that in three months from now, when papers are due and exams are approaching, that our self-confidence in our academic abilities will plummet. All of a sudden we (generalizing the student population here) will feel over our heads and will regret a lot of the decisions we made over and over all semester (like staying up until 2 am every night doing nothing). In first, and even second year, I would get into this thinking that I somehow slipped past the system and I wasn't actually smart enough to be here. Now I figure that if I somehow outsmarted the system this long I would be smart enough to be here.

So my plan this semester to avoid that thinking is two-fold. First, get AS MUCH homework done as I can while I still have this insane motivation to do well. Since I have this motivation I should use it, and hopefully if I use it enough the momentum will last longer. Secondly, focusing on my favourite piece of scripture while I am in this negative mindset that tends to creep in during the end of a semester. Micah 7:8 says "Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light." Or as a popular song from the 90s called "Tubthumpin'" said "I get knocked down, but I get up again, you're never gonna keep me down." So whether you are spiritual or musical, you now have a saying in your pocket that you also can use.

This semester I have decided to take a semester off of participating in a theatre production, my first semester in two years. What that means is that I now have approximately 24-30 hours more free time per week. So with all that free time I decided that now would be a good time to seriously ramp up my academics, and of course add all these other things I have wanted to do. On top of doing my 18 semester hours, I am leading a men's small group, going to The Challenge, working, taking piano lessons, being a member of the theatre club A7E, and looking into helping with the junior high students at my church. Now, when I see this I think "completely manageable," but I know that future Thomas is going to possibly think "dumb" at the end of the semester if I'm not careful.

So what I am doing, and what I encourage you all to do is to reconsider what you want to pour your life into this semester. Because it is not that we aren't capable of great things, but we aren't capable of doing our best if we don't leave any time for rest in there somewhere. Last night in my small group we talked about the Sabbath and what that could/should mean to us and I really appreciated the conversation. It is very humbling to think that God has given us 1/7th of our week to rest (that's just over 14% of our week).

In Adele Calhoun's book "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us" she says "Sabbath is God's way of saying, 'Stop. Notice your limits. Don't burn out.'" At my church on Sunday we talked about being in God's will and part of that is accepting and being faithful to where God has placed you right now. We are very privileged people; we have the opportunity to go to an amazing Christ-centered university in a beautiful, free country. However, we still burn out.Calhoun says later in the chapter on Sabbath that "[The Sabbath] is a day that [God] gives us to remember who and what work is for, as well as what matters most."

So as we enter this new semester I would challenge you all to take a look at what it is you're planning on accomplishing, whether or not that is possible, and how much time you have factored in for rest. It sounds pretty simple, and it is on paper, but try and stick to that schedule for a week and you will soon notice that it isn't as easy as it looked on paper.