What does that word mean to you?
A time of intellectual growth? The opportunity to socialize, have fun, and be independent? A road to “finding yourself?” Four years to drink as much alcohol as you want? All of the above?
Surely you have some kind of ideal college image in your head, whether you’re in college already, or will be there soon. There are expectations – anticipations.
But what happens when your vision of an ideal college life doesn’t become a reality? What happens when your experience begins to fall short of expectations?
I’ve found that this is the case with numerous students during their first few years at school. Many young Christians become so overwhelmed with the sinful atmosphere of college life that they become depressed and lonely – especially those at small secular institutions.
And I know how they feel. I know how they feel…because I’ve been there myself. I graduated from a school where Christians were a small outcast group of individuals; where sexual impurity and drunken behavior were normal social expectations; where secular thoughts and ungodly wisdom were preached from “knowledgeable” teachers. Does this sound familiar to you? Perhaps it should…because it’s in the Bible…and it’s happening in America today.
If you are experiencing a similar situation or have friends that are struggling with these issues, please pray. Sometimes we get so caught up in praying for our missionaries around the world that we forget about our brothers and sisters at local colleges. These Christians are in the middle of a battle field. They are warriors on the front line of a spiritual struggle. It is a hard and taxing one. In only my four short years at college I’ve seen too many young men and women come in as virgins but leave having given themselves away. Too many have never even tasted alcohol, but come out nearly addicted. That’s why my heart goes out to our brothers and sisters at these schools. That’s why I want to share some advice. Here are my top ten tips for Christians at small secular colleges. Please read and share:
1.) Missional Mindset – While the rest of this list is in no particular order, this tip is very intentionally in the number one spot. I’ve found from experience that our satisfaction while in college is directly related to our mindset. As Christians, we have to realize that our primary role at a secular university is not as a student, but rather as a missionary. When we develop a missional perspective, we no longer have expectations to always “fit in.” Rather, we regain our purpose, and can set our sights on a very achievable goal – bringing our classmates to know Jesus Christ. There is no better opportunity in the United States than to literally share a room and dorm with unbelievers for four whole years. You are living life and forming close relationships with people that you can have a positive impact on. That is the very definition of a missionary…and you will just so happen to earn your degree along the way.
2.) Draw Close to God – Scripture has to be your life-source while at school. We have to prepare and equip ourselves every morning before we go out and expose ourselves to a very unholy environment. If you are on the front lines, then you need to wear armor. In order to combat the lies, to find encouragement, and learn how to impact others, Scripture must be read every day. I’ve also personally found that the more I pray to God and think about Him throughout the day, the more capable I am of seeing opportunities to reach out to others. God promises that when we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us.
3.) Get Involved – This has to be done within the first week of school. Seek out a Christian club, a local church, or find a body of believers that can encourage you. The longer you go without it, the harder it will be to join later. As much as we like to be independent, God made us for community. We need to be energized and uplifted by others who hold to the same faith values as we do. I realize that these groups are often difficult and we may not have a lot in common with the other members. In reality, you probably aren’t going to find a youth group or church like the one you had back home. Regardless, we have to truly appreciate these times of fellowship. It may not be your church, but it is The Church. We need other believers to support us and hold us accountable.
4.) Be a Leader – You learn the most whenever you teach. I really believe that this is true. It’s not enough to just get involved in Christian groups or other clubs on campus. Be a leader. Let people know who you are. How can you show Christ to people if they can’t even see you? I’m not saying that you need to be loud and obnoxious, but I am saying that we should put ourselves in positions where we can have an impact on others. In addition, leadership can happen at a personal level. Are there others that struggle with temptations or are immature in their faith? Get lunch with them, hang out with them, and be a mentor to them.
5.) Flee Temptation – Students often ask me how I feel about Christians going to “drinking parties” if they don’t drink themselves. Could it be an outreach opportunity? Could they be a good example there? While these all sound good (and I’ve attempted them myself) experience has shown me that they are largely unbeneficial and often counter-productive. The atmosphere at most college parties is so chaotic and crazy that it is not worth going. To begin with, drinking under the age of 21 is illegal, and you could get into trouble if you are even caught attending. After all, we are told to respect our governing authorities. Secondly, we are often guilty by association. If you are known to be a Christian but are seen at a crazy party, it may cause others to think that you are participating too. While unfair, it nevertheless paints a tainted view of Christianity in the observer’s mind. Lastly, nothing good ever happens at most of these events (I won’t go into details here). In my opinion, your time is better served by showing that you are set apart from this world. Use the opportunity to tell others why you won’t participate. Yes, it may lead to a boring night for you, and you may feel like you’re not having an impact by sitting in your room. But, just remember, absence is a statement too – one that can’t be drowned out by music and alcohol-saturated minds.
6.) Focus on Academics – Yes, I felt obligated to add this one to the list, so I’ll be brief. Honestly though, it really is true. Your success in college (or lack thereof) can shape your whole future. There is no reason for you to waste it. You both honor God and make a statement to your peers by attending classes and doing your work. It is a great way to stand out and earn good grades at the same time. Don’t work toohard though.
7.) Read Books – You will be reading a lot of books in your college career (or at least be required to read them). Why in the world would you want to read any more? Well, it all goes back to the missional mindset. If our goal is to reach others and lead others, we have to know how to do it. Therefore, it is extremely beneficial to read books that allow us to grow in our knowledge of God and show us how we can explain things to others. My personal goal is usually to read one Christian book every month. I suppose my theory is that if students at Christian schools are required to take Bible classes, the least I can do is read a few books of my choosing. As we gain knowledge, we have a greater “storage bin” from which we can tell others about the Gospel given different opportunities, and apply things to our own lives when various circumstances arise.
8.) Meet People – That’s it. Just meet people. Unfortunately, this is one area that I failed to do as much as I would have liked during my college career. The more people you know, the more opportunities you have. Find out what is going on in their lives. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has a reason for believing or not believing in God. Find out why. Share your story. I’m not saying that you will have a lot of best friends or that you still won’t be lonely on the weekends, but nothing bad ever comes from getting to know others. Give it a shot.
9.) Be Bold – Take chances. Now certainly, don’t do anything stupid or unwise, but don’t let fear hold you back from doing what God wants. Step out of your comfort zone. Share the Gospel with a friend. Speak your testimony at an event. Confront a fellow believer if their actions are consistently opposing their faith. As Christians we can’t afford to be shy. While I’ve never been a huge advocate of constant vocal preaching, sometimes a loving yet bold word is necessary. If people are blind, maybe they need to hear a loud voice. It they’re deaf, maybe they need something to catch their eye. It’s up to you to determine what the need is. Just don’t be afraid. If you don’t stand up for Christ at a school like that, who will?
10.) Find a Mentor – This is important. Find a friend who is older and more mature in their faith. Hang out with them, ask questions to them, and most importantly, just observe them. Everyone needs to have a mentor that will help them grow and hold them accountable. Find someone at a local church or Christian club. If you can’t find anyone at school, call a mentor from back home. As mature and knowledgeable as college students think they are, they don’t have everything figured out. Everyone needs advice. Everyone needs someone to challenge them. Find a person who can do that for you.
As I said earlier, it’s my prayer that you would share this advice with those who need it, and continue to pray for these students. They are most definitely on the front lines.
Having said that, let me quickly paint a different picture for you. While we should certainly pray for these students, realize that they are fortunate to be on the front lines. Yes, they are blessed to be where they are, because they can experience first-hand and up close the realityof our faith. Christianity comes alive for them, sometimes for the first time. As I stated earlier, the situations that they will experience are straight out of the Bible. It is real. And this should be a warning to us.
Look back over the ten tips that I listed. These apply to everyone; whether you’re in school, out of school, go to a Christian college, or non-Christian college. These items are so important, but we often miss the necessity of them. See sometimes, it’s easy to forget that a battle is going on when you’re still stationed at home. It’s easy to overlook the severity of the struggle when you aren’t engaged with it every day. So, as we pray for those who are out in the middle of the battlefield, let’s not forget about the battle itself. Let’s not neglect our own preparation. After all, you may be closer to the front line than you think.
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 6:12
If people are blind, maybe they need to hear a loud voice. If they’re deaf, maybe they need something to catch their eye.