I was asked recently to write my thoughts for Trinicy, an association that mentors young Christians in college, on how such students can find community away from home. It seems to me that most colleges, especially public colleges, are no friendly environment for Christians any longer. There are just too many contradictions between the Christian worldview and the secular, liberal worldview that is predominant in those institutions. That environment probably isn’t surprising to most Christians entering college, but lack of surprise alone doesn’t amount to preparedness for existing in an environment that is hostile towards your worldview. So I was happy to contribute my thoughts and I hope they help young Christian men and women who are in or plan to enroll in college. Additionally, I think there are some great takeaways for non-Christians as well. Finding community in an environment to which you are foreign is universally applicable.
“Finding community in an environment to which you are foreign is universally applicable.”
How can young Christians find a safe and healthy community to hang with when they leave home and find themselves in a liberal college setting?
- Check with your trusted advisers from home.
Check with the Christians you look up to who you have known and trusted back home. Whoever those people are, parents, pastors, mentors, elder siblings, or friends. Do they know of any groups or churches you could connect with in the area of your college? Do they know anyone who is going to or has gone to that same college? Advice is one of the best things you can get for free! The people you check with may not know of specific groups or communities you could get involved in but may have general advice and guidance they could give you on the subject of finding a safe and healthy community in college.
- Get plugged into a local church.
College groups are great and I suggest getting involved in them, but they are monochromatic in a sense. Everyone is in the same boat in life (that is, they are all in college and roughly the same age). Only being around others whose lives currently revolve around college may cause you to inadvertently (and probably subconsciously) think and act like “college stuff” is all that’s important (or, at least, that it’s most important). Being around Christians in all walks of life can remind you that life hasn’t always been the way it is for you now and it won’t always be that way for you in the future. This is good for developing a “big picture mentality”. It can also remind you there are many layers to what is important in life and your college experience is just one of those layers. Church is a great place to get that kind of reminder and it provides a safe and healthy community to hang with. On top of that, they may have or know of groups in your college or groups in their church that you could hang with. I would recommend having a couple churches in the area picked out in advance to check out and even to visit them prior to starting college, if possible. Contact the pastor or pastors. Ask them lots of questions; if it seems like a church firmly rooted in Christ and the scriptures, ask how you can get involved in the church and if there are any groups in the area they would suggest getting involved with.
- Do a mental litmus-test of your community.
College is supposed to be about expanding your knowledge and understanding. This involves questioning and criticizing ideas. Unfortunately, many college environments are more focused on indoctrination or just expressing positions and expecting hearers to adopt those positions without them having to defend those positions. I highly suggest being on alert by quickly doing a mental litmus-test of people and groups by asking “Do they welcome being asked to clarify and defend their positions?” and “Do they welcome my challenging their position and expressing my own, contrary or contradictory position?”
“A friend or professor who challenges your worldview can be an enriching part of your college experience so long as you can challenge them back. Otherwise, you’re not really being challenged, you’re being indoctrinated.”
If they answer to either of those questions is no, then I highly suggest leaving that environment as soon as possible or, if not possible (for example, if it’s a required class), then being as far removed personally from them as possible. So, if you could not get out of a class in which the teacher expected no contrary positions to be raised, I would advise you never to seek that teacher’s advice or to join groups led by that teacher. On the other hand, if a person or group passes the litmus test, I would wager to bet they will be a healthy part of your college experience. Having a solid group of Christians to be plugged into is primary and I would suggest finding that right away and you should use the litmus test on them too. If they do nothing but shut down any question you may have, that’s not the place to be. But this test frees you also to enjoy the company of non-Christians as well. A friend or professor who challenges your worldview can be an enriching part of your college experience so long as you can challenge them back. Otherwise, you’re not really being challenged, you’re being indoctrinated.
- If by church or through organized groups at the college, you still haven’t found community, make your own!
Your college community could be as simple as a couple friends. It’s important to find community in college, especially as a Christian in a liberal college environment! Don’t expect community to come to you; if you’re weeks into college and you still don’t have like-minded folks to be around, you’re not looking hard enough! Take the initiative to make friends, find someone on social media, or get creative. Here’s an idea, sit out in an open area with lots of foot traffic and read your Bible. You may get someone come up to you and exclaim, “I thought I was the only one here!” Or wear clothes/accessories that clearly mark you out as a Christian. When someone says “hey, cool shirt,” ask them to coffee or something.
- Lastly, don’t forget the most important relationship: the one between you and God.
If you are so busy with classes and groups and service projects that you don’t have time for quiet time away to pray and read some scripture, you’re too busy or you aren’t prioritizing. Ask God to bless those you have found community with, ask Him to lead you and the community you’ve found into truth, ask Him for patience for those who don’t seem interested in truth. Ask those in your community how you can pray for them or what they’ve been pondering about or struggling with. That will help you to become a contributor to the group and it will lead you to time in prayer and searching the scriptures.
Although these tips are specifically aimed at college students, they apply to students of all ages/grades. Aside from even the education environment, the world in which I live (U.S.) in general, seems to becoming more and more hostile towards the Christian worldview.
So, if you are a Christian (or even a non-Christian) who is struggling with finding community whether you’re in college or not, PLEASE shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I can either talk with you personally or put you in touch with someone else to talk with. My friend and mentor, Jim Shaul, was a college professor and now mentors students through Trinicy; he would be a great resource to talk with about these things! I hope these tips will bless you and serve to strengthen you through your college experience.
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