By Sam Garner
Vice President for Spiritual Development, York College
Though York College sits in the middle of the Great Plains, our students regularly arrive here from over twenty states and at least a handful of other countries. They represent a wide array of cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds, which contradicts our otherwise rural Nebraska setting. Because of this diversity, our student body relocates to York each August with an array of stories, representing the intricate contexts that have formed each of them. Our college’s mission is “to transform lives through Christ-centered education.” From the moment I arrived on campus five years ago, my primary task has been to consider what an intentional process of discipleship that leads to transformation entails on our diverse campus.
After I arrived in Nebraska, I quickly realized that most of our transformation occurred in informal experiences, which can be powerful. For example, students’ close relationships with faculty, coaches, and other students can lead to deep, ongoing conversations about faith. Similar to other small schools, York College fosters an environment where people on campus develop tight bonds with each other. These relationships offer the students immense opportunities to grow as disciples. Relying on informal experiences, however, is not enough. We do not possess enough faculty and staff to form deep relationships with each of our students. Also, despite our best efforts, mentoring relationships alone are limited. Our students’ diverse backgrounds create barriers that we as faculty and staff cannot always overcome through informal relationships.
I joined a Mission Alive cohort because I sought to address the lack of an intentional discipleship process in my own ministry context. What I discovered was that I needed to be discipled myself if I was to cultivate a movement in my own context. Each week last fall and winter I gathered with a group from around the country and sought to discern both the presence of God in my life and how I might adequately respond. This was not a foreign concept to me, but it was the first time that I received continual accountability and encouragement to make necessary changes. In my discipleship cohort I discovered a safe, yet challenging environment to pursue my own growth as a Christian with intentional purpose.
This past January I led four different cohorts at York College. These groups were intentional opportunities for our students, and some faculty and staff, to discern their response to God’s presence in their own lives. No matter the cultural, racial, and religious background, each participant was able to develop important rhythms of spiritual disciplines. I have sought to establish the same safe, yet challenging environment of my own cohort experience for the diverse group of participants here. A few of the students, and a faculty and staff member, will begin training this fall to lead their own cohorts. We have discovered that when we expect God to be active in our lives and seek him through consistent rhythms, then we can begin to process together how our diverse stories are becoming a part of God’s story.
If participating in a group like this interests you, all you need to do is go to Mission Alive’s site and read more about their Discipleship Cohorts. They are making a difference!