Advice on college: Choose relationships carefully
by John Crotts
The college years are a crossroads for so many people. Growing up in churches, kids often make decisions about Jesus and the Bible almost automatically, but those decisions are tested in powerful ways in college. Tests come not only from the professors, but also from fellow students, and even the freedom from the direct oversight of parents and churches.
College provides great opportunities for young men and women to establish themselves as real Christians. You don’t make yourself a Christian by your good works, of course, but good works are a key evidence that you are a Christian. What is going on in the heart of a young freshman will be squeezed out and shaped by these new challenges.
Too many teenagers from Christian families suppose they are Christians only to find that they’d rather not believe in Jesus in the face of the tests of college. Why should I believe in Jesus when my professor says believing is ignorant? Why should I go to church when my roommates are all sleeping in — or hung over? Why should I care whether my new girlfriend is a Christian?
Authentic followers of Jesus, on the other hand, find themselves believing on their own, not just because their family and church back home created for them an external scaffold of faith. They are independently depending on God. There are some strategic wise choices a Christian young man or woman should make as they enter this crossroad of life.
In my opinion, the most important choice a student can make is to be a vital part of the best church in town. A good church provides solid Bible-based input.
As students hear many new voices inside the classrooms and outside, they need a steady stream of God’s clear truth. The best churches will have such streams flowing publicly from hearing the weekly sermons, and personally as other Christians speak the truth to each another in love.
A good church will be filled with other people who love Jesus. Old people, young people and fellow students will all be rubbing shoulders with the fresh-on-their-own collegian. Some of those church members will include godly leaders assigned to watch over the souls of the others in the church.
This dynamic provides good examples, encouragement, wisdom and accountability.
Most teenagers in our culture are way too concerned about themselves. Church involvement also furnishes wonderful opportunities to serve others for Jesus’ sake. Every church member has a part to play in helping the church fulfill its ministry.
College students aren’t supposed to leave their home churches for four years and coast for Christ. They should be giving of themselves in their new church contexts. They will return better equipped to serve their churches the rest of their lives. Being part of the best church in town may not be obvious or even easy, but it is helpful in every way. It is worth the work to find that church and do what it takes to get there week by week.
It is so important, I recommend that every student and their family find the church before they commit to the school. Far too often people assume there will be a good church in the college town when there is not.
Wouldn’t it be better to go to a different school than spend these four critical years in a spiritual desert?
If a person is at a Christian college that has a church meeting on Sundays on campus, I encourage students to get off campus and into a normal church in town. Campus churches are lop-sided towards the college. It can feel more like another chapel service than a body of believers gathering for mutual building up, worship and service, with spiritual leaders watching over souls.
In addition to being actively involved in the best church in town, students should find a great campus ministry. Solid theological, Bible-based ministries like Campus Outreach, Reformed University Fellowship, The Navigators and others provide opportunities to be with other growing Christian students right on their campuses. The ministry is aimed right where these students live.
This can be a huge supplement to one’s spiritual growth, but it must never substitute for the church. Students who lean too hard on the campus ministries often move back home after college and become spiritually depressed with normal church life.
Their spiritual shape has been warped by a speciality ministry that was never designed to correspond to real life.
The other vital piece of advice is to choose your relationships carefully. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
Basically, you always become like the people you hang around. In a new environment, sometimes far away from home, students will interact with all kinds of people from all kinds of places. This is an incredible opportunity for ministry, but also an important opportunity for wisdom.
Students must be careful who they spend the most time with. They should touch lightly many kinds of people, but become great friends with fellow believers who can spur one another on to love and good deeds for the Lord’s sake.
Relationships between the sexes during college years always have potential to lead directly to marriage. Christian collegians shouldn’t jump into any dating type relationships right away.
Being newly away from home requires getting situated. It is better to get to know a lot of people. If a special someone seems to have potential, the student would be wise to check in with their parents about it, as well as godly friends at their church and campus ministry.
If the relationship is of God, the godliest people around the couple will encourage it. If a couple feels like they have to convince the godly people watching out for them that it is good, they should put on the brakes.
The college years are an opportunity to learn and grow mentally, physicall, and spiritually. Students who get to attend college should treat those years as a special gift from God.
They should maximize the opportunity — studying hard and serving hard, seeking to become the sharpest tool in God’s hand for a lifetime of kingdom service.