The Challenges of Going to College

Last Sunday night the teenagers and I had a great Bible study about going to college. We discussed some of the potential pitfalls and dangers in going to college, and we looked at some things young people can do to avoid spiritual harm. Since we have so many young members who are facing this step in life I wanted to put in more permanent form the fruits of our study.

The Potential Dangers

Studies that I have seen on the internet indicate that as many as 50% to 75% of teenagers lose their faith once they go off to college. That is a staggering statistic. There are many reasons that going to college can be a source of spiritual harm, for young Christians.

1. They can use the freedom of being on their own for immoral purposes. When a young person goes away to school they are free from the constant supervision of their parents. They have to choose when to get up, when to eat and what to eat, and when to go to bed. Beyond these menial tasks, they have the freedom to choose whether to go to worship, what kinds of friends to hang out with, and other fundamental moral decisions. Some young people decide to live it up and “turn freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” (Galatians 5:13).

2. They will face direct challenges to their faith. The sad reality is that the academic world is overwhelmingly anti-Christian. College campuses are a simmering cauldron of radical activism. Young Christians who have not seriously considered their own faith can be easily overwhelmed by militant professors who deride belief in biblical Christianity. Further, the stifling influence of “political correctness” that pervades college campuses can intimidate timid Christians when it comes to issues like the homosexual agenda.

3. There is the constant danger of prideful intellectualism. The Bible warns us that the accumulation of human wisdom can lead to pride and apostasy. Paul pointed out to the “intellectual” Corinthians that “not many wise according to the flesh” are called of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:26). I have known young Christians who have become so enamored with intellectual achievement that they have fallen into the trap of arrogance. “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men...rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

The Benefits of Education

Having said all of this, I am nevertheless a big believer in getting an education. Developing our minds for personal glory is wrong, but developing our minds for the glory of God is part of what it means to love the Lord with all our mind (Matthew 22:37). In the “information age” an education is crucially important to finding work. The Bible teaches that we are to work to provide for ourselves (2 Thessalonians 3:10), our families (1 Timothy 5:8), and others (Ephesians 4:28).

Some young ladies think that since they will be “stay-at-home” mothers that getting an education is unimportant. I certainly appreciate the desire of young women to follow God’s pattern for the home (Titus 2:5), but I believe ignoring an education is short-sighted. First, young people are waiting until later in life to get married (I think the average ages right now are 26 for guys and 24 for girls). Further, studies show that waiting until later to get married is a great predictor of marital success. That being the case, getting an education is important for young ladies so that they can be productive during that time between high school and marriage. Further, receiving an education is a great asset for mothers (and fathers) as they raise their children and help them through school. Finally, while no one likes to think of what can go wrong in marriage, divorce or death can leave a woman in the position of providing for herself and family.

One other benefit of education is this: I believe Christians need to do battle with the false philosophies of the world. When Paul confronted the philosophers in Athens, he demonstrated great knowledge of their beliefs, even quoting from a Stoic philosopher (Acts 17:28). I believe there is a need for Christians (who are so inclined) to receive an education for the purpose of exposing the false theories of our day. Again there is always danger in acquiring knowledge, and what I am urging here could backfire if a young Christian did not have an anchored faith, but I passionately believe that Christians need to engage the enemy. Not every Christian has the ability or interest in this aspect of our spiritual warfare, but I want to encourage those who do.

Some Safeguards

So education is important, but it can be dangerous. What can young Christians do to avoid disaster?

1. Make your faith your own. I think the biggest reason Christians fall away in college is because they have never made their faith their own to begin with. They have simply accepted what they believe because it is what their parents handed to them. It is a great blessing for a child to receive a heritage of faith, but that faith must eventually become their own. We need to encourage our young people to believe what they believe because they have decided to think through their faith and be directly responsible to the Lord. On a practical level this means we must patiently answer questions they have and work with them as they work through their faith. I honestly believe that young people who “lose their faith” when they go away to school probably never actually had much faith or conviction to begin with.

2. Be an active part of a sound congregation. Some young people just drift in and out of churches when they go away, especially in cities which have numerous churches. This is extremely harmful. Finding a good “church home” is crucial for anyone who moves away from home, and especially those who are young.

3. Establish accountability with a trusted friend. While going away to school means you are “on your own,” no one ever needs to be completely on their own. I would suggest establishing an accountability relationship with a Christian you can trust, someone you will meet with regularly and be completely honest with. “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

Going to college can be a great time in life. It is a chance for tremendous growth, personally, intellectually, and spiritually. Keep the Lord first in your heart and make the most of the opportunity.