There are nine things Christian students should be thinking about as they head off to college.
The transition from living at home to living off at college, even if that college is in your same town, is one of the largest transitions a person can undergo in life, sometimes even greater than the transition from single to married. Because you're moving from a place you've lived in — generally in comfort for 18 years, where you've been supervised, you've had a support system, you've had an accountability structure in some form or fashion — to a place where you can do whatever you want, no one knows you, there's no accountability and there's total freedom.
That can and should be a scary thought, because as scripture teaches, we are all pointed towards and have evil desires. Man is fundamentally fallen, and yes, God redeems that and gives us a new nature, but we still have sinful impulses. When we don't have a community and a support system and an accountability structure to temper those, we should have some caution there.
I have nine steps, nine things to think about as you head off to college. Parents, these would be maybe good things to talk about with your child if you're listening to this.
1. Decide Today Whom You're Going To Serve
The first one is simply decide today whom you're going to serve. Joshua said, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." In the same verse he's telling other people you need to decide who you're going to serve.
Right off the bat, you need to make a commitment to serve God, to have his priorities be your priorities. Now this might seem very foundational, but in a time where you're going to have incredible change in your life — you're going to have meals be different, you're going to have tons of organizations vying for your time, attention, and energies, new friends, different classes, all of this, and a lack of support and accountability — you need to make the first thing be the first thing. That starts with making a commitment to honor God with how you live and make that a conscious action.
If you have a goal in life to run a marathon and you never actually write that down, you never actually make that a goal or make it a priority, you're not going to achieve it. In order to have any hope of living for God, you've got to make living for God a priority in your mind.
2. Be Willing To Talk With Everyone
Step number two is much more simple in some ways. Be willing to talk with everyone. I wouldn't turn anyone off when it comes to sitting next to them, talking with them, hanging out with them, getting a meal, a cup of coffee. Who knows how the spirit will use you in the lives of the people you're around, regardless of your biases and prejudices. We should be willing to talk with everyone and anyone. That doesn't mean every conversation starts with "Have you heard about Jesus?"
What it should involve, though, is being sensitive to what the other person is saying and taking opportunities to put a stone in their shoe, give them something to think about with regards to spiritual things or faith or the Gospel. Be willing to talk with everyone.
3. Don't Waste Your Time With Everyone
Don't waste your time with everyone. Be willing to talk with everyone but realize that doesn't mean that you have to always talk with that person you started with, because there are going to be some people who just want to argue. There are going to be some people who honestly are going to be a bad influence on you, and bad company corrupts good morals. You need to know yourself well when it comes to choosing what situations you're going to allow yourself to be in.
It is worth saying that eating with tax collectors and sinners still works. That was Jesus' MO — his pattern of operation — he went to where the lost were. He was willing to talk with everyone. He also said, "Don't cast your pearls before swine." There are going to be some people who just want to argue who don't have an open mind. Move on. You've got limited time. You've got limited energy. Use it most efficiently.
4. Commit To Growing In Your Knowledge Of God
Number four: commit to growing in your knowledge and walk with God. You do need to make this a priority. Like I previously said, so much is going to change in such a short period of time, that if you don't have a dedicated list of priorities, the important things in your life are going to get left behind. Sadly, for a lot of people, growing in their knowledge of who God is is one of those things that quickly gets tossed to the side.
5. Commit To Growing In Your Ability To Defend The Christian Worldview (And Then Actually Do It)
Hopefully you do number four. You grow in your knowledge of God. Then you do number five. You grow in your ability to defend Christianity, maybe by listening to this podcast, by reading books, by listening to other podcasts, and by actually practicing it, putting what you learn into action, sparking up conversations with people, which would be one of our previous points. “Be willing to talk with everyone.”
When you do that, get some practice defending the Christian worldview, asking them, "What do you think about this whole Supreme Court thing where they're deciding about marriage?" Get their input. You can ask certain questions about that. “Have you considered that a mother and a father are best when it comes to raising a child?” These types of questions ,which if you continue the conversation long enough will get to Christianity, but right off the bat, they're current events. They're “hey, what do you think?” They're opinion questions. They can be good ways to get conversations moving. Commit to growing in your ability to defend the Christian worldview and then actually do it.
6. Get Plugged Into A Committed Christian Community
Number six: get plugged into a committed Christian community. Now, this is not a community of committed Christians — no “Baker Act”s here! However, you do need to realize that you're going from this place where you've taken for granted supervision and maybe even rebelled against it, and now you're not going to have any. That should honestly not be necessarily an exciting thing. I know that probably sounds odd, but it should be a cause for concern. Because when we really examine our hearts and our souls, what we see is we're all capable of evil, of doing morally wrong things.
One of the ways to combat that and live a life of purity is to live life as part of a Christian community. Being a part of a community is so integral to being a New Testament Christian. That's why community is emphasized throughout every book of the New Testament. It doesn't make sense to say I'm a Christian and I'm not part of a community. Hebrews 10:24 and 25 says, "Don't stop meeting together but come together to encourage each other." This is extremely important. You need to be a part of a community for learning to help grow in your knowledge of God, to help grow in your ability to defend the Christian worldview, and also so that you can help pour into other people and you can find accountability and encouragement and strength in people who hold your same convictions. That's number six: get plugged into a committed Christian community.
7. Be Involved In The Lives Of Non-Christians
Number seven, though, is don't just stay in your holy huddle. Be involved in the lives of non-Christians, too. I have had this problem in my life and still do to some degree, where the majority of the people I know and hang out with are non-Christians. That's actually kind of backwards. When you look at Jesus' life, he had a community around him of disciples, but he was constantly interacting intentionally with non-Christians. You need to do the same.
You can't just have one half. You need both. You need to be in Christian community and you need to have intentional interaction with non-Christians. By intentional, I don't necessarily mean every conversation involves the Gospel or faith. What it does mean is you make being around non-Christians a priority. That's number seven: be involved in the life of non-Christians.
8. Argue On Level Ground
Number eight is somewhat of a practical recommendation for getting into conversations while in class. That would: be argue on level ground. A lot of times you're going to have Christians who have gone through school. Maybe they've been homeschooled or in private Christian school and they get to college and they're encountered with the majority of their professors not being Christians.
Sometimes professors can be openly anti-Christian. You will have the tendency, possibly, to try and argue with your professor or make a counterpoint. What you need to realize is you are not on an equal playing field. The guy with the mic usually wins, and certainly gets the last word. That's the circumstance you'll be in with your professor.
But all hope is not lost. You can make good counterpoints to points the professor makes. You can do that by simply asking the professor to explain himself. If your professor makes the statement that “God does not exist”, you could ask him, “how did you come to that conclusion?” You can simply get the person to explain more of their reasons. What you'll oftentimes find with professors, with students, with everyone, is they don't have good reasons. You don't really have to do the work of tearing their view down. You can just find that they do that fine on their own, by their inability to describe their view, or their lack of good reasons to support their view.
Remember, you're not on equal ground, and sadly, not everyone's ethical. Your grade could very well depend on how you interact with your professor over what are non-essential class matters. Just remember also that no matter the conversation you have, you need to be a good witness for Christ. That doesn't mean you'll always know everything, but it should mean that the way you handle and comport yourself brings honor to your Christian convictions and Christian faith, and to Christ. It doesn't detract from it. Always act in a winsome and attractive way. Remember, that as much as you can, you should try to argue on level ground.
9. Keep The Gospel As Your Motivation
The last thing kind of mirrors the first thing: keep the Gospel as your motivation. Number one was, decide who you're going to serve. Make a commitment to make Christ a priority. Number nine, keep the Gospel as your motivation. It would be very easy to forget why we're doing these things. “Okay, so I have this checklist. I'm going to talk to people. I'm going to grow in my knowledge of God. I'm going to get plugged into a community.” Why? Why should we do those things?
Because of the Gospel. Because of the good news of Christ. Because we've been forgiven much so we need to live in a way that is worthy of that call and participate in carrying out the good works that were prepared in advance for us to do. We need to participate in our sanctification and our becoming more like Christ.
When we're a part of Christian community we need to have a Gospel focus, a Christ-centered focus. When we're hanging out with non-Christians we need to have the Gospel in mind because it will influence how we act towards them, how we're praying for them, and the types of conversations we'll bring up when appropriate. Don't be spiritually weird, but do be intentional with people and keep the Gospel as your motivation.
I hope this episode of Unapologetic has been helpful. It's a little different than our previous ones. It's definitely more for a specific audience — graduating seniors moving off to college. Though I do think these recommendations are simply good for any Christian. They're just all the more pertinent for the student who's going through a very large transition in life, a transition that we often downplay the side effects and potential dangers of.
It should be an area of concern, not of fear, but just concern that we make sure this transition goes well, and that we don't lose our footing and stumble as all too often happens. Personally, that was my experience. It wasn't due to an atheist professor or anything like that, but my college years were some of my darkest years in life. I suffered from depression. I hated college. I did not like being there at all.
Honestly, they were my darkest years spiritually, too. I had amassed more questions than I thought could possibly have answers, and I didn't think that God existed. It depended on the day if I did or not. If he did, I was convinced that he could not possibly be good. I didn't have answers. I didn't have a Christian community. I wasn't growing in my knowledge of God, and I certainly couldn't defend it. I was not willing to talk with pretty much anyone about that.
The idea of having the Gospel as my motivation was very distant for me. I would love to have the opportunity to repeat that and do it differently. I do think God used all of that in my life in a Romans 8:28 — “working all things together for good” — kind of way, to help me get to where I am now. But I don't want you to have to go through that painful time of backsliding, spinning your wheels, of spiritual angst.
If you follow these nine steps, that doesn't guarantee you success, but you will be setting yourself up for the chance of success. You'll be living your Christian convictions out in a way that I wish I had. I hope this has been helpful. Share it with your friends. Share it on Facebook. Share it with your students. If you have students that you know are graduating, hopefully it will be of help to them. As always, I'll see you next week, for Unapologetic.