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by Hilary Tompkins
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5 ways to cultivate your faith in a Christian college
Most Christians are aware of the challenges associate with student life at secular universities. Yet pastors, parents, and others ministering to college students often neglect the more subtle but equally devastating temptations students face in Christian college environments.
Many Christian colleges saturate students with certain aspects of the Christian life.
At the [Excellent] university I attended, we could attend chapel on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, or Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sunday night. We prayed before class, prayed after class, and prayed before meals. We mastered the fine art of “Christianese.” We emphasized leaving campus altogether to serve our neighborhood. We consumed so much of the Bible in our classes that the university practically gave everyone a minor in it.
Yet the easy and pervasive spirituality of the Christian college environment can dull awareness of sin and the need for grace. It is possible that when everything around you is oriented around the visible dimensions of the Christian life, you can miss the subtle moments of sin and sanctification that go on in the recesses of our hearts.
Christian colleges are not churches.
By the time I graduated, I had heard hundreds of chapel talks and was in danger of a prideful cynicism that was resistant to hearing the Word anew and that looked down on other “fake” Christians who I thought were simply “playing the game.” It is easy for students at Christian colleges to develop hearts that are hard, jaded, and cynical.
Those who minister to students at Christian colleges, then, should understand the unique challenges they face. I would suggest that parents and pastors consider five ways they might challenge and exhort students in those environments.
1.Help students see the need for holiness
Pastors and leaders should help students see the dangers of outsourcing the Christian life to the environment and corporate gatherings, and stress the need for individual practices and disciplines. Prayer chapels are often the most underused areas of any college campus, and many will never engage in regular fasting and Bible reading. Such practices will help students ensure that they are remaining attentive to the heart’s deeper dynamics.
2.Emphasize the unique value of the local church
Christian colleges are not churches. They share some of the same features, but they are also one-generational communities that don't generally take Communion regularly. Finding intergenerational, non-academic moments of fellowship are crucial because they allow college students to find paths to walk in. And as they sing with the body of Christ in corporate worship, they will either be able to detect or develop a hedge against a detached cynicism that will rob their souls.
3.Give students reasons to leave campus
Not just to go to the mall or the beach. Invite students into your home, and invite them into ministries through the local church. Getting outside the artificial environment of college life will help students see more clearly the challenges that are unique to it.
4.Challenge students to be for the gospel, not against those who don't quite get it
Living “in light of the gospel” means being gracious and charitable toward everyone—including those with whom you disagree. Many college students spend a lot of time wrangling over issues, and it is easy to allow our stances to be driven by opposition without even realizing it. Reminding them at every turn of the glory of the gospel will help them to move beyond cynicism into a life of repentance, prayer, and hope.
5.Encourage asking hard, genuine questions within their Jesus-loving community
There is no substitute for a community of people who confess “Jesus is Lord” and are working as hard as they can to understand everything that his lordship means. Academic environments often revolve around grades, performance, and competition. So providing an alternative community that genuinely seeks understanding can provide students a sense of relief and of refuge.
Content modified from The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith by Matthew Lee Anderson copyright © 2013. Used by permission of Moody Publishers.