The Best Advice to Give College Students

September is usually the most challenging and rewarding month of the year for me.  With programs blowing and going at the church, Lander classes starting up, college group at our house, events, programs, weddings, classes, etc., it is one of the most sleep-deprived times of my year.

This year has been exceptionally busy yet exceptionally fruitful.

Especially in the area of college ministry.

I’m not the college pastor.  I used to be.  My role as Family Pastor is to facilitate some things, but basically my wife and I disciple college students as church members rather than church staff.

In the many years I have been at North Side, I have been amazed the last few weeks that this is the most incredible time of collegiate ministry we have ever seen at North Side.

  • If numbers is how you keep score, we have had more college students than ever before in worship attendance, small groups, and events.  Remarkably more.  It has grown significantly in the last couple of years.
  • If excitement is how you keep score, we have seen some incredible stories of how God is making this church more than just a home away from home.  College students have been very encouraging concerning their excitement about our church family.
  • If connections are how you keep score, biblical community is happening beyond this group but they are being connected with all ages in our church.  College students are finding family here.
  • If life change is how you keep score, I have never seen so many college students as we are seeing right now who are this passionate about truly following Jesus.

It’s been amazing to watch.  Seeing these students pile in our services, our groups, our playroom floor has been amazing.  Their stories of how they are following Jesus make it all worthwhile.

So, I get the question often: What is the best advice you could give a college student?

Here it is:

Find college students who love Jesus the way you want to love Jesus and follow them.

Follow them where?

  • Follow them to their church
  • Follow them to their groups
  • Follow them with the people they do life with

Imitate them as they imitate Jesus (1 Cor. 11:1).

Make sure though it’s a person you want to emulate.  If you want to be a casual attendee of a church with no life change, you can find plenty of college students doing that.  If you want to have one foot in the Kingdom of God and one foot in the kingdom of this world, you can follow plenty to that end.

But if you want to follow Jesus closely, find those students who are passionate about Jesus in the way you want to be, and follow them.

When I got to college, I saw two guys in particular who loved Jesus extremely, and I tagged along with them relentlessly.  I was the freshman tag along and I didn’t care.  I wanted what they had.  If I was going to be following Jesus, I needed some people beside me doing the same thing or with whom I had to run fast to catch up with.

Get Intentional About Who You Hang Out With

Your spiritual life will only grow according to the size of the environment in which you place yourself. You will never outgrow your surroundings. If you surround yourself with people who make Jesus their one thing and get their worldview from the Bible, you will end up doing the same. If you place yourself in an environment where Jesus is not treasured, you will quickly move away from that ideal.

I always knew that intentionally placing oneself in positive environments affected one’s spiritual condition, but I never realized how pivotal it was until I worked with students on a college campus. A few years ago, some staff members from my church and I were passing out promotional bags for our church at the local college’s business fair. It was a typical South Carolinian August day – unbearably hot and dreadfully humid. As we passed out info and invited students to visit our church, I became increasingly devastated. By the minute, I became more and more overwhelmed at what I was experiencing. My devastation was no longer due to the heat, but it was due to the amount of students that I actually knew the names of on that campus.

Students would walk by and tell me hello and ask what was new at the church. I would recognize certain students and was able to remember their names, and ask them how their class load was going. What alarmed me was that I knew so many of the students and at some time those students had come to our church or attended one of our Bible studies, but they were no longer active in anything remotely religious. I knew how they were living, and it was not according to what they once said they believed.

They were involved at one time, but now so many of them were missing in action. I attempted to discover why they were no longer involved. Were my communication skills lacking so much that it kept them away from our Bible study? Was our church too outdated for them to perceive the message as relevant to their lives? Were we completely missing the way to minister to their needs while they were in college?

Finally, I realized a common denominator between every single student I encountered that at one time had been active but now was not growing in Christ – they had chosen bad friends.

Seems too simple of an answer? I thought so too.

I kept arguing in my own mind. Surely the simple answer of having chosen bad friends is not the problem of these students.

Without a doubt, every student who had at one time followed Jesus but had drifted away had surrounded himself with friends that had led him astray. I counted numerous Christians enamored with good intentions to grow but never positively enhanced their spiritual condition. They were never able to grow because the environment in which they placed themselves was not conducive for spiritual growth. These environments were actually counterproductive to their spiritual health. They never grew beyond their environment.

I then looked to the other extreme. I started listing the ten students who possessed the most contagious faith. I studied the students who were growing to be like Christ, keeping their integrity intact, and reaching out to those far away from God. They too had a common denominator – they chose great, godly friends. They differed in being blessed with godly parents. They ranged in their length of time as a Christian. They possessed differing levels of biblical knowledge, but they all had surrounded themselves with people who were crazy about Jesus. The most consistently growing students all had consistent people serving as their entourage. The people that they allowed to be closest to them were first and foremost people who were closest to God.

You want to grow in Christ?  Find some students who love Jesus passionately and authentically and follow them.