Freshmen: calm down, you don’t need to bring your text books to class.
You might expect the first week to be challenging and filled with assignments, but returning students know that it generally means getting a syllabus and leaving class after ten minutes.
Occasionally, learning happens, but more frequently the professors spend the first week discussing expectations.
So why is this week important?
Aside from the chance to show off your new clothes/shoes/gadgets and giving you time to decide whether you want to drop your class, the first week of every semester has a strategic Kingdom purpose. This is the week when new and returning students alike can meet people for “free.”
What I mean is that everyone is new, everyone is open and asking questions, everyone is excited, and no one has settled into routines of schedules or friendships. Returning InterVarsity students know that introducing yourself in November comes off a little weird.
Not so in August, friends. Any standard salutation is a potential segue into a lasting friendship, or at worst, the ticket to a perennial head-nod every time you see this person on campus. Finals week is about you—your grades, your success. Nothing wrong with working hard to get good results, but the first week can be about The Kingdom – if you make it.
Making new friends is actually a big deal, because although I’m sure you don’t have this problem – many Christians become culturally isolated at school. They find a fellowship, shift towards having Christian roommates and generally put up (well-intentioned) walls around their lives.
Cultural isolation happens to everyone, not just Christians. Once it happens though, the temptation is strong to stay in a place of comfort rather than work to forge less natural friendships. Instead of facing this potential discipleship setback (yes, not knowing and having friendships with non-Christians is a discipleship issue!), use the first week to make some friends!
Because you’ll make friends who are pretty much like you in the course of life – I suggest that if you’re being intentional already, intentionally pick people who seem least like you!
God’s kingdom is a very diverse place, so use this opportunity to make diverse relationships. Hate sports? Sit down next to the fit kid wearing your school’s athletics gear. Hate snobbishness? Find someone taking notes on their iPad 3 (just kidding Mac users).
You can also just find someone of a different race or ethnicity, but be careful not to tokenize this person – just enjoy the differences! One word of warning: stick to same sex friendships. Unsolicited real-life friend requests remain uncommon, so it would be easy for someone to get the wrong idea.
But I’m shy!
I’m guessing you still have some friendships though, right?
Well build this one like you built those: by being inquisitive and honest. Even if it takes longer and isn’t on a large scale, your first-week relationships are important! If you begin to feel overwhelmed, don’t worry. Building these relationships isn’t an obligation, just an opportunity.
Take as much time as you need to recharge your batteries and then strike up a conversation with the guy who wore his pajamas to Sociology.
But it’s weird to make friends for ulterior purposes!
You think Jesus called his disciples just because he liked hanging out? No, he had plans for them. I get it, you’re not Jesus our risen Lord, and all you’re doing is caring for people.
The gospel is life for those who believe, but humans come with a factory defect called sin that we can’t get over by ourselves. Sometimes that sin is so deep that we’re unwilling to even consider the gospel—and that’s where friendship comes in. Our job is not to turn hearts or convict spirits – it’s simply to bear honest witness to the truth, in love.
If you knew of a life-saving remedy for my sickness, but I didn’t trust the manufacturer, it would be a great idea to become my friend so that you could help convince me to just try it! (Don’t pick apart my analogy – the moral of the story is this: You are loving someone when you become their friend, if only to help them take steps toward Christ).
That being said, if they aren’t interested – don’t un-friend them just because they don’t want to follow Jesus yet.
OK, I made friends…now what?
That’s a longer conversation. You can check out InterVarsity’s evangelism site, or if you don’t find human interaction too old fashioned, ask your IV staff worker or small group leader. There really isn’t a “right way” to do things. As long as you’re not a jerk, you’ll be fine.
Steve Wimmer lives in Orlando, FL with his wife and daughter. He recently began serving at Rollins College after spending eight years at the Universtiy of Central Florida. Steve blogs about conversational evangelism at whatdoIsaytothat.org and he consistently substitutes soup for salad when dining out.