Top 10 Ways to Prepare Your College Freshman for Spiritual Challenges on Campus
If you’re the parent of a soon-to-be-college freshman, hang on. You will survive. But the more important question might be — will your child survive spiritually? Even if he or she has checked all the boxes associated with growing up in the church?
I have walked in your shoes and so far, my two young men are thriving in college and still striving to walk with Christ. Here are some insights I’ve gained.
I’ll speak especially to moms first, since that’s my domain. We’re experts at making sure dorm rooms are outfitted, classes are registered, meal plans are sufficient, and laundry is, well, laundry. There is one area, however, for which we commonly assume our child is prepared — because we’ve been doing this for the last eighteen years, right? Unfortunately, statistics and broad experience show that most of us aren’t doing the job we thought we were in one key area: spiritual preparation for college.
But it is not too late! Use the last weeks of summer to prepare and enjoy focused time with your almost-adult child before sending him or her off.
This is an emotional time, especially if this is your first fledgling leaving the nest. The inner conflict of letting go wars against the inner celebration of more freedom for yourself. However, you will feel better after that final goodbye hug knowing you’ve wrapped your teen in tactical armor to navigate the spiritual landmines ahead.
So, how about engaging in a summer college prep spiritual boot camp?
- Research churches and campus ministries. Research shows that your child’s involvement with a local church and campus ministry during the first two weeks of college is crucial to his or her spiritual health. Additionally, maintaining intergenerational relationships bolsters faith and makes it more “sticky” down the road. Keep in mind a campus ministry and a nearby campus church play different roles in your student’s life; both are important. At RatioChristi.org, the website for the Campus Apologetics Alliance Ratio Christi, I provide key tools to enable your search. In the meantime, though, it’s wise to have your graduate talk to friends already involved in campus ministry.
- Build confidence for the truth and evidence of Christianity and a biblical worldview through the study of apologetics (evidences for the faith). Never done that before? In a follow-up article on Ratio Christi’s website I will be providing some great resources and an action plan: watch this page for more on that. Done it already? Review it. Seriously. Like that college entrance exam review class you paid for, this review increases your student’s confidence for the testing of his or her faith as a reasonable, viable, trustworthy worldview. It helps answer the “why” behind the “what” of what we believe. Your kid’s faith will NOT survive as a hand-me-down faith on the college campus.
- Develop or reinforce the basic spiritual disciplines of Bible Study and prayer. Provide the best resources your child will personally enjoy to foster these disciplines. Consider this a spiritual meal plan. He or she will be getting enough “junk food” from peers and professors. Your big kid needs to be weaned off milk. Time for solid food now.
- Start or join a Moms in Prayer college group. This benefits your child, the campus, and you! Praying for your college child and the campus is one of the most intentional, strategic things you can do.
- Facilitate a way for your home church to stay in touch with its college students. You are sending them out as missionaries into hostile territory. The church has a vested interest in them while they are on campus and when they are home on “furlough.”
- Sharpen critical thinking skills using media, music and movies. Like it or not, the entertainment industry is probably the most powerful worldview shaper outside of professors your student will soon encounter. Discuss movie themes and music lyrics. Help your student discern truth, identify agendas and compare them to Christianity. This will develop a thoughtful, conversational ambassador of the Christian worldview.
- Train in tactics for defending the faith. While this includes apologetics, it’s slightly different and worthy of its own emphasis. Go buy Greg Koukl’s book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. If you learn nothing else from this book, learn this tactic, teach it and practice it together: When challenged by someone else’s opinion regarding Bible, beliefs, or worldview, ask these three questions (and listen to the answer): 1) What do you mean by that? 2) How did you come to that conclusion? 3) Have you ever considered…?
- Create a healthy atmosphere, attitude, and action plan for doubts about faith and for potential moral failures — and for your response. I pray no parent will ever have to deal with their child seriously doubting their faith, even walking away from it. But I have heard too many stories of it happening. I know that it can be a reality. So make sure your child knows he or she can come to you with doubts and questions. Opening the door to these conversations is one of the best ways to assure your child’s continuing in the faith. And in the meantime, prepare yourself for potential responses and helpful resources.
- Be apprised of the latest issues on public and private campuses. These issues may catch your student off guard if not familiar and ready to respond — especially regarding Christianity and conservatism. Get your head and your child’s out of the sand. Eyes wide open, friends. This is no time to be ignorant.
- Discuss a biblical view of sexual ethics and why gender matters. These are two of the key issues facing the church today and maybe the greatest moral issues on the college campus. We are all reeling from the lightning speed at which these issues have advanced. Gender does matter. And there is a compassionate way we can make that known. Moral issues are a key way your child’s faith can be derailed in college. Help them stay on track through prayer and honest discussions.
As you walk through these steps together, consider sharing your own college years’ successes and failures, doubts and fears. Use discernment of course. But letting your child know you’ve been there, what you wish you had known, and what you know now could keep the communication lines open. And parental influence is still key in the college years when it comes to faith.
If you have a soon-to-be freshman your time to prepare is short — but you can do it! We are all in this together. Grab your spouse, a friend, and God, and go do this. If your kid is already in college, you can still put these pointers into practice. If your kid is headed to college in the not-too-distant future, consider this your Spiritual College Prep Guide. Take it just as seriously as AP classes, building the college resume, campus visits, applying for scholarships, and college board exam prep — if not more so.
Intentional spiritual preparation will go a long way toward helping your college student go to campus without leaving his or her faith behind.
See here for follow-up articles detailing ways to accomplish these ten steps.
Originally published at RatioChristi.org. Used by permission.