When I was 4 years old, while running along the edge of the pool, I slipped on a small puddle and fell right into one of the scariest moments of my life. I had seconds to figure out how to kick my legs and paddle my arms in order to keep my head above water. I initially panicked before survival mode kicked in. Obviously I made it out alive, but the experience taught me you can never be 100 percent prepared for anything. My few swim lessons had given me just enough confidence to tiptoe along the perimeter of the pool, but still left me to fend for myself once I entered.
Life is filled with experiences that force us to learn on our own. Heading off to college can leave many feeling like they have just fallen into a pool for the very first time. The emotions range anywhere from complete dread to complete freedom. While some may seem to fall in, some tiptoe in slowly and still others appear to dive right in.
In high school, your world and life probably seemed at least somewhat manageable, conventional and predictable. Sure, there was the classic teenage drama like the situations depicted on each episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager. However, the sexual temptations, relational conflicts and emotional breakdowns often experienced on a college campus are intensified by the new pressures of becoming an adult.
It’s going to be important to consistently remind yourself of the lessons you learned while in youth ministry. Oftentimes, those lessons didn’t necessarily come from a sermon, but from the time you were encouraged privately by a pastor or friend. Take some time to write down some examples of when and how your life was impacted most during your high school ministry. A great way to get through discouraging moments is to be reminded of past breakthrough faith experiences. This will help you cope when you suddenly find yourself disconnected from your encouraging youth ministry family. After all, keeping your head above water is going to take action, discipline and faith.
How students choose to engage in their faith once in college often determines whether or not they will work through the temptation, stress and relational tension that often accompanies one’s college experience. Here are some ways to engage your faith and take on this new world.
Stand up for what’s wight, not necessarily against what’s wrong
What’s the right thing to do? This is the question young adults continue to ask. According to Lifeway research, 66 percent of churched young adults rated the opportunity to meet the needs of others (locally and globally) as extremely important in their lives, and 47 percent of unchurched young adults said the same. Inside or outside the Church, emerging generations are looking for opportunities to impact their world. Involve yourself in campus service projects, fundraisers and community events that support the Gospel. I think Bono said it best when he said, “At a certain point, I just felt, you know, God is not looking for alms—God is looking for action.” People are sick of hearing from Christians and ready to see them in action. Show people that righteousness is doing something right, not the absence of doing something wrong.
Get involved in a campus community
No one should ever go through life alone. Thankfully, your campus will most likely have several Christian communities to get involved in like Chi Alpha, InterVarsity, FCA, Baptist Collegiate Ministry, Campus Ambassadors and many more. You can go online to see which ministries are offered at your college. You are going to want to do this early so you can begin building relationships with people of similar beliefs and convictions right away. The earlier you establish relationships, the sooner you can develop trusting friendships. Many other clubs are going to be vying for attention, but engaging in a Christian community must be a priority. Schedule a meeting with the leader of a campus ministry to see how you can get involved. They will be thrilled you reached out and will have several areas where you can serve.
Allow your professors to challenge your theology
Don’t be shocked when your beliefs are threatened. There will be some moments during a class lecture when you feel everything you believe about God and the Bible is being attacked. You may be compelled to defend your theology in front of your whole class; however, arguing with someone who holds a couple of master’s degrees and a doctorate or two is not the best idea. On the other hand, you may feel obliged to reconsider everything you know about God right there on the spot. In those moments, take a deep breath and then find some time to further study and discuss your class material from a biblical perspective. Your response to anything that challenges the truth of the Bible will determine whether or not you allow it to build your faith or deplete it. Having your beliefs challenged is not a bad thing. Responding negatively, however, can be damaging.
A great and complex way to stretch your faith is by choosing love. Jesus interacted with and cared for the “least of these.” In the days of Jesus, these people were lepers, prostitutes, the demon-possessed and even children. Discover who the “least of these” are on your campus and choose to love and accept them. After all, people will be able to identify something different about you by who and how you love. Make a conscious effort to be kind and gentle to everyone you come in contact with. In addition, make an attempt to show compassion by approaching people you would typically not interact with. Commit to going out of your way to show compassion to at least one person each day.
Set a precedent
Determine where you stand early and often. I’m passionate about meat, bread and potatoes. On the other hand, I’m adamant about not eating anything green. I’m sorry, I just can’t get myself to put anything green in my mouth—I’m not going to do it. Because I set that precedent early on with my friends and family, no one ever expects me to eat broccoli, green beans or lettuce. When eating at someone else’s house, they don’t even bother preparing a salad for me because they know I won’t eat it. Similarly, if you take a stand early against immorality, people will eventually not even bother to ask if you want to participate. You don’t need to be overbearing, but you need to be honest. When you have an opportunity to talk about your relationship with God, do so with grace and peace. Once you explain where you stand spiritually, you make yourself accountable to everyone else. Set these precedents early.
Find a church home
I remember walking into a Starbucks for the very first time on my own to order a drink. My wife, being a Starbucks vet and fluent in the lingo, would always order for me. This time, however, I stood alone before a bunch of completely foreign words and had no idea what to choose. The person in front of me ordered a Caramel Frappucino so I decided to do the same. I quickly realized it was completely different from what my wife always ordered for me. I hesitated to even try it because it was so unusual to me. After the first sip, though, I knew this was my new all-time favorite drink. Finding a new church is somewhat similar to my Starbucks experience. Most likely, your parents or girlfriend or boyfriend have always chosen a church for you. Once in college, however, you get to decide where you attend. Many college students don’t attend church because they haven’t found the “perfect church.” Rest assured: There is no such thing as the perfect church. I encourage you, in the midst of your church hopping, to eventually settle on the essentials. What are three areas of a church that are non-negotiable for you? This could be biblical depth, worship and community. You don’t need to find the perfect church—you just need to find the best church for you. Remember: A church may seem odd to you, but after your first visit, you may realize it’s the one you’ve been waiting for all along.
My experience of falling into the pool at the age of 4 was traumatizing for me. I wasn’t completely prepared, I didn’t know all the steps and it scared me to death … almost literally. You may be experiencing some similar feelings as you are about to enter college. Or perhaps you feel as confident as Michael Phelps before he enters a pool, but still anxious of how you are going to get to the finish line. I encourage you to realize God is a God of the journey and not just the destination. He is with you every step of the way and does not want to see you drown. God is cheering for you and wants to see you succeed. With that in mind, you don’t need to fall in or even slowly test the waters; you can have the confidence to dive right in.
Ryan Moore is the national young adult ministries coordinator for the Assemblies of God. Together, with his family (wife Alyson and 4-year old daughter Alyza) he enjoys watching Disney movies, eating at Chick-fil-A and playing Beauty and the Beast.