Helping College Students Find Faith that Sticks

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As a first-generation college student, I left home and began my college years with little thought or preparation, other than knowing a college degree was the required “next step” to prepare me for the future.

That was almost 50 years ago. The college campus (and the world) was a much different place than it is today.

I had no idea then that I would spend most of the next 50 years ministering to college students and college ministry leaders and trying to help guide students as they navigated some of the most critical years of their lives.

As I think back on my days as a college freshman, I realize the advice I was given in 1971 isn’t much different than the advice I would give college students and their parents today.

I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same! So, here’s some advice for today:

1. Know what you believe — and stick to it.

Collegiate ministry leaders often tell me that today’s college students are basically biblically illiterate. Many cannot tell you the basic truths of God’s word, explain simple Bible stories or point others to Christ, even though these students grew up in church and have been shaped for years by student ministries.

College students will face many challenges to their faith. I did.

On today’s college campus, it’s never been more important for students to know the truth of God’s word, know what they believe, be able to articulate it and above all — stick to it.

2. Find a faith community — and stick with it.

Patterns established by college students in the first three weeks of school are likely to be patterns they stick with for the rest of their college experience. That includes study habits, sleep (or the lack of it) and especially friends or community.

For the freshman away from home, church and family for the first time, finding a new community is essential to success.

I joined a church in my college town the first weekend I was on campus. It was one of the best and most important decisions I made as a student.

That faith community helped me integrate faith and facts, walked with me as I explored a call to ministry and was the place I found (and married) my wife.

3. Find a church and your local Baptist Campus Ministry to help you continue your faith journey — and stick with it.

4. Pray and support your student — stick with him or her and don’t stop.

There’s a cross-stitched saying on my mother’s wall that basically says, “Give your children two lasting things — roots and wings.” Parents and family, pastors and youth ministers, now is the time.

Make sure they’re ready, make sure they have a strong foundation in life and faith, pray for your student like you’ve never prayed before and then let him or her go.

Perhaps one of the great dangers facing our world today is the inability of today’s students to grow up, be adults, make decisions and live life on their own. This is clearly God’s design and plan.

Yet we often hold them too tightly and fail to help them become productive, faithful young adults. They’re going to make mistakes. We all did.

5. Give them roots and wings, encourage, equip and pray — stick with them and don’t stop.

This article was first seen in the Alabama Baptist newspaper.

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