Whether or not you’ve said this out loud, it’s a question a lot of future college freshmen are asking this month as they think about leaving home for the first time and stepping onto campus in a few short weeks. And there’s a good reason they’re asking—the university can be a tough place for your faith to survive.
In college, you’ll be out from under the protection of your parents and your youth group. Your belief in Jesus and what he says will be questioned, and maybe even mocked, by many different people—even some of your professors. All sorts of temptations will be right there in front of your face, and they’ll be considerably more intense than they were in high school. And you may experience loneliness and depression. Many college students do. In short, it’s going to be extremely difficult for your faith to survive your college years.
Not surviving. Thriving.
But if you’re interested in your faith doing more than just surviving—if, say, you’re looking for a place where your faith can thrive—then the college campus is the place for you.
I’m speaking from personal experience here. I entered my freshman year as a nominal Christian; I was a good kid, I’d read some of my Bible and periodically followed what it said, I went to church most Sundays. But I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to last long as that kind of Christian in college. So I made some decisions early on that allowed Jesus to transform me, renew my campus through me, and change how I looked at the world around me. And I’ve never been the same. In fact, the best thing I ever did for my faith journey was to make the journey to, and through, college.
So let me suggest three ways you can allow your faith to thrive, instead of just survive, in the university world.
1. Make it your own.
I started college with a faith I’d inherited from my parents. While I’m forever grateful for their example, I realized about a week into my freshman year that for my relationship with Jesus to last, I had to make it mine, not theirs.
Actually, taking ownership happens with a lot of things those first couple months—how you treat money, what you choose to put into your body, how you treat other people who are different than you. This is natural; you’re getting your first real taste of independence. But you’ll find that the decisions you make during this time will influence the way you make decisions for the rest of your life. So make sure, if you’re serious about your faith, that you decide early and often to make Jesus a priority in your life. Not because anyone told you to, but because you want to.
2. Find a family.
The thing that will shape your college experience the most—more than your major, more than the part-time job you get to pay your tuition, more than the all-you-can-eat dorm cafeteria threatening to pack 15 pounds onto your pre-freshman frame—is who you hang out with. In many ways you reinvent yourself during your college years, and who you become has a lot to do with who you spend time with, who influences you, and who you influence.
My college career—and my life—was altered for the extreme good when I got involved with a group of guys in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship my freshman year. Seek out InterVarsity (or any other solid, Bible-believing, outward-focused Christian organization) as soon as you step foot on campus, or even before. You won’t regret finding a new family that will challenge and support you in your walk with Christ.
3. Press into the hard times and mature.
College is hard (have I said it enough yet?). You’ll feel that strongly and often during this coming year. You may be tempted to hide or retreat or quit; lots of people do. But the difficulty of college is precisely why I believe your faith can thrive there.
James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Hiding, retreating, or quitting may be less difficult, but they’re also ways of cheating yourself out of the real work God wants to do in you these next two to four (or more!) years. He wants to teach you to persevere, to mature, to thrive. So press into the difficult times (with your personal faith and new family alongside), and get ready for your faith to enter levels it never has before.
With those tips in mind, determine in your heart right now, before you step onto your campus this fall, that you’ll allow Jesus to deepen your relationship with him in college. That decision will forever change your freshman year, and the rest of your life.
What are you most nervous about as you think about your first year at college? How do these three tips address those fears?
Steven Grahmann is the Area Director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Arizona and has been on staff for 13 years. He lives in Flagstaff with his wife, Jessica, and two boys. And he still remembers his freshman year like it was yesterday, since it was one of the best years of his life.