Last week I wrote a post to encourage new seminarians as they begin their journey. I had some friends ask me to do something similar for incoming college freshmen, so here you go. NOTE: This is written first to our new students at The College at Southeastern, and then to any student starting out at an evangelical school. These generally would apply to a student starting at a state school as well, but I added a final point for these students.
This fall I teach an evangelism class in our college. I’m also speaking several days at Oklahoma Baptist University and at William Carey College, and I’ve had the joy of speaking at many Christian colleges over the years. I love the excitement (and to some extent, the apprehension) of college freshman. I saw a study a few years ago that said the loneliest people in America are college freshmen. I want to encourage you and push you to think of ways to enjoy college while not wasting these valuable years.
As you enter college you experience a rite of passage. Whether you live at home and commute locally, move into a dorm, or travel halfway across the country to start a dramatically new chapter of life, you are crossing into adulthood in real and personal ways. Here are a few points to consider as you begin this exciting chapter.
First, embrace adulthood. Really, being an adult is awesome. Most of you want this and have been waiting a while to get out and on your own. But don’t let the trials of midterms and tribulations of eating ramen noodles cause you to wish for your high school days like the Israelites longed for Egypt the first time things got hard. Life is hard sometimes; embrace the challenge. Don’t buy one of those “I’m not adulting today” shirts. You are an adult both biologically and legally, so embrace it. Decide now to reject the adolescent behaviors foisted on you by pop culture. Relish in the light of maturation!
Again, most of you are beyond ready for this but to be safe, choose to be responsible (that’s adulting). Use an alarm clock, survive more than an hour without checking your phone, and actually read and follow the syllabus before you put it at the bottom of your parakeet’s cage.
Second, own your spirituality. You can learn facts about the Bible and devotional habits in some classes, but you alone control your zeal for God. Don’t settle for a knock-off, Americanized version of Christian mush when you can feast on the banquet of God’s grace. We need you, and we need you at your best spiritually. Relish your walk with God. Don’t let it get lost in the sea of reading assigned to you. Most of the great spiritual movements in history–like great revivals–had people your age at their heart. Be the revival generation.
Third, ignore 90% of what you hear from generational experts. Okay, you are a Millennial. You are first a human and a follower of Jesus, and that trumps whatever generational hype you find yourself in. Generational studies are helpful on the macro, but you live in the micro of who God made you to be in His image. Be who God made you. Get in the Word, study it like a starving man consuming his first meal in months. Get your identity from the One who made you.
Fourth, learn some people skills. Just do that, please. Too many believers accumulate a lot of Bible knowledge and yet struggle to have a meaningful conversation with actual people (you can thank your smart phone for a lot of that). A great way to do this is to start sharing your faith regularly. Lost people aren’t impressed with you and will help you when you are awkward. Being awkward at 18 is nothing to be ashamed of, but staying that way definitely is.
Fifth, go against the grain of American culture: 1) Don’t act like the world revolves around you. Jump in with both feet and stake out a place to make an impact for Jesus. 2) Trade in American individualism and embrace biblical community. Get in a local church, find a small group, and serve. Churches desperately need you, and even though most of them don’t act like it, it’s true.
Sixth, get a mentor. Find someone older than you who walks with God and let him (guys) or her (ladies) push you to grow. Hopefully that person will be in your local church as well. An upper classman, a godly layman, someone who is farther down the road than you can do wonders for your growth and help you out of jams.
Finally, pray. Learn to pray. Learn to have deep, rich conversations with God. I’m so grateful I was helped a lot here at about your age. Where you are and the decisions you make–about marriage, singleness, career, and so on–have so much to do with your nearness to God.
Ah, yes, one more. If you are at a state school, I’m excited for you as well. I’ve had the honor of speaking to students at all sorts of universities from UNC to Harvard, from Mississippi State to Florida State. I always try to make this point, and it’s the final one: If you know Jesus, and you are attending a state university, your second reason for being there is to get an education. Your first reason is to be a missionary for Jesus. You are in a sea of people who don’t know Christ; don’t waste your college days.