I crammed almost everything I ever owned into my car. And I drove off to a Christian college. I couldn’t wait to get there to start the next four years of my life.
Studying the Old and New Testament as course credits, attending chapel multiple times a week, and going to a local church, I thought I was thriving in my first two years of college. I had no idea I had fallen into a spiritual coma—where I became so desensitized to Christianity and to God that I had little to no relationship with Him.
Sure, I was committed to studying Scripture and volunteering in the children’s ministry at my local church. But my prayer life became solely about stress and grades. I rarely encouraged my friends to grow closer to Christ. And I sacrificed my daily quiet time to get more sleep.
For many parents, having their child attend a Christian university is a no brainer. But Christian college isn’t a guarantee students will keep the faith. Christian colleges pride themselves on creating safe, welcoming communities for students to thrive in. These institutions offer an array of courses, groups, and activities to encourage your son or daughter to grow in their faith.
However, to have a relationship with God that thrives, even at a Christian school, students must wake up their faith. And I’ve learned that doesn’t happen simply by immersion in a faith-based university setting.
If I could go back and talk with my freshman self, I would tell her:
Prioritize God in your schedule
Sure, a Christian college builds Christian activity into a student’s week with required worship services and activities. But sometimes those end up as the only moments a student intentionally spends with God. I am so guilty of letting my schedule dictate my priorities, worshiping the idol of busyness and sacrificing my spiritual health in the process.
One of my top goals for this coming year, my senior year, is to slow down to focus on God. Whether it be a morning devotional or a prayer walk around campus, I want to be more purposeful with the time God has given me.
A friend who worked in campus ministry stressed to me that the habits you set in the first two weeks of classes are the most important. This not only goes for extracurriculars and studying, but also for establishing consistent time with the Lord.
Parents can create spaces for their students to have one-on-one time with God before their children leave home. Having devotionals as a family and continuing those conversations while your child is at school strengthens your relationship with each other. It also reveals the values of your family, which your child can carry on to the next generation.
Move toward Christ, not self-actualization
I’ve often heard jokingly that college students are some of the most self-centered people in the world. With the popularity of the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and a host of other personality tests, the journey to self-esteem and purpose is often one 10-question quiz away.
And aren’t these four years supposed to be about finding yourself anyway?
While these tests show the uniqueness God has given each of us, there is a danger in settling for a personality label that emphasizes self-actualization over growing in the likeness of Christ. My obsession with perfecting myself quickly turns into bitterness and has left me disappointed over and over again.
Setting one’s mind on things above, on the glory of Christ, and our identity in Him, keeps us from finding our identity in grades, performance, or the opinions of others (Colossians 3:2-3). Parents can encourage their children through affirming their God-given value, rather than unachievable standards set by others.
Find a local church and stick with it
Before I started college, one piece of advice regularly stressed to me was the importance of the local church. But I was completely unprepared for the struggle of the search. With more than 40 churches to choose from in my town, I was quickly overwhelmed.
While I was thankful to find a place after a semester of church-hopping, I have friends that aren’t as lucky. Homesickness, a lack of diversity, an overloaded schedule, the fear of missing out on someplace better—all keep students from settling into a home church while away at school. It can be easy to lose hope that there’s a place for you.
The church I attend isn’t perfect, but it is a place where I find connection. In serving, I’ve found a place where I can connect with people of different ages and generations, adding perspective to my limited college worldview.
Parents can encourage their students through conversations on what to look for in a church. By serving in their own local gathering and encouraging their children to join them through the years, parents can instill seeds of using gifts to benefit the body of Christ.
Seek out Christ-centered friendships, not just Christian friends
I wish I would have been more intentional about cultivating friendships centered on Christ during my freshman year at a Christian college. After my first two years of school, I realized how rarely I prayed for my friends and their faith.
While I supported my friends’ growth in their self-image and their studies, I never encouraged them in growing to be like Christ. While praying for their families’ needs, it never crossed my mind to pray for radical experiences in their relationships with Christ.
This year, I want to have friendships where we remind each other of our value in Christ, as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). Although I desire to be there for my friends in tough times, God’s strength and comfort is what they need more than anything I could say or do.
Ultimately, I want to encourage my friends to run toward God and dig into His Word. Not just when things are going wrong. But as an everyday relationship with the One who made us.
Don’t be afraid to talk about the gospel
This may sound like a strange piece of advice for a Christian college student, but it’s actually the one I struggle with the most.
When conversations always include faith on some level, I find myself becoming numb to the joy and excitement of the truth. And especially when most, if not all, students are assumed to be Christian. The gospel can rarely be brought up.
I want to be more intentional about having more gospel conversations. And to not be afraid of coming across as over-the-top.
Just as you spend time doing what you care about, you also talk about what you love. If I say I love Christ, then how can my speech not reflect that? Whether it’s encouragement or evangelism, as one of my professors says, “Everyone needs to hear the gospel every day.”
For many students, there are only four short years between high school and the real world. God wants to use this time for more than just chapels and Bible classes.
He wants to radically change relationships, to cultivate passions for His glory, and to draw young adults closer to Him. Walking across the stage having a stronger relationship with Christ is worth so much more than a degree.
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