Discipleship in College: Engaging CommunityMay 26, 2023 2023-05-26 16:58
Discipleship in College: Engaging Community
Discipleship in College: Engaging Community
One of my favorite parts of my experience as a student at Sattler College are the Tea Times. Since the college’s beginning in 2018, this daily event has been a staple of campus life. Every weekday morning during the academic year, Sattler students, staff and faculty gather for 30 minutes of fellowship and refreshment, sipping on hot tea or coffee, and on special occasions, nibbling on biscuits! We sing a song or two together, and then stay for fellowship. But Tea Time is more than just a fun social event (although it is that) – it is an integral part of our Christian discipleship.
Different Aspects of Tea Time
One of the main benefits of Tea Times is the opportunity they provide for community building. Academic study can often be a solo endeavor, and even at a small college, it can be difficult to find time to connect with other students on a deeper level. Some of the best conversations I can remember have happened at Tea Time. I enjoy digesting life and studies together with fellow students here. Sometimes, though, your conversation partner may be a faculty member, or even someone who is visiting campus for the day! The 10:00 AM time slot is the perfect balance between “just had breakfast bleariness” and “pre-lunch productivity peak”, and whether conversations are fun, somber, or prayerful, they all contribute to “iron sharpening iron”. Over the course of my years at Sattler, these encounters have shaped me profoundly.
Tea Times are often inspirational too. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, our singing and socializing are complimented by a “pearl”, which is a short (usually 5-7 minutes) speech. Pearls are not sermons, although they sometimes strike a spiritual chord. Rather, they are short bits of wisdom, beauty, or inspiration, and are meant to be easily digestible. Sometimes they are fun, sometimes thought-provoking. Examples: What do Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh, and Emeril Lagasse have in common? (Answer: they all worked at Boston’s famous Omni Parker House before they became famous). What can Homer’s Odyssey teach us about countering temptation? What is Parkinson’s Law (look it up!), and what can we learn from it about Christian faithfulness in the workplace? All of these facts and ideas I learned at Tea Time. No pearl is like another, and each is meaningful.
What Do Tea Times Have to Do With Discipleship?
How do Sattler Tea Times enhance our discipleship? First, because they are a moment to pause before the God of the universe. It’s hard to communicate just how important this is. Of course, I want to have all of my life at Sattler – including my academic study – be a way to worship and serve my creator. Worship is all-encompassing, or at least it should be. But sometimes, in the throes of the academic semester, its easy to lose focus of just how my Statistics and Data Analytics class is spiritually useful, or how God might be at work in my relationship with a certain roommate. Tea Time is a daily moment to center myself in what is important: God, the people around me, and life in the kingdom. There nothing like a short respite, a worship song, and maybe a bit of laughter to achieve this.
I once heard a story about a man who was asked to describe the sermons he had heard over a lifetime of attending church. “Well” he replied, “I think of it like eating a meal. I’ve eaten more than 14,000 dinners in my 40 years alive, but for the life of me, I can’t recall the contents of more than a handful of them!” “But I’m confident”, he continued, “that each of those dinners nourished me and gave me life, even if I can’t recall the details of each dish.” I feel the same way about Tea Times at Sattler. I remember the details of only a fraction of the 400-plus morning gatherings that I’ve participated in during my time as a student. Yet I know, without question, that they have all been vital to my mental health and spiritual growth during my years as a student.
What We Believe Discipleship in College Should Be
Christian formation is central to the vision of Sattler College, and our heartbeat for it is encapsulated in the phrase “relational discipleship”. Why this term precisely?
Fundamentally, we draw inspiration from the life of Jesus, who invited his own disciples into deep relationship with himself, and inspired growth and obedience through love and belonging. Relational discipleship, at Sattler, is about health and growth in all the important relationships in our lives. First and foremost are our relationships with God. Jesus often “withdrew to lonely places” to pray, Luke tells us, and his connection to the Father was the lynchpin for his ministry on earth. Jesus also fostered close relationships with those around him, especially with his disciples. Finally, from his relationship with the Father, Jesus gave freely to those he encountered, especially the poor and disenfranchised. As followers of Jesus, we seek to emulate his vertical and horizontal relationships. We encounter God through prayer and worship. We open ourselves to those around us, and give unselfishly to the needs of others. Relational discipleship, for us, is about Christian life and growth in the manner of Jesus.
One of the key facts about Christian growth is that it cannot be manufactured. Yes, there are methods by which we open ourself up to the Spirit, and submit to the guidance of Scripture. And there are helpful habits that we can cultivate. Worship, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines are key to the Sattler discipleship experience, just as they have been to Christians for over two millennia. But in the end, all that we can do is to give ourselves to the work of Christ, and to create space for him to move in our lives, to encourage, to convict, and to reform us into his own image.
Tea Time at Sattler is just such a space. It may be a simple tradition, but it is a tradition with a positive cumulative effect. The daily pause to worship, reflect, and socialize has been a pillar in my time as a student. Christian discipleship is inherently relational, and Tea Times at Sattler are a key part of our efforts to become more like Jesus.