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Don’t let the break, break you

Christmas break. Spring break. Thanksgiving break. Summer break.
College students yearn for them.
College pastors dread them.

It’s not that we pastors don’t need a chance to catch our breath; it’s just that we know all too well that sinking feeling of realizing our disciples are headed back into scenarios that could unravel all that God has woven into them thus far.

Ever heard this before? “I don’t get it. I needed a break so I could rest and connect more with my family and God. But I ended up _______, and now I feel so distant from God. I don’t know what happened!”

You fill in the blank: hooking up with an old boyfriend, constantly fighting with my mom, falling back into cutting, pornography, or an eating disorder…If you’ve been a college pastor for long, you’ve heard a variation of this paragraph more times than you want to count.

And when do our students most often get tripped up by these old temptations? Breaks.

Why? Because when you have downtime, it provides you with options. Options can be littered with temptations. Temptations are typically filled with isolation. And all that makes a great recipe for destruction.

The national championship–winning football coach Urban Meyer once said, “The game is won and lost in transition.” He was referring to special teams, but I have found that much of my job as a college pastor is to be sure our disciples are prepared for all Satan will throw their way during these school year transitions called breaks.

So what do we do about it?

There is no substitute for sitting with a group of one to three disciples and helping them draw up a game plan for their break.

How not to break on break:

  1. I begin these conversations by explaining there’s just something about going back to your old bedroom, old city, and old hangouts that makes old sin patterns seem inevitable and unconquerable.
  2. Students always agree with me on that one, so it’s easy to slide into the first question: “What are your spiritual goals for the break?” Rest, spending time in the Word, and building better relationships with family are some of the usual.
  3. From that place, I give them a simple exercise called, “Think like your enemy.” I’ll ask each one: “If Satan’s main job is to destroy your life and stop those goals from coming true, what do you think he is going to throw your way to trip you up?” The goal of this exercise is to highlight their temptations: if they have chosen to stop drinking, the wild party with old high school friends is going to be an issue. If they walked in freedom from lust this year, they will be tempted to surf Instagram or Netflix at 2:00 a.m. (and porn is right around the corner).

Once they get real, I applaud their humility and challenge them that if they want to stay free and take more ground over the break, it’s pivotal that they answer three questions to complete their game plan:

Question 1:

When, where, and how long will you spend time with God? Don’t let this be vague! Laying out a Bible-reading plan, selecting the place they’ll meet with God (in their room, not under their covers, going for a walk to avoid distractions, etc.), and deciding how long their times with God will be are all key to their spiritual sustenance.

Question 2:

How and who will you serve? It’s easy to slip into junior high world and expect mommy to attend to your every want over the break. Taking out the trash or washing the dishes keeps you intentional. Taking your little bro to the park shows your family real change is going on.

Question 3:

Who will you reach out to—at all hours of the day or night—if you are being tempted? This is huge. Once students blow it once, they usually throw in the towel and give up fighting. But a midnight text or a phone call check in with a leader can break the back of secret sin and keep them free!

John 15:5 says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from [Jesus] you can do nothing.” Helping our students engage with this truth could be the difference between taking more ground and getting their spiritual butts kicked over the break.

One final warning: all that we just discussed is not just true for young college students; the same is true for us leaders as well. Don’t just prep them—get prepared yourself. When will you spend time with God daily? Who will you serve? What old habits will come flying in your face once you’re not living on mission on a campus all day long?

If we don’t up our game around breaks, we’re susceptible to the same downward spiral they are! If you’re tired, be aware of your weaknesses and pull others into your fight. We can’t lose another campus leader in this battle. So strengthen yourself in the Lord over this break. We need you—and your students need you, too.