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 by what I was experiencing. My devastation was no longer due to the heat, but it was due to the number 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 be 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students, and at some time, those students had come to our church or attended one of our Bible studies, but they were no longer active in anything remotely religious.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 Was our church too outdated for them to perceive the message as relevant to their lives?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 to 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 Christians. 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.
I have witnessed too many students begin college following Christ but leave far from Him. In my years of ministry, one particular element makes the difference between those who make it and those who don’t.
Students desiring to follow Jesus in college must decide how they will define truth. If you don’t know what you believe or why you believe it, forces can successfully alter your worldview based on cultural opinions.