One of the most frustrating things students can experience in a school environment is feeling like they have missed God or are doing something wrong because they aren’t feeling His presence. They can become hurt or offended as they watch their fellow students encounter God’s manifest power and love during school, longing to also experience Him in a tangible way.
As school leaders, it’s important that we first set the right expectations for encounters. Some students may believe that an encounter looks or feels a specific way. The truth is that encounters are meant to lead us into deeper connection with Him, whether it is physical or not. We need to be prepared to pastor students through the negative emotions or lies that may come up as they pursue the supernatural.
To help you support your students who wrestle with this area, we want to share some powerful insight from Sara Lane, a former Second Year Revival Group Pastor at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM). Sara has been leading Revival Groups at BSSM for over eight years. She carries strong spiritual discernment, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and practical tools that help students engage their hearts in God’s presence. After experiencing her own personal breakthroughs, Sara has seen countless numbers of students experience transformation through encounters with God.
As you read Sara’s thoughts below, may you be filled with hope and empowered with wisdom to pastor your students as they experience life-altering encounters with God!
What have you found to be some of the best ways to lead students through an encounter with God?
I think it’s important to take the pressure off students of what needs to happen in those moments. Sometimes they have expectations of what encounters should look like that may or may not happen. I communicate to my students that if they are going to encounter the Lord, He is going to guide it, and it could be different from what they think should happen.
I encourage my students to “get quiet on the inside.” In other words, to quiet their minds by setting aside the list of things they need to do that day, the conversation they had earlier that didn’t go so well, and other things that fill their thoughts. I want them to learn to get really good at getting quiet before the Lord. This last year, the Lord really highlighted Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” We can learn a lot about God in the stillness. It’s important to become quiet before Him because it makes us sensitive to Him.
I also encourage my students to “tune their spirits” to what God wants them to do. I even have them speak to their spirit man. For example, I’ll have them say something like, “Spirit, I call you forth in Jesus’ name. I give you permission to be strong and powerful.” Our spirit man is what connects us to the spirit realm. I visualize our spirit-man as this big plug that comes out of our heads and plugs into this big outlet in heaven. Through our spirit man, we are plugging in and accessing what’s happening in the heaven lies. We can help our spirit man plug into God’s presence by getting still before Him.
I visualize our spirit-man as this big plug that comes out of our heads and plugs into this big outlet in heaven. Through our spirit man, we are plugging in and accessing what’s happening in the heaven lies. We can help our spirit man plug into God’s presence by getting still before Him.
What are some things that hinder students from encountering God and how do you address those areas?
God can supersede any barrier that keeps students from encountering Him. I do believe He can come and “power through” the specific things students are struggling with, and then there are times when He invites them to co-labor with Him. When we co-labor with God, offenses or unresolved pain can prevent us from encountering Him. The things that are the opposite of the fruits of the Spirit such as sin, offense, unforgiveness, and lies, can often hinder us from accessing His Spirit.
If the supernatural is new to students, it’s pretty common that they operate a lot more from their heads versus their hearts. Sometimes they will believe a lie that they don’t get access to the Holy Spirit in ways that others around them do. They may have the thought, “That person always has that happen to them, but it never happens to me.”
I have seen that as students get more and more connected to their hearts, they experience more powerful encounters.
They can actually get more connected to their hearts by working through their pain. People will often shut down their hearts because they want to avoid pain. However, as they learn to process that pain, they begin to hear more clearly from the Lord. Their gifts start to get activated because there aren’t those barriers anymore to hold them back.
To help my students get in touch with their hearts, I will do some teaching on specific principles and tools to go after your pain. I also help students individually get connected to their hearts because each person has different types of pain. One of the greatest ways I help them encounter Holy Spirit is to create space for them to spend time with Him and to ask Him questions. I encourage them to listen to what He has to say and write down what comes to their minds.
I believe it’s important to teach students how to partner with Him in every moment of their healing journeys because it keeps them from becoming introspective or codependent upon others. Healing is about deepening their relationships with Him. One other practical way I help them become more connected to God is encouraging them to pursue Him before asking me permission or advice for something.
Sometimes students who are uncomfortable or offended by manifestations of the Spirit tend to disengage or withdraw. How do you pastor students that become uncomfortable or offended by what’s happening in the room?
I understand that journey–feeling like you just don’t get why other people manifest. When I was a First Year student at BSSM, I had to walk through feeling offended by students who were drunk in the Spirit. However, once my husband, Brad, and I were hit by the Holy Spirit, we became some of the “drunkest” students in our class.
I remember that students would especially manifest during times of worship. What I needed to do was to just close my eyes and not look at what was going on around me. If I closed my eyes and focused on God, I could find my peace. Even if I didn’t understand what was going on around me, I needed that peace and connection with Him more than understanding. I could still hear people manifesting, but it took off the pressure of having to figure out what was in those students’ hearts and if they were being genuine or not (as if it were my job). It kept me from asking, “Is that really God? Or do they just want attention?” When we focus on the Lord in those moments, we can trust Him to deal with what’s what happening around us and receive what He has for us.
This year, I talked to one student who said she was not experiencing the Holy Spirit and often felt “prickly” or uncomfortable when other students manifested. I told her that it was okay that she wasn’t experiencing anything physically and not to force or manipulate something to happen. I also encouraged her to find a way to “lean into” God during those moments.
Sometimes when there is offense, a person will take a step back mentally and emotionally, leaning away from the Lord because of how they feel. To help this student keep herself from disengaging because of offense, I asked her, “What does it look like to lean in? You’re not manifesting or feeling something, but surely there is something you can do to posture yourself towards the Lord and not away out of offense. He wants to connect with you, even if you can’t feel Him.”
Like this student, people are often afraid of what they don’t understand. They will put their hands up and step back from the Lord out of fear. Instead, they should figure out how they can pursue a greater connection with Him in those moments.
How do you pastor a student that is really hungry to feel God’s presence, but hasn’t experienced a breakthrough yet?
We see that sometimes in Second Year because students have come back and want to physically feel His presence, and it sometimes doesn’t happen right away. It’s a tough one because I don’t know why that is, but the best thing I can do for these students is to encourage them to not get offended with the Lord.
They may be asking Him, “Why aren’t you showing up for me in that way? Why are you doing that for someone else and not me?” Those thoughts or feelings are really subtle, but if they are not dealt with, resentment can start to come in and take root. There are a lot of things that we don’t always have answers for, but what is our response going to be? Are you going to give up? Or keep posturing for breakthrough to happen?
For me, it’s no different than needing a miracle in my body. Do I give up or posture myself to receive breakthrough? I used to hold healing so tightly in my hand. If you think about it, after awhile, my hand is going to get tired and cramp if I hold onto it so tightly. I have to hold the need, desire, or promise with an open hand. For me, that’s how I can emotionally or mentally stay open for breakthrough, and not become bound or wound up so tightly by my need.
Often, when people are hungry for a physical encounter or healing and it’s not happening, their core values get shaken a little bit, especially the value of “God is good.” I’m actually ok with that. I tell students, “I know that this pain is really shaking you. It’s ok because I know what’s on the other side of it.” When they don’t give up and press through, regardless of whether they get the answer they wanted, the value that God is good goes from their mind and settles into their heart and spirit. It becomes a part of their core. Also, all the things that are unknown, where they don’t have the answer to questions, they are an invitation to know Him.
What was one the biggest risks you have taken in leading students in an encounter?
I remember a time last year when I was preparing for a Revival Group meeting, I was praying and asking the Lord to come into the meeting and shake things up. I asked Him to do something that is above and beyond my schedule and my plans. When I showed up to the meeting, a couple of my students were already on the floor experiencing the Holy Spirit.
I had come to the meeting with a plan, but God a different plan. As I was standing there, a student that was drunk in the Holy Spirit, grabbed one of my legs. I became overwhelmed by God’s presence. I tried really hard to stand and stick to my plan, but I ended up on the floor. Once I was on the floor, I couldn’t get up. Eventually, half of my revival group was on the floor with me and the presence of God just kept increasing. At one point, I remember thinking, “Isn’t this what I prayed for?”
While I was on the floor, the pastor in me wanted to look around the room and see what everyone else was doing. I wondered, “Is everyone engaged? Are students being left out?” The Lord kept saying to me, “Don’t touch it.” At one point, I noticed most of my students were being encountered and then there were some that weren’t experiencing Him in the same way. They were just kind of sitting there. My heart went out to them because I’m an includer, but the Lord kept saying, “Don’t touch it” over and over again.
In that moment, I had to relinquish control of wanting to make sure everything was going ok for all of my students. I had to let go of the feeling like I needed to tend to the hearts of those who weren’t experiencing Him. To relinquish control, I had to lie there and keep my eyes shut.
That meeting was a big eye opener for me.
I realized that my need to control was being masked by my care for people.
It felt very risky for to me to let go and stay in that encounter time because I knew there were students that weren’t experiencing Him in the same way. The thing that is important to remember in those moments is that we don’t always know what God is doing in people’s hearts when they are just sitting; it doesn’t mean that something isn’t happening. It’s also important to realize that even if they get offended by what’s happening, it’s a great opportunity to have a conversation with them. The Lord can use it all!
It’s also important to remember that as a pastor, I can’t take on the responsibility of a student having an encounter, or even the areas he or she is struggling with. That’s not my job. If we as pastors run around carrying the weight of all of that, we are going to wear ourselves out. It’s really important for us to stay aware that those things are for God to carry. While we often want to fix those things for students, we have to let them go. We have to trust the God that is inside of each of them will take care of them.
What are some essential keys to creating a safe environment for students to encounter the Holy Spirit?
I believe safety is first built relationally, which I love to do in my group. I create that sense of family. Again, I can’t control what happens in my group, but I do try to create opportunities for students to connect with one another. They get choose whether or not they want to engage in relationship.
For students, when the environment and the people around them feel safe, it’s easier for them to feel safe with the Holy Spirit. In other words, they are not thinking about how someone is going to think of them if they encounter Him and they more easily let their guards down. To create that safety, we spend time at the beginning of every school year pursuing vulnerability with one another because it creates intimacy. Again, when that happens, students are a lot more open to Holy Spirit coming in and doing what He does best.
To create vulnerability and intimacy in a group, it’s important for me as the leader to first be vulnerable. Some students are shocked that a leader can be strong and vulnerable at the same time. That’s not normal in most cultures or workplaces. I model it first so that it creates safety for my students. I tell them my story and what I have gone through, inviting them to do the same. It really makes a huge difference.
I learned an important key to being vulnerable as a leader from Kris Vallotton. When was I was a Third Year student, Kris was experiencing one of his emotional breakdowns. When he came and spoke to our Third Year class, He shared a bit about what he was going through. When he was in Second Year (I was interning for that program at the time), he shared about his journey with the students, however, he didn’t go into as much detail. I put the pieces together. I realized that Kris shared different levels of what was happening in his life with the people around him; how much he shared was based upon relationship. He probably gave more detail to his staff team than he did with Second Year and Third Year students. He probably shared everything that was going on his life with his friends.
Kris modeled vulnerability. He could be vulnerable with everyone, but not everyone got the same access to his life. I learned a lot from that. I don’t want to be a leader on a pedestal that my students can’t relate to. I also don’t want to share everything with my students, but there’s still something I can give them that is real and authentic. When I share something with them, especially if it’s something that I am working through, I can be general or vague with regards to details. That vulnerability creates safety for students to go after their own stuff.
Also, I tell my students that I am not afraid of their mess. In fact, I tell them to get messy for a bit because our school environment is a safe place for them to process through pain. I am comfortable with their pain because I know that I am not their Savior; I am not the one who fixes them. I want them to become whole-hearted. They are going to be more successful in their journey beyond BSSM the more whole-hearted they become. And as they practice vulnerability, they will model what it looks like and impart it to other people.