Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September Update

The past month flew by.  Everything is fast paced at the beginning of school and there is a lot to do.  I'm just going to touch on the highlights:

UNT/TWU Corefa Prep

On August 17th and 18th we gathered the UNT & TWU small group leaders, known as corefas (core facilitators), and prepared for the start of school.  (UNT =University of North Texas; TWU=Texas Woman's University).

We started things off by introducing the theme for the year: Break Every Chain.  Click here to read a little about our theme meaning.  I read all of Psalm 107 to the group because it gives a fuller picture of how over and over God delivered his people out of the suffering that they brought upon themselves.  Still today we make decisions that bind us to ungodly things, preventing us from having a full relationship with God.  To help illustrate this point for the student leaders we tied bricks to their arms for most of our Saturday session (so for about 8 hours).  Then at the end of the day we cut each other's ropes to signify God using us to break each other's chains.  When someone cut another's rope, they looked them in the eyes and said, "The Lord has snapped your chains!  Let's give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and the wonderful things He has done for you and me!" (Psalm 107:14-15 NLT, adapted).

That weekend was primarily targeted on Welcome Week to equip the leaders to meet and develop friendships with as many other students as possible.  It was so neat to hear the group of student leaders share about their excitement to reach out to their classmates.  I like to have a discussion of strategies and advice sharing so that the upper classmen can share what they've learned with the new leaders.  Plus hearing so many of their fellow leaders share about their willingness to devote their first two weeks to meeting as many people as possible is simply inspirational.  Wouldn't you feel much more encouraged to do something after hearing a room full of your peers say they are on board with it?  That speaks a lot louder than anything I can say to them!

The other major goal of the weekend was to get the leaders thinking about their visions for the year.  I asked them to think through what our mission here at UNT and TWU is.  The mission is to offer our best attempt at making and maturing disciples to the glory of God.  Then I asked them to think through all of the fears they have; what are the things that prevent them from working toward that mission?  After giving them some time to write these down, I asked them to answer another question: "What would it look like if you weren't afraid of any of those things?"  I think this helps them to visualize themselves personally trying to make disciples, with the added thought that they are doing it despite any personal obstacles normally in their way.  What would it look like for them to conquer their personal fears?  During worship that evening, after we broke each other's "chains", we had a time where we shared these visions with each other.  It was very cool.

One more thing that really impacted me that weekend is seen in the following photo.  This was taken 30 minutes after our 10 hour day of meeting, which concluded at 10pm and we were going to meet again the next day.  It amazes me how even after sitting together for that long and being mentally exhausted through discussion and lecture, they still want to spend time with each other.  I wanted to take a picture of it for you to see.

Welcome Week

Welcome Week was INTENSE.  It is the most exhausting week of the year.  It is also arguably the most important.  The universities both put on various events each year for the new freshman and transfer students to integrate into the campus communities.  For the most part our students just attend those events to meet new people each year.  FOCUS plans a couple of events on top of that when there aren't any university events planned.  So the staff, student leaders, and many of the other members in our ministry try to cast our nets wide during this time full of opportunities.  It's all about meeting people, attempting to purposefully develop a friendship with them, and seeing what God does next.  A lot is revealed over the next few weeks and months.  If we aren't diligent in making friends during Welcome Week, the door of opportunity closes quite a bit.  Not that it's impossible, but it is a lot easier to make friends at the beginning of the year when everyone is specifically looking for new friends.  That's when the soil is most fertile!

Anyway it seems like our students did a great job this year.  I can't wait to see what comes out of their hard work.  I look forward to hearing stories of changed lives later in the year!

First FNF

Last Friday was our first official big group meeting for the year.  I'm not exactly sure how many people were there, but I saw a lot of new faces.  Afterward I was able to meet many of them too which was really exciting.

During the sermon time I talked about the history of our ministry and the original vision that Ronnie, a pastor of the church family which supports us, had in 1989 to plant a college ministry at UTD, which led to the ministry plant at UNT.  I shared some of our core values with them like our unity being built on "Jesus is Lord", our mission of making and maturing disciples to the glory of God, some of our major discipleship tools being core groups (titled as such because they are the core of our ministry and a great way of developing Godly community) and one-on-one Bible study.

I also introduced the theme to them, but I think I've already sufficiently explained that to you!

All Corefa Retreat

This past weekend on Sunday and Monday we had a corefa retreat for all of our campuses (UTD, Collin College, Richland College, UNT, and TWU).  It may seem odd to have this two weeks after our previous "Corefa Prep" where we gathered the student leaders together.  While the purpose of the Corefa Prep was to prepare for Welcome Week, the purpose of the All Corefa Retreat was to prepare the hearts of the student leaders for the whole year.  Our philosophy is that if we invest a lot into our student leaders, they will be much more successful at ministering to their peers.  They can do far more ministry than our small staff can do, especially if they are adequately equipped both mentally and emotionally.

We packed a lot into this retreat so I won't go into all of it, because it would easily double what I've already written.  Here is a quick summary though:

  • We listened to some TED talks by Brene Brown on vulnerability and shame.  She explains how necessary it is for us to be vulnerable to each other despite how uncomfortable and unnatural it feels, especially as leaders.  Overall I think this resonated with the students the most.  I would encourage you to check out the videos as well if you have a chance!  They may prove beneficial.
  • We set up 10 "Heart of  Leader" stations around the room that involved various activities to help them think through different aspects of leadership at the heart level.  The list includes: Humility, Going Deep, Being a Servant, Submission, Genuine, Forgiving, Taking Action, Courage, Compassion, and Loving God.
  • We had some other talks focusing on being a disciple-maker, thinking evangelistically toward non-Christians, and the cost of discipleship.  
  • A large chunk of time was spent going over core planning, various resources, and other practical advice on being a successful leader.


So going forward things will be starting to settle into a routine.  This week our core groups will be starting so please be in prayer over that.  Specifically pray that God will work through the student leaders to minister to whoever shows up to their group.  Soon many of the corefas will be starting up one-on-one Bible studies with the students they've met.  Also coming up on Sept. 21 will be our Fall Park Day.  The purpose of this event is to invite all of the new people in our ministry and try to better incorporate them into the whole ministry.  Usually they will have only really developed friendships within their core or they may have only been attending our big group meetings on Friday nights (which are not the best place to develop close relationships with others).  The students will be simply spending time together playing games and hanging out for the bulk of the time.  Of course we will ask our corefas to use that time purposefully to connect new people with other people in the ministry.  The day will be concluded with a cookout, worship, a few students sharing about the impact the ministry has had on their lives, and an extended communion service where we share with each other some thoughts about Jesus.  Please be in prayer over that time, because it usually is the time when new students will decide to get serious about their involvement in FOCUS, core, their one-on-one study, etc.

Thank you so much for everything you do to make all of these things possible for the students.  I couldn't make nearly as much of an impact without your support, even if it's just your thoughts and prayers.  I appreciate it when people just take the time to read my blog!

Yours for the Campus,