How To Build A Deeper Relationship With Your Student

How To Build A Deeper Relationship With Your Student

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How To Build A Deeper Relationship With Your Student

I cannot tell you the amount of time I spend with students talking about their family. Although I specialize in conversations on faith, we do not often make it far before family of origin comes up. According to a 2017 study done by the Pew Research Center, sixty-nine percent of Americans identified family when asked what provided them with a sense of meaning. In comparison, only twenty percent claimed that spirituality and faith did the same. In a generation that is becoming less and less religious at an alarming rate, with thirty-one percent of Generation-Z claiming no religious affiliation, it is important to know how to engage our students well and meet them where they are.  This is where you come in.

Family relationships may be the most challenging relationships we encounter, but what we have learned from above is that no matter how much baggage our familial relationships hold, our students still crave connection with their family. If there is anything I have learned as I have gotten older is that parents crave that connection with their child as well, yet may not feel equipped in ways to engage their college student well in their new phase of live. My hope in this short article is to give helpful tools to you as family on how to engage your student in purposeful conversation, to not only build your relationship, and to strengthen your and your student’s faith. 

Listening Well

Jesus must have had some tired feet because throughout His three-year ministry He did a lot of traveling. What this has taught me is that Jesus was constantly meeting people where they were. Sadly, in our deep desire to make sure our students are where we hope they are or where we want them to be we place undue pressure on their already heavy shoulders.  While your student needs direction at times, usually they most long for a place to be seen and heard; a place to feel safe. I cannot tell you how many times I have tried to fix one of my student’s issues, give them the best advice possible, but all they wanted was a listening ear; it really can be the best medicine.

Asking The Right Questions

Not only did Jesus meet people where they were and listened well, He also asked wonderful questions. I can imagine how many times I frustrated my own parents with my lack of communication, especially when they asked me questions. I also know that sometimes our questions are weak and do not open the door to the conversations our students are most longing to have.  “How is school going?,” is a question your student has perfected at answering.  They answer with a short, “good,” maybe because the question did not give them enough direction to answer with depth, but also because they may be answering the way they think you want.  This question does nothing but shut down conversation and potentially put a wall up between you and them. Now it will take work on your part, but to engage your student more fruitfully, try thinking of a specific question that will require an in-depth answer, “What is something you are learning about God that has challenged you recently”, “what relationship do you have right now that brings you joy?”, “what has been an exhausting part of your last week?”, “who is currently investing in your life right now and what are you learning from them?”  These questions will open the door for more conversation and will give you precious insight into the life of this person you so love. Do not be surprised if these questions initially catch your student off-guard, it may be a new dynamic for them, but trust me, they are capable of answering the question, so give them time, but don’t stop asking.  And remember, seek first to listen, and understand.  If your student gives the green light to receive your input then give it, but they may just want to talk. Even better, share your own answer to the question, let your student see you meet them where they are and show to them you are willing to go there as well.  Something so simple really does have the power to dramatically change the landscape of your relationship.

Faith in College

My last encouragement connects back to the growing number of students who are leaving their faith upon entering college. Our students are hearing about God at almost every corner of their educational journey at Geneva, but if a connection is not made outside of that time, it is less likely to stick. As your student grows in their understanding of God and His character, they need multiple touch points to solidify those teachings. A study done by LifeWay Research Group found that when both parents are actively engaged in a church and are regularly involved in Christian community, 72% of their children will continue in spiritual disciplines when they are grown. If the Father is the only one attending church, 55% will go on in their faith; if only the mother, 15%. These numbers can be shocking but point to a call for parents to take their faith seriously and the impact that has on their children. I recognize that for most of us we have questions on how to pursue a relationship with God, it can feel like unknown terrain, and this causes us to potentially feel hopeless. Do not worry, it is not hopeless; start somewhere! My encouragement for a parent is to start with the Bible. Crack open the New Testament and start with the Gospel of John. Engage in questions of your own, share what you are learning with your child and ask what they think on the topic. Continue to pray for your student and to check in on the things you have been praying for them. If it sounds easy, that’s because it is.

I will close with a story from a recent meeting with a student. He had a big race coming up and he so desperately wanted his dad to see him compete, he wrestled through questions of if his dad really wanted to support him, or if he was being a burden to him.  With pure joy the student went on to share that his dad did in fact show up.  The student chronicled introducing his dad to all his teammates, spending the day with him, and the freedom he was able to run with because his dad was there. “All I crave is my father’s love, it makes everything else wash away.” Parents, it really can be as simple as showing up and being intentional. Who knows how that simple task could change the life of your student and maybe even you. God Bless!



-John Wilhelm, Director of Campus Ministries