A word to my students and former students…

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For the past 9 years, I’ve celebrated the End of Year Banquet with the Discipleship team at Southwestern.  It’s always been a great time of sending off our seniors, thanking our Shepherd team (of leaders), and celebrating our year together.  We held our banquet on Friday night for this year and it held a lot more meaning since I’m leaving Southwestern.  I don’t usually give a speech (thought it occurred to me that I didn’t need to wait until I am leaving to share all of my thoughts), but I realized that I had a few more things that I wanted to say to the team of students that I have identified as such a significant part of my calling for the last 9 years.  So…I started writing a few notes down and it turned into a plea to them (and an apology).  I’m sharing it here, because part of what I discovered in wrapping things up here and in writing these thoughts is that I realize how fleeting the college years are.  I have had nearly 200 students who have been on the Discipleship team in the 9 years in which I’ve been the director.  Most of them were here on campus for 4 years, and I suppose that a part of me is wishing that I could share with them a few more “words of wisdom.”  This is a great number of students, and I’ve so privileged to have been a part of their spiritual lives.  I wish that I could sit down with each of the 200 students and tell them a few things.  Since I have a blog, I decided to share it here.  So…if you’re a Disciplesheep, grab a Diet Coke, make some brownies with frosting, pull out an old T-shirt, and read the following.  Even if you’re not a Sheep, you might find a few things of interest below.  I hope so.  

The Discipleship Banquet is one of my absolute favorite things to do every year!  The opportunity to have you all in one place at the same time, the fellowship that I see between you, the stories shared, the people celebrated, the sacrifices that it took to make it to this place.  It means so much to me.

This time is so special as we send the 4th year team off with love!  We celebrate the way that the 3rd year team has led us, we look at the freaked out faces of the 2nd year team when they think about how they will be the ones running the show next year, and we initiate the 1st year team into some of our traditions.

I have a few things that I really want to say as this time comes to an end.  First of all, don’t squander the opportunities in Covenant Group.  I often see the following:

  • 1st year sees one another as classmates—they didn’t to pick who else is in the group, but they keep showing up all year long.
  • 2nd year sees one another as teammates—they’ve been together for a year, know others strengths, weaknesses and quirks.
  • 3rd year sees one another as friends—by this time, many people are often roommates with one another, they’ve likely gone on a mission trip with one another, they enjoy being together.
  • 4th year sees one another as family—this means that they may joke or fight like brothers and sisters, but through it all, they love each other.

Now, I say this and it’s true for the most part.  However, every year there is someone who doesn’t feel like they “fit in” with the rest of their team.  I would even say that it’s true of the team sitting here in this room.  The feelings of not fitting in with the rest of the team may have been fleeting, or, they may have loomed large over your head all year and it’s still looming.  I have a few things to say to you all about this.

  • Here is what I say to ALL of you:  if one of you feels this way, it’s your job to speak up.
  • To the person who feels like an outsider:  I know it’s hard, but speak up and tell others that you’re struggling.
  • To the person who feels like everyone loves each other and there can’t possibly be someone who doesn’t feel connected, I say to you:  make it your mission to see that is true.  Ask everyone in your group how connected they feel and do what you can to show that everyone DOES feel the same way you do.
  • And to the person who sees the outsider but hasn’t spoken up about it:  you may be in the best place of all to draw someone in.  I pray that you’ll do it.

What’s at risk if you don’t live out the “Family” dynamic?  Well, a lot, I’m afraid.

I’ve watched over the years as students make choices to join Discipleship, participate (sometimes marginally, sometimes fully), step up in their tough 3rd year, and even stick it out in their senior year when things are really crazy.  I’ve seen people respond differently.  Some absolutely count their D-ship experience as one of the most formative things about college.  For others, it was something they enjoyed, but it didn’t form them.  And even for a few others, it felt like a commitment that they kept, but their heart was far from it.

I suppose that this experience is not dissimilar from how many people experience their faith.  There are Christians who follow Jesus passionate, love him sacrificially, and give themselves over to the painful process of becoming a disciple.  There are Christians who participate as long as they’re being fed.  And there are Christians that show up, serve here and there, but seem to be joyless in their faith.

Disciplesheep, please don’t get to the end of your 4 years here and find yourselves in the last category!  I beg of you!  I often say to the 3rd year team, if by the end of your time here, you know a lot about how to run a great program but you don’t know what it means to follow Jesus better, I have failed.  I will confess to you all that there have been times over the last 9 years when I have failed…and failed miserably.  There are alumni out there that I owe an apology letter to…I was too self-absorbed, or busy, or fearful to call it like I saw it and offer a word of loving correction to what I saw happening.  Since they’re not here, let me say this to you all:  don’t get tempted by the structures, the events, the extras that you lose what is at the core of what this program is all about.  Here’s what it’s all about:

  • Love God.
  • Love Others.
  • Serve the World.

That’s it.  I pray that you love God—with your head (that’s why I have you take classes), with your heart (that’s why we meet with covenant groups to grow in intentional relationship), with your hands (that’s why you learn skills by serving on a committee), and with your overall health (that’s why you have an opportunity to have a mentor).

I pray that you love others—your covenant group, your committee, your Shepherd Team, your seniors, your Director, your Campus, your world.  This is why the Fishers of People team exists—to show us how to reach out to our campus.  It’s also why the Social Team exists—to draw us together, help us enjoy one another.  The team that laughs together, knows one another, trusts each other, and cares will go to the moon and back in Christian love and sacrifice.

I pray that you serve the world.  This is why we have a Hands and Feet team and a community partner of an agency or organization in town.  This is why the Kingdom Committee invites us into prayer.  This is why we go on mission every year.

I confess to you all that I have failed in many ways during my time here.  Don’t worry, I don’t beat myself up too badly…God didn’t call me to be successful, he called me to be faithful, and I have been in most ways.  But here’s the point:  y’all, this program is special.  This opportunity to gather each week, to set aside time to pray, to intentionally share, to build trust, to grow, and to even get a scholarship and school credit for it…it’s SPECIAL!  I’ve perhaps failed the most because I’ve neglected to remind you all of that.  Please hear me now if you’ve never heard me before:  this is an opportunity to experience more love—from God, for God, from others, and for others.  It’s an opportunity to grow in your understanding of holiness.  You may not have much appreciation for holiness at this point in your life, but I do.  J  Holiness is the thing that makes us look more like Jesus.  It’s the way that my life can be poured out on behalf of a hurting world.  It’s the goal of “being perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.”  It’s not holier than thou, it’s not perfectionism, it’s taking steps to willingly lay down my human earthly desires and take on the mind of Christ, do his work in the world, and experience a peace of Christ that satisfies.  It is my hope and prayer for you and for the world, that we would be the people that God has called us to be.  It’s more than that, though.  It’s that we would allow the Holy Spirit to ruin our lives for God.

The other thing that I would say at this time has to do with your involvement in the local church.  I get it.  Most churches don’t get you very well.  They don’t help visitors engage well, they don’t have many opportunities to connect with you now or just after college, the sermons or the music may feel a little irrelevant.  However, let me offer you a challenge:  if you don’t like it, maybe it means that you should keep searching for another church who can engage you better, but it may just mean that you need to step up and help them make some changes!  You guys graduate from here with a boatload of great experiences.  They may not be that visible to you right now, but if you’re here in the program for at least 3 years, you’ll have the opportunity to lead your peers (maybe even some older than you), run a meeting, keep a budget, learn about communication, verbalize your faith story, write and lead a devotion, write and lead a bible study, and help to meet a need in the world.  This is gold, people!  You have valuable experience, perspective, and wisdom.  Add humility to the mix and what you can do in the world—especially in the CHURCH world—is unstoppable.  You need a Christian community through which you can live out your faith and the Church needs you and the gifts that you bring.  It’s a win, win.  You can start this now by connecting with a church—even if it’s not perfect—and opening yourself up to what God wants to do through his Body here on earth.  And then, when you graduate, find a place and plug in.  Don’t withhold the gifts that you have to offer Christ and the world.

Well, this is a whole lot of pressure—on you to receive my passionate plea in my last days here at Southwestern, and for me to say everything that I want to say.  But it’s actually not.  I really think that what it can be boiled down to is this:  I love you.  God loves you.  Now go and rest in that knowledge.  Be good to yourself—receive the Grace that God has offered you through Jesus Christ and extend it to others.  That’s the other important part—love one another.  Love the people in this room, but love the world, too.  Jesus said it in John 17 (his Farewell Discourse) that the world would know that he came from God by the unity of the believers.  It’s so true.  I pray that you would be unified in him.  The world without hope need to be reminded of that truth.

I’m so grateful for the privilege of knowing you all!  Each of you!  Some it’s been a brief time and for others it may feel like forever!    BUT, I am a richer person for having known each and every one of you.  As I wrap this up, I just want to say, if you get nothing else, Love God.  Love Others.  Serve the World.  If you get this, you get everything.

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About ashleealley

I am the Clergy Recruitment and Development Coordinator for the Great Plains United Methodist Church. I particularly enjoy helping people see what God is calling them to do and knowing how to respond to that. I'm an ordained deacon in the UMC. When I'm not deacon-ing, I run, or read, or spend time with family or friends.
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One Response to A word to my students and former students…

  1. Ashlee……..Congratulations on a job well done from your parents’ perspective! You have invested yourself totally to these young adults
    and this critical program. God has definitely walked with you on this journey and your family has been blessed to witness your time and energy and love put into it. May He continue to walk with you as you have answered the call to another step in His plan for your life! Much love……Mom and Dad

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