How to Stay Christian in College
Your students need to know they can keep the faith even after they leave your ministry.
True, the realities of campus life and being a full-time student often produce a sense of disconnectedness from society. College and grad students aren’t always the sharpest on keeping up with what’s happening outside the bubble.
But while there may be some truth to the bubble experience, it can be unhelpfully deceptive and give way to a crippling lie: that campus life isn’t real life. My race hasn’t started yet. School is just a scrimmage; the real thing begins after graduation. This is one of the most important myths to dispel for the Christian student.
Pop the BubbleAfter living four years “in the bubble” as an undergraduate, then working on staff with a college ministry for four more, taking graduate courses, and now interacting with students about How to Stay Christian in Seminary, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned personally, and am eager to pass along to full-time students, is this: Pop the bubble.
Don’t believe the lie that life really hasn’t begun because you’re a full-time student. Don’t think that what you do, or don’t do, on campus won’t affect the trajectory of the rest of your life and bring consequences that can be hard to shake. In particular, don’t give yourself a pass on the normal Christian life because “this is a special season” that somehow makes you immune to temptation, demonic attack and the deep deceitfulness remaining in your own heart.
If you’re a student full-time, it is a special season for growth—for study, for developing habits of mind and heart that will benefit you, and others, for a lifetime. It is a springboard to lifelong learning, not one long last day of recess. Be vigilant to protect class and study time, within reason; if God’s call on your life for now is to be a student, embrace his call and don’t squander this season of preparation for a life of need-meeting.
But it is vital to fight the instinct to think of ourselves as exceptional. That we’re exempt from saturating our lives in the word of God, or continually availing ourselves of his ear in prayer, or genuinely belonging to his body in a local church. You are not a student first, but ten thousand times a Christian first.
And in Christianity, there are no holding patterns, no pauses or time-outs, no respites from everyday soul-care. No bubbles. Today always matters (Psalm 95:7; Hebrews 3:13). The risen Christ is ever on his throne. Satan is always scheming. And your heart is never in neutral, but either getting hotter or colder. This “special season” of life is way too special (and normal) to give yourself a pass on Jesus, his gospel or his church.
This Is Real LifeIt’s important to hear that the life of a student is not a retreat from real life; it is real life. Real faith, real holiness, real warmth and softness of heart, real relationships, real eternity lie in the balance. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “There is no such thing as a holiday in the spiritual realm.”
The secret to “staying Christian” as a student, whether at a secular college or a Christian seminary, is that there’s no real secret. It’s just ordinary, everyday, world-transforming Christianity. The key to staying Christian in any season of life, any place on the planet, any time in history is simply this: being a Christian today. Hearts don’t harden all at once, but a day at a time.
There’s a sense in which it can be even more dangerous for the Bible and seminary student than for the student at a secular university. If the gospel is the aroma of life to life, and death to death, then studying theology is either the fast-track to sanctification or to condemnation (2 Corinthians 2:15–16), to increasing faith or diminishing belief.
But what’s true in the incubator of Bible college is true as well on the secular campus. All things were created in, through and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16). Every course of study is about Jesus, if we only have the eyes to see. And “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Biology, physics, business, chemistry, communications, literature, medicine, philosophy and political science will either draw you nearer to Jesus or pull you farther from him.
Your Most Important HomeworkHeart-work, said Puritan great John Flavel, is the “one great business of a Christian’s life.” If you are a Christian, your most important homework (and classwork, for that matter) is heart-work. The life of the student is cognitively demanding, but we should relentlessly labor to make our mind-work serve our heart-work.
And we do so, not leaning on our own understanding and resources, but with the wind of the Holy Spirit in our sails. Staying Christian in college, seminary or any other season of life means expending energy to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). And that is the very thing he stands ready to do for and through us: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 24).