It’s halfway through another semester of college, and the excitement of beginning a new year is winding down, and winter break is looking better and better. Each academic year starts with the best of intentions, but by the end of it many of you, even the ones who get good grades, will have become terrible students. Some of you, after graduation, will realize you threw away your entire academic careers.
Wasting your education is easier than you might think, and doesn’t just happen by forgetting to study. Here’s a list of six surefire ways you can sabotage your next four years.
1. Fail to become a student of culture, by isolating yourself from anything new or uncomfortable.
We’ve all heard it: College is a “dark place.” It’s full of liberals, postmoderns, party-goers, religious fanatics, environmentalists and other “dangers” to your faith. You’ve been told to avoid these people, hole up in a nice Christian community and work on that law degree. This is your only hope for escaping higher education. But it needn’t be so. College is a blend of cultures, races, religions and political views. You’re going to meet more people who are different from you than who are like you. You might even become friends with these people. And you will be better for it. The best decision I ever made in college was to move in with a Jewish roommate; Some of my best friends from college are Iraqi Shia Muslims. My relationships with those people have not only given me a broader view of the world, but they have stretched and strengthened my faith in ways that it wouldn’t have been otherwise.
2. Accept “sexy” new worldviews without critically examining them.
According to a recent study, more than half of you will experience religious decline during your college years. As hard as your youth pastor tried, you may not be prepared to defend your faith in the marketplace of ideas that is college. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You will be introduced to some compelling arguments that combat the philosophies you grew up with, and some arguments that seem more compelling than they really are. You will learn that responding with a simple, “You just have to believe” or “It’s something you just feel,” won’t cut it; it actually belittles your skeptical friends by assuming they are emotionally inferior. College is a great chance for you to get a good, long look at some competing philosophies. Study them, respect them, savor their complexity. But don’t buy into them if you haven’t given Christian apologists an opportunity to respond. The Bible is full of complex issues, and Christian history is full of thoughtful people who have wrestled with them, if you care to look. In most cases, Ecclesiastes 1:9 is applicable: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
3. Don’t have a crisis of faith.
During your four years or more in academia, you will probably challenge the intellectual foundations of your long-held beliefs, and you may even have doubts. This is a good thing. In fact, a crisis of faith in early adulthood is probably the best thing for your faith. Earnest soul searching leads to a deeper, more genuine faith. By searching for solutions to your unanswered philosophical questions you’ll learn a great deal not just about your religion, but about yourself. While the pursuit of truth is important, remember that it is a means to an end. Don’t get caught in “seeker” mode. Many self-proclaimed “truth seekers” unintentionally assume that they are more intellectually sincere than firm believers. As G.K. Chesterton pointed out in his book, Orthodoxy: “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
4. Believe that your studies don’t matter to God as much as “ministry” or “spiritual things.”
If you went to youth group in high school, you’ll probably spend your first few weeks of college searching for the right campus ministry. Eventually, you’ll find one that meets your needs, with people you like. Good for you. You’ll have a great freshman year. Come sophomore year, things might get more challenging. You’ll lead Bible studies, organize outreaches, run charity drives or all three. By junior year you may notice a widening disparity between the amount of time you spend doing “spiritual things” and all the rest: your studies, your classmates, your extracurricular activities. By senior year, you may look around and realize that you don’t have any close non-Christian friends. Without knowing it, you’ve made mistake #1. Again, it needn’t be so. All of your college experience is spiritual, not just the Christianity-related activities. Bible studies and prayer meetings are not the only acts of worship you can do in college. The use of your God-given mind in diligent study is an act of worship, even if you’re just memorizing vectors. The use of your body in athletics is a recognition of God’s good creation of the human body. The very act of using words to convey an idea (in an essay, or a story) displays the image of God, who created the universe through words.
All of these things are immensely spiritual before any “spiritual” element is attached to them. Your education’s spiritual significance is not measured by the amount of formal ministry that accompanies it, because it is already spiritual by nature.
5. Isolate yourself from other Christians.
All of this information about “spiritual” and “non-spiritual” things might make you think you don’t need to bother with all that formal ministry stuff. You might be thinking, I can get all the spiritual exercise I need by writing research papers and without a stuffy Bible study, thank you very much. And you would be wrong. Even if you can write very spiritual research papers, how do you expect to hear God’s voice in college if you’re not regularly interacting with His people? Most of Jesus’ commands simply can’t be done in the singular, but require participation in a group. These groups are often messy, disorganized, uncool or even flawed. And they are certainly full of flawed people. But the alternative—going through college on your own—is far worse.
6. Fail to let your faith inform your craft.
How does a Christian civil engineer design a bridge? Answering this question as it relates to your field is the heart of your education. The Gospel is applicable to all parts of life, including your profession. It should make your work look different from the status quo. This doesn’t mean that your bridge has “John 3:16” painted across its side, or that non-Christians make bad bridges. I don’t know what it looks like to build a bridge in a Christian way. But If you’re a civil engineer who is allowing your faith to inform your life, it’s your job to figure that out. The gospel gives us a compelling means, over time and with many mistakes, to become the ethical professionals the world needs us to be. That’s adulthood. And that’s what college is all about.