Thursday, August 31, 2023

College / University Survival Guide [Part 2]

What can a Christian do to maintain his or her faith on campus in the presence of a fairly discouraging atmosphere of indifference?

There’s actually quite a lot. Let me suggest that just as learning requires habits of study, staying strong in your faith requires a sort of ongoing maintenance program that counteracts the corrosive effects of secular indifference.

What’s in the survival program? Okay, let’s look at that. I’m going to put things in four categories: “preparing” (i.e. what to do right now, in order to get ready), “arriving” (i.e. what to do immediately upon getting to the campus), “surviving” (i.e. basic priorities to get you through the first year and beyond), and “thriving” (i.e. how to employ your faith to enrich your academics and actually give you a strategic advantage). How’s that?


1/ Commit to reading your Bible and praying before starting every day

You’ll need this. Before you fill your mind with whatever ideas the world has for you, make sure you’re laying a solid groundwork for your insight. You’ll be amazed not only at how much this does for your level of happiness, but also for your abilities to criticize and discern academically. And since these activities are key values of university, it’s going to make you a much better student.

2/ Learn the basics of salvation

You’re going to be encountering people who don’t know Christ. You need to know that you have told them the truth about what you believe, and told them concisely and accurately. Not only that, but you’ll meet confused, weak Christians who have not been doing Step 1, or who have been raised in an overly-protective Christian home, and thus are now at sea and confused about their faith. They’re struggling and questioning: and you can be a great help if you have a few simple realizations in hand.

Know the core of the salvation message, and know it simply. This is a good moment for you to have four or five basic check-off points in your head to help you discern where the people you’re talking to are in relation to salvation. And you’re going to be helping them patch up the particular points on which they’re getting confused.

Don’t overwork this: you don’t have time now. Just get yourself the solid basics.

3/ Line up prayer support

You’re on your own now … or so it will sometimes seem to you. But you don’t have to be, and you shouldn’t really be. If you’re a Christian, the Lord should be a constant presence in your awareness: after all, he never leaves. But to have the additional resource of people praying for you daily can shore up your strength in situations you can’t anticipate, and can lift you up if you’re feeling spiritually weak.

My suggestion would be that you pick two people (in addition to any members of your own family) who you are confident will pray for you daily. Elderly people are often excellent at this, and they actually appreciate the ongoing chance to have a connection with the next generation’s struggles. So use that resource: everybody wins.


1/ Nail your colors to the mast

My father gave me this one. He was in the navy. In ancient days, ships sometimes used to keep a bunch of flags on board, and they’d run up a different one depending on whose waters they were in. They were safer from privateers and pirates that way. But their true allegiance remained hidden.

If you “nailed your colors to the mast”, it meant your flag could never come down. And wherever you sailed, people knew your allegiance, and would choose their sides accordingly.

When you go into this new social territory, do not be afraid. But be true. Be who you are. Let people know right away that you’re a Christian. Don’t be obnoxious about it, but don’t hide it either. Be plain.

If you are known to be a Christian, people will deal with that just fine: but they won’t ask you to do things you don’t want to do, and they won’t feel insulted or rejected if you make different choices. If you hide your status, you’ll only confuse and anger them when you finally do stand up for something; because it won’t make sense to them.

University is a time for self-definition. Your peers will be experimenting with all sorts of identities and allegiances, most of which they won’t hold for life. Some will be temporary Marxists and some will be momentary Nietzscheans or Randians. Some will briefly dabble with gender theory or feminism, post-colonialism or post-postmodernism. Having some kind of edgy ideology is nothing special when you’re young, untethered and far away from home: everybody does it.

Your fellow students can deal with your choice to be a Christian just fine; but they can’t deal with waffling and hypocrisy. You’ll keep more friends if you’re real.

2/ Sign up with a Christian organization on campus

This is a good first step in “nailing up the colors”. But beyond that, you’re going to need support from fellow Christians. Just hanging out, having coffee or recognizing another Christian in class is really valuable in sustaining yourself.

It’s also an important opportunity for service. Other Christians on campus need you as much as you need them. You can help them talk through their ideas, and you can share your insights with them. It’s also a much healthier social atmosphere for you than local bars and parties, which are the usual alternatives, and you’re far more likely to meet a suitable girlfriend or boyfriend through Christian organizations than through frat keggers.

Everybody’s going to be facing some challenges and changes in their lives over the next four years: companionship makes it easier.

3/ Pick a local church in your area

Yes, you will be busy. And Sunday will seem like your day to sleep in. And probably you’ll miss one or two Sundays just to prove to yourself you could now do it, if for no other reason. But in general, you’re going to need a place to fellowship with the Lord’s people. You will also find that local Christians will also take you under their wings a bit. Sometimes they take you out for free food. At other times, they help you move your stuff or give you a place to go on a weekend when you can’t get home. Having a local church will give you an anchor outside the university, and a change of pace from campus life.

By the way, it’s not unusual for young Christians to move among several different local churches during their university time. They’re experimenting, comparing, and sorting out their personal beliefs about church life. It’s nothing to fear. If you’ve never been outside of your own church pattern before, it’s a good time to have a look at what other Christians are up to. But at the end of the day, you’ll still find you need a particular place that’s more “your own”.

More on surviving and thriving on campus next Thursday in the final post of our series.

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