Tuesday, March 16, 2010

When Students Learn You're Human

How well do your students know you?

Have you let them into your life?

How much do they really know about you?

What's appropriate?

Do you manage what they know about you in order to shape the way/s they view you?

Is that right?

If you're anything like me, questions like these seem to be ever-present in my mind.

I am, by nature, a pretty private person... and I think that's OK, but I also think there are ways in which being too private [or too public, as the case may be for others of us] can be damaging to our work with students [or our relationships at home].

There are, I believe, important boundaries that are appropriate to maintain between staff and students, ministers and those they serve, home life and work... but where are those lines? And how do you know when you're too far away from a healthy middle-ground?

If we open the door wide to our lives, we risk loosing some of the intended intimacy and privacy that we all need... and is due a family and marriage that God has blessed us with.

If we open the door to narrow, we risk conveying the message that others are not welcome... and relationships with students and ministry become much more of a struggle.

This past week, as I served alongside a group of students in NYC [after a few years of not traveling with students], I found myself in conversations where I had to decide 'how much' of myself and my life I was going to share with my students...

Now I'll admit, it's much easier to share about things that are positive, make me look good, or are likely to create union and harmony amidst the group.

It's a different story, however, when the questions that are being asked... or the comment/s you're feeling led to share, have the potential to create awkwardness, tension, or unease amidst the group... especially when you're traveling, serving and living together. Trips like this, I have found, can also be some of the best places to take take a chance on opening the door a bit wider because students have the chance to watch you, sit with you, ask more questions... and really experience your true self.

On the trip I had the chance to share openly and honestly about:
  • the challenges of being away from my family for 8 days [or 9 by the time we finally made it back] and the willing and necessary sacrifice that this was for our family;
  • some of the challenges and struggles that we've faced as a ministry on campus this past year; and
  • a hereditary skin condition that had me struggling to get around by foot our last few days - letting students see me physically struggle was almost harder than admitting to some of the aforementioned challenges...
As the team asked questions, and as I was willing to be appropriately open and honest with them, you could almost see the bonds forming - or strengthening - between us.

It was a good trip for me. I think it was good for the students in a lot of ways as well. And I think as students got to experience the more 'human' side of me they realized that us 'minister-types' aren't as 'scary' as we're sometimes made out to be.

What do you think?

How have you experienced this tension, this dance, in deciding what you share or don't share with students?
Do you attempt to 'manage' how students view you?
How do you attempt to be 'appropriately' private and open at the same time?