Well, it’s that time of year. By now, many high school seniors have heard where they have been accepted to college. Others are still waiting. But all are beginning to think about the next stage of their life post-high school.
And for Christian students this time of anticipation can be particularly acute. It is natural for them to wonder, How am I going to survive at a big university as a Christian? Am I ready to handle the challenges coming my way? What if I don’t have all the answers?
Of course, this sort of angst is not just felt by the students. It is also felt (and maybe felt more) by the parents. After all, Christian parents have spent the last 18 years teaching these students the gospel, taking them to church, and trying to show them how to follow Christ. It’s natural to wonder whether all this will be undone after just a few months in college.
So, what can be done to prepare? Just a few weeks ago I answered this exact question for the students at Regents School of Austin, TX. Their senior students have been reading through my book, Surviving Religion 101, and asked me to come speak to them before they graduated.
And I gave them six pieces of advice. Over the next few weeks, I will be going through each of these pieces of advice in a short six-part blog series.
And here’s the first thing I told them: Take This Transition Seriously.
As I talk to students about heading to college, I see two extremes. One extreme is what I call the “martyr complex.” That’s when a Christian student heads off to college with a high degree of suspicion and paranoia. They are ready to see anti-Christian monsters around every corner. Every professor is Darth Vader. Every student is part of the Inquisition that wants to hunt down evangelicals.
Often such students, unfortunately, end up being combative, withdrawn, and rather unpleasant to be around. When you think everyone is out to get you, then you tend to act like a cornered animal always ready to fight.
But students need to remember that Christians can have wonderful spiritual experiences at big universities. Even though it is a secular environment, there are still Christian professors on most college faculties. And college is often the time when Christians grow the most, especially if they can find a solid campus fellowship and a good church. Just read the testimony of my own daughter Emma who spent the last four years at UNC Chapel Hill.
At the same time, we must also guard against the opposite mistake. If unbridled suspicion is a problem on the one side, then a naïve overconfidence may be a problem on the other. Some young Christians enter college absolutely convinced that nothing can shake their faith—they are mature enough, wise enough, and theologically astute enough to handle whatever comes their way (so they think). There’s nothing to worry about, they tell themselves. Falling away is always something that happens to other people.
Instead of either extreme, I might suggest students just take this transition seriously. Yes, you can be hopeful and optimistic. But you can also be soberly aware of the dangers. Both can be done at the same time.
I am reminded of Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring. As a young hobbit, Frodo was always eager to go on adventures with his uncle Bilbo. But, while adventures can be exhilarating, Bilbo also knew they could be dangerous. So he gave Frodo some wise advice:
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. . . You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
So what does all this mean? It means, as you head off to college as a believer, you need to realize it can be a dangerous business. Don’t take your spiritual health lightly while you’re there. You need to be serious about the potential challenges you will face, while, at the same time, not living in fear and worry.
Simply put, “Be on your guard” (1 Cor 16:13, NIV).