Caring For Students in the 2020s

by John Mark Yeats May 14, 2020

Students haven’t changed much in the last 2,000 years. Making sure students are successful in reaching the finish line of graduation has long been the purview of faculty, parents and, of course, the students themselves.

But not all students take to their studies with the same level of diligence. Consider this letter from a worried father to his son in the 14th century:

It is written, ‘He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is also a great waster’. I have recently discovered that you lived dissolutely and slothfully, preferring license to restraint and play to work and strumming a guitar while the others are at their studies, whence it happens that you have read one volume of law while you’re more industrious companions have read several. Wherefore I have decided to extort you herewith to repent utterly of your dissolute and careless ways that you may no longer be called a waster and that your shame may be turned to good repute.[1]

On some level, it’s humorous to see parents just as concerned 600-plus years ago as parents are today to see their student complete his or her training.

As a professor and a dean, every student who enters my classroom or office has a unique set of life circumstances, challenges, and motivations. The confluence of these aspects often frames the approach of each student toward his or her studies. No matter a student’s context, there are a few basic approaches to helping all students attain their goal of being a graduate from a school like Midwestern Seminary or Spurgeon College. These approaches are the same in 2020 as they were in prior generations.

Spiritual Growth is Always the Priority

The true goal of education is to produce change in the heart, mind, and life of the student. As Christians, we want to see the final outcome of that change rooted in a deep theology with intentional Christological contours. Consequently, students at Midwestern and Spurgeon are immersed in classrooms that help integrate Christian faith and learning into every area of life. Whether studying economic principles or missions strategies, we want students to grow deeper in their walk with Christ.

Like prior generations, immersing students in the classic disciplines of fasting, praying, Bible reading, evangelism, and worship is the bedrock of healthy spiritual growth for individual students. For the community as a whole, chapel is a core component of building the spiritual lives of students on campus as communicators drive students deeper into the Word and into their callings. In every way, we aim to have students connect what they are learning in the classroom to who they are in Christ in order to activate their faith and put it on mission for the sake of a lost and hurting world.

Physical Training has a Specific Place

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul uses a powerful illustration of physical training to talk about the process of discipleship. “I discipline my body and bring it under strict control, so that after preaching to others, I might not be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:27). This aspect of development and training in self-control and discipline as part of spiritual growth should not come as a surprise.

Current research trends in education point to the inextricable link between physical fitness and training and academic success. As we “discipline our bodies,” we strive for a balance of healthy eating, sleep, and physical activity. Often when I meet with students who are experiencing high loads of stress, these are some of the things I want to discover about their life patterns. As Generation Z is often considered the “most stressed” or “most anxious” generation, helping these students connect with a healthy balance in life helps them persist in the greater goal of growing in Christ.

Investment from Believers Makes a Difference

No one makes it alone.

In one of the most endearing and moving traditions in the British Premier League, the fans of Liverpool FC join together, arm in arm, and sing at the top of their lungs, “You’ll never walk alone.” This goose-bump inducing part of their club’s liturgy offers a poignant reminder of the power of community and the support of those around you, whether you mark a win or a loss (or even a draw).

Not surprisingly, students who don’t create a network of connectivity struggle in maintaining focus on their studies. One of the essential aspects of engaging students has always been connecting them to community on campus. In the 21st century, this increasingly means helping them disconnect from their digital universe and engage with peers and professors. Walking through buildings on our campus and seeing students praying together, studying the Word together, or serving together shows the empowering realities of Christian community.

The Local Church Provides the Best Foundation for Student Success

Our Student Life team works tirelessly to help students connect in meaningful community with each other, but it can’t end there. A community formed in the seminary or college bubble, while meaningful and often formative for a student, is limited in scope. This is why the place God designed for us to experience community—the local church—is even more essential.

At the end of the day, the best foundation for spiritual care in the life of the student is found in the local church. Through the clear preaching of the Word, paired with worship and service alongside individuals from the broader community, students establish healthy roots that enable their souls to be nourished. When the undergraduate misses home, families in the local church provide a surrogate location to decompress and enjoy home cooking. When the graduate student is stretched thin through the rigors of study and the stress of work, a small group provides support and grounding in ways that no classmate could ever provide. When a student feels isolated, serving the broader community through the local church brings concrete grounding to a student’s life like nothing else can.

This should not surprise us. God’s plan has always been the local church as the foundation for the support of every believer. Students are no different. They need their local church just like you and I do in order to flourish in life as they train and prepare to expand the work of the Kingdom on a global scale.

Students may not have changed much over the centuries, but the task of educating the next generation remains great. Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College are uniquely designed to shape a new generation of men and women to intersect with the culture to highlight the glorious riches of Christ.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of Midwestern Magazine. The full issue can be found online.

Notes

  1. ^ Charles Haskins, “The Life of Medieval Students as Illustrated by Their Letters," in The American Historical Review, Vol 3, no. 2, (1898): 214.