By Darrell Haub
There appears to nearly always be apprehension about the spiritual well-being of those who are planning to leave home to attend college. This is particularly pronounced when the college which the student will attend is a state or private institution not operated by our brethren in Christ. Undoubtedly, the concern develops now that the student is leaving his somewhat protected environment and will face temptations without the watchful eye of those who love him most. However, much can be done to help the student spiritually in his college years and a great deal of apprehension can be avoided by making proper preparation for the student’s spiritual needs ahead of his leaving home. This article is going to consider some of the things which can be done by the student, his parents, the elders of the home congregation and the local church near his college in order to provide what is needed for the spiritual well-being of the college student. We shall consider for the parties involved expectations and responsibilities which will help in this critical time in the life of a young person leaving home to attend college.
The Lord expects all Christians to be faithful unto death (Rev. 2:10). This requires dedication of us to the point of dying to be faithful to the Lord. Therefore, the student should anticipate some regular minor sacrifice of his time, energy and popularity in order to please the Lord. Very frequently this involves the control of extra-curricular activities to not interfere with spiritual goals.
The student has the right to expect the congregation of the Lord’s Church and her members in his college area to glorify God by remaining true to the purpose of the church (Eph. 3:21). The church has never been authorized to entertain men. Therefore, do not expect congregations faithful to the Lord to do so because you are lonely while away from home and friends. You may well find churches called churches of Christ which will offer you church-sponsored social activities, but they are not faithful churches.
Since the church is charged with the responsibility to teach the word of God for edification (Eph. 4:12), you can expect the local congregation at school to encourage you in spiritual matters. You can expect the members to be friendly and interested in you as they are all souls but remember they also have family responsibilities of their own to discharge which may prevent them from bestowing all of their attention on you. In short, you can expect the faithful church at school to offer you pretty much the same things the faithful church at home offers you. There may be minor differences in procedures such as the order of worship, etc. but do not let such expediencies destroy the benefit of the worship activities for you.
Parents have the right to expect their children who are away from home to be faithful to the Lord and respectful to their parents, not defaming the name of their family. Students may not live the same life-style they did at home due to scheduling and similar things. For example, their hours of sleeping and eating may change but that does not make them wrong. Their dress may change but that does not make them sinful as long as they dress modestly. You should also expect the local church where the student attends while at school to teach the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). The church at school will be able to continue the teaching which you and the church at home should have begun. However, if a child has not been faithful in attendance at home, the situation at school will likely be worse, not better. No amount of encouragement from strangers will do what the encouragement from friends and relatives at home could not do.
The elders of the local church which have members who are going to be away at school should expect their charges to be faithful to the Lord, especially in attendance at worship activities of the church (Heb. 10:25). School work is important, but no more so than the work of other members who are employed to support their families. You can expect the church at school to provide scriptural worship services and encouragement for the student to attend because you have referred them to a sound church. Their ability to resist new, as well as stronger older, types of temptations may well depend on the edification and encouragement they receive regularly from other Christians including yourselves, other college students, and the church located near their school. Do not necessarily expect the elders of the church at school to replace your oversight. In many cases, the students attending worship near their college feel themselves visitors while still members at the congregation where you are elders especially when they are home very frequently. Even though you may not see them as often as you once did, the college students may still look to you as their spiritual leaders. Please show concern for their spiritual well-being as often as you can.
The local church near the college should expect the students to be advanced young people reaching for adulthood. They will not be perfect but neither are the local members. They should be expected to serve the Lord reasonably (Ram. 12:1-2), as the Lord expects all members of the his body to serve him sacrificially. Expect many of them to attend worship services when they are in town and to add vigor to the services but to be away frequently on week-ends and holidays. Expect them to have the zeal of youth which does not always display the wisdom of experience. Do not expect them to remain a permanent part of the local church, but expect to send them on in their lives more grounded in the faith.
We cannot charge the Lord with responsibilities since we are the created and He is the Creator, but we do find in the scriptures that He assumes certain responsibilities. He promises the crown of life to those who will be faithful unto death (Rev. 2:10). He promises to help in our temptations by providing a means of escape with each one (1 Cor. 10:13). In Matthew 28:20), He says that He will be with His people always. Therefore, we see the Lord assuming the responsibility of helping us to do all that He expects us to do.
Students, your responsibility is to be faithful to the Lord. Paul wrote Timothy as a young man saying “. . . show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12). In order to do this, you should plan your school activities, as much as you can control them, to not interfere with church activities. You should also be careful to consider your own spiritual well-being when deciding whether some activity should be done. Paul describes the need for planning in our lives as running to win a race or boxing to beat the opponent, not the air (1 Cor. 1:24-27). You should study your Bibles as you have been taught already to study at home. When you need help on a spiritual problem at school, let someone in the church know who can help you. If you need transportation to the services ask for it and if you do not, say so. Members of the church at school are interested in you, but no one can read your mind as to your thinking. The Lord’s people are not plotting to spoil your fun or run your life, but they are interested in helping you into heaven, whether you have a college degree or not. At judgment, only our faithfulness to Christ will be considered.
In the fulfillment of your responsibilities to the Lord you should consider what you should do about congregational membership. It appears that many students think of their stay at school as temporary and that they will always have roots at home. However, is this the best thinking when congregational membership is considered? Might it not be better spiritually to seek to identify with a faithful church near school and become an active part of that church’s membership? You might even adjust travel plans to provide for stable congregational involvement. This also gives the eldership of the church near school a better opportunity to serve you as God expects. These things require us to use wisdom to serve you as God expects. These things require us to use widsom in judgment that our spiritual well-being is enhanced and not threatened by a few years of schooling.
Ephesians 6:4 requires that fathers see to the training of their children in the Lord’s ways. Should this stop when they are away in college? Much help can be given by simply taking the student to visit the worship services of the congregation near school before school begins. Shyness can be expected in a young person away from home for the first time. Therefore, why not make an effort to introduce the student and the congregation before the time for school to begin. Also, this gives the parent a chance to investigate the congregation where his child will be taught. Not all churches are teaching what they should even through they claim to be churches of Christ. Show interest in the student’s spiritual activities at school as you do his academic.
Simple questions asked of the student about the congregation at school and her activities will help show your child that you are interested in his spiritual well-being as well as in his scholastic achievements. Is any effort to help insure that all things are done to help the student spiritually too much to ask of a parent?
Elders of the Lord’s Church which the student calls home should still oversee the well-being of the soul in their charge. Many students become lost in the shuffle between home and school. Do not expect the student and his family to automatically seek out a faithful church near school and attend without your encouragement. Some will do as they should, but some will not. Do not expect the faithful churches near colleges to get information about students from the school. If the information is available at all, it will probably not be available until several weeks after each session of school begins. In many cases, early contact before school routines are set is vital. In some cases, the school will only recognize churches that have on-campus organizations for the students. Churches of Christ which see no error in tampering with the Lord’s organization form these groups and they get the information from the college. The church near the college can help find and encourage a student, if you will see that they make mutual contact. As soon as you can, furnish a faithful church near the college the name, campus and home addresses and phone numbers of the student you would like them to contact. Remember that a college may well be a large institution of several thousand students living in a variety of places; therefore, give as much information as possible. Also, furnish the name, address, and service times for the faithful church or churches near the school to the prospective student.
In some cases elders in the student’s home town congregation should encourage the student to place their membership in a faithful church near school as Paul did when he left Damascus to travel to Jerusalem (Acts 9:19-28). This is true where students travel away to school and stay in that area nearly all the time. However, since many students stay at school only weekdays and travel home nearly every week-end, your oversight of them becomes much more difficult. If, in your judgment, you determine that they should have identified with a sound church near school, do not assume they have automatically done so. Encourage them in this most important action.
The congregation at school is responsible to sound forth the word (1 Thess. 1:8). It is a tremendous responsibility to be entrusted with a new generation of Christians who are embarking on their own for the first time. The way they are taught and encouraged at this time in their lives may well affect the rest of their lives. The great potential which is in them requires the church to be concerned for their spiritual well-being. Classes adapted to their needs and problems will pay a great reward for them and the church of the future. Genuine care and concern for them by the local members will help them adjust to their new freedom with proper perspective. However, none of these things can be done unless the church and the student make contact. Do you really seek students out and encourage them? Do you let people know where you meet, when you meet, and how to contact you? Do you advertise in periodicals such as Truth Magazine or Searching The Scriptures? Every effort should be made on your part to let yourselves be known by advertisements, letters, word of .nouth and any other honorable means. We are discussing the losing and saving of precious soul.
It saddens me to see and hear of cases where young Christians and/or children of Christians are lost to the Lord due to their attending college away from home. This is especially disturbing when we of the older generation due to lack of attention to our responsibilities, contribute to their loss. It is not uncommon to hear criticism by one party in this matter against all or part of the other parties. We have no reason to act in this way about the Lord’s people or His work. Excuses and accusations accomplish little. Therefore, let us as Christians, parents, elders, students, and the Lord’s church near a college expect the right actions from those involved and discharge our own responsibilities that none of these distressing things need happen again. Let us all plan to go to heaven and help everyone else we can influence to go there also no matter what other plans we may be making along the path of this life. No one need lose heaven to gain an education.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 32, pp. 520-522
August 14, 1980