From a campus minister, ideas for the students in your life.
What do you give someone who is going off to college?
A new laptop computer?
A phone/data upgrade?
A devotional book on keeping faith at college, with a nice note inside: “Praying for you every day”?
These are all good ideas, especially because they point to the thing needed most in college: healthy relationships.
From my experience ministering to college students, let me tell you what I mean.
Healthy Relationships Begin with God
According to the Barna group*, up to 61 percent of Christian students let go of faith in and commitment to Jesus during college. But these are critical years when God can work to shape and form a person’s identity and purpose (see Romans 12). This foundational connection to God and his Son and the work of the Holy Spirit influences all other relationships. So that devotional book in keeping faith at college is a good gift.
Faith-testing moments bombard university students daily. Pray that your college student will have wisdom when faced with penetrating questions about the nature and existence of God. Be ready to share Bible passages that have helped you find the truth.
When your college student wonders what life in the Spirit looks like, show him through your example.
Remind students that 1 Peter 3:15 (“Always be prepared to give . . . the reason for the hope that you have”) can be their guide. I still hold onto the advice my minister gave me: “Remember who you are and whose you are.”
Healthy Relationships with Others
My wife, a psychologist in our university counseling center, puts it this way: “We’re not made to experience college alone, even though college is about gaining independence.”
This means interdependent relationships are important. This is the time for your student to create a network of peers and professionals that will propel him or her into the future with confidence and credibility.
Parents, make sure you stay in that network. (That upgraded phone is a great investment for staying connected with your child.) Meanwhile, pray for your child and with your child. And receive the prayers of others for you and your child.
God provides places for your student’s faith to be tested in order for growth and real relationships to be developed. Through this process, here are prayer points for parents:
• Pray for your student to seek good company (see 1 Corinthians 15:33).
• Pray that your student will be able to call the campus minister by name, talk with a professor seriously and respectfully about faith and future, and bring home other students who are becoming lifelong friends.
• Pray that God will use discipleship groups, mentoring relationships, study groups, tutoring sessions, or class times to place people in your child’s life who will become lifelong support for them.
Meanwhile, make sure your student knows he or she is not alone when facing inevitable homesickness, confusion, and searching. That laptop is a generous gift, but it doesn’t replace monthly “care packages” or occasional visits.
And now a word to students: Beware of social media. As beneficial as it may be, it cannot replace face-to-face communication. Only genuine personal relationships offer encouragement and reconciliation. And remember, what gets placed on the World Wide Web will be stuck there for a long time. Future spouses, children, employers, and coworkers will all be able to find it there.
Healthy Relationships in the Church
Local congregations in college towns are important, and so are the home congregations of students off at college. Some ideas:
• Give students a $5 break by volunteering to do their laundry for them.
• Invite college students for a home-cooked meal.
• “Care packages” can come from more than Mom and Dad.
• Give students a place to serve in a local church away from home. Tap their youthful energy and creativity and give them hands-on learning experiences.
These gifts may require more effort than cash or a gift card tucked in an envelope. But with them we will be helping prepare the “next” generation to embrace a Christ-centered way of life. As these young adults live, move, think, study, and make choices, we can encourage and provide the relationships that will make a difference for a lifetime.
*Barna Group, September 11, 2006, “Most Twentysomethings Put Christianity on the shelf following spiritually active teen years.”
Mike Kerrick serves as campus minister with Murray (Kentucky) Christian Fellowship at Murray State University.