Recently, McLean Presbyterian church in Virginia tweeted a question out to several evangelical leaders in preparation for an upcoming weekend youth retreat. Their request: words of wisdom to share with seniors in high school as they prepare to navigate the challenges of life and faith in the years to come.
It’s an important question. We’ve all heard start about student dropouts. Students who found themselves eager to attend youth group and spend time in scripture during high school head to college and later find these disciplines hard to maintain. They’re isolated from their family—in many cases, the bedrock of their faith—and often attend secular universities where Christian communities are far and few between.
McClean tagged several of us, and my answer is at the end, but let’s take a look at some of the advice offered in response to McClean Presbyterian’s bold question:
Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Now he leads Redeemer City to City, which has since launched 250 churches in 48 cities. His books—among them, The Reason for God, The Prodigal God, and Generous Justice—have been enjoyed by millions.
In his response, Keller advised students to “be resilient.” He pointed out that college is a place of discovery—a time to deal with life’s biggest questions of “identity, purpose and choice.” Going to college means leaving behind the familiar comforts of family, friends, church that youngsters always used for support during times of trial and weakness. According to Keller, the experience requires students to open up the floodgates and allow their minds to venture into dangerous territory asking things like “Who am I?” and “What’s the point of everything?”
As difficult as these questions might be, he advises that students not ask them in a vacuum but instead “seek answers in a community.”
Beth Moore is an author, speaker, and the founder of Living Proof Ministries, an organization that aims to encourage women in their spiritual journeys as they come to know Christ through the study of his word.
Moore instructed students to pray daily for God to grant them a “supernatural otherwise unexplainable love for Jesus.” The cultivation of this devoted love allows the Lord to drive people’s passions ultimately giving them the courage to “follow Him anywhere” and “serve Him valiantly” all the days of their lives. As his followers, we find ourselves pulled each day towards a place of surrender unto God’s good plan and purpose.
Derek Halvorson is the President of Covenant College, a Christian liberal arts institution in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. In conjunction with his position at Covenant, Halvorson also serves on the boards of both the Chalmers Center for Economic Development and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.
His words of wisdom were this: “Don’t buy the world’s definition of what constitutes success. God doesn’t need for us to do great things in order that he might be glorified. He calls us to be faithful, and the put our talents to work.”
This advice is critical for not just students, but Christians in all walks of life who feel the weight of this world’s preoccupation with success. Strive as they might, the bigger houses and better jobs aren’t enough to fill the hole in our empty, aching hearts—only God can do that. As we live in this tension between our earthly and heavenly homes, we must learn to love what Christ values: that which is eternal over that which is temporary.
In most cases, students need help knowing when to plan, when to strategize, and when to just let go and let God. Now, don’t get me wrong, some things remain non-negotiable. After dropping off your bags, and getting that dorm-room decorated, finding a local church to plug into is critical to the spiritual formation of any student. Planning to attend each Sunday— regardless of work load, previous plans, or other excuses shouldn’t be a ‘maybe.’ It should be a must.
But let’s not forget—there are some things that you just can’t control. College is a time to reach high, dream big, and try imagining life outside the confines and familiarity of home. Our world tells students that no plans are lofty enough or ambition great enough; unless your life goal includes changing and reshaping the universe, chances are, you’re settling.
To all the students reading this: ambition for ambition’s sake is pointless. Instead, we live under the great umbrella of God’s good will. We should work hard and strive to do good for the kingdom, but not because we’re following our cultures call to ‘reach for the stars’ in ambiguity.
Know this: God has a plan. He will pursue you. He will perfect and protect you. He will use you mightily—just trust him.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.