As a campus minister, I know that a new school year means that my town will be filled with fun, vibrant young adults who are ready for all that college has to offer. It also means that I have to be prepared to guide students in their faith while they face the temptations and doubts that college brings.
I’ll never forget the day in my high school freshman history class when my teacher subtly mentioned that college will be a testing time for our walks with Jesus. At the time, I didn’t know what she meant, but she was right. College students will experience freedom, worldviews, and resistance to faith like they never have before.
During my time in college ministry, I’ve seen that it is crucial to come alongside students as they pursue Jesus. For those who minister to high school students, consider the following five encouragements you can offer to set your students up to walk with God not only during their college years, but, prayerfully, for a lifetime.
1) Remember Jesus Christ
In Paul’s final letter to Timothy, he exhorts Timothy to “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead…” (2 Tim. 2:8). The same applies for your students. Whether they are upperclassmen disciple-makers or Freshmen trying to find their way, it is pivotal for college students to remember that Jesus is their King and that he rules at the right hand of the Father. He is worth following, obeying, and glorifying, even when the culture tells them that life can be found elsewhere. Things like GPAs, social life, and internships will vie for the top priority in their lives. Therefore, when our students are tempted by their sin or overwhelmed by the burdens of life, we must bring them back to the cross where the suffering servant was slain for their sins and rose in triumphant defeat of death so that they can live a life that is hidden in him. Because of this truth, the best thing you can do to set your students up for spiritual success in college is to help them continually remember Jesus Christ.
2) Commit to a Body of Believers
While college students may be tasting freedom for the first time, they are not ready to take on the Christian life alone (and they never will be!) They were made for community and must see the importance of a community that is centered around God and his Word. While they are still in your ministry, help your students grasp the importance of a healthy local church in college. This is so often neglected by students, but gospel-centered community is crucial to their walk with the Lord.
Students have a lot to offer a local congregation. With abled bodies, they can serve in ways that older congregants may not be able to. They can set an example to younger and older generations alike as they sing loudly and sit attentively with Bibles open during the preaching of God’s Word. Help your students learn to not be passive consumers of the church, but rather active members who promote the unity and health of the church through volunteering and attending. Their involvement in the church in college will yield high rewards well into their time in the “real” world.
3) Understand the Value of the Bible
I have found that most college students do not read the Bible because they do not understand it’s value. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 states, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Before they head off to college, help your students build in a time, plan, and strategy as they begin reading the Bible daily. I often hear of students who plan to read the Bible in a year and quit halfway through Leviticus. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
Reading the Bible can be a lot like working out. At first, it’s challenging and you might want to quit, but with a good plan and the right mindset, it becomes something you look forward to and see results from. In order to help them love their Bibles more in college, help your students see the value in studying Scripture for a lifetime.
4) Build the Habit of Prayer
Our students may think that since God is in control, there is no need to pray. But we need to remind them that prayer is more for us than it is for God. Prayer aligns our will to his while we acknowledge our dependance on him. As students prepare for college, it is beneficial to help them develop a prayer life that goes deeper than a blessing at family dinner. Give them practical tools like prayer cards and scheduled group prayers. Prayer cards are helpful because they give your students something tangible to pray through that they can keep track of. Group prayers allow students to become more unified in their prayers and can learn helpful ways to pray from others. No matter which tool you use, help your students see the importance and the joy of growing close to God through prayer.
5) Make God Known Through Evangelism and Discipleship
One of the downfalls of college ministry can be creating a “holy huddle” in which students never see the need to make God known outside their group of peers. There may never be a time in someone’s life where they are around more non-Christians and have such an influence on their peers than their college years. They have the potential to make a deeper impact than a student pastor or campus minister may be able to. We are created in the image of God to know God and to make God known.
College students need to see this and build a conviction to share the gospel with the lost world and aim to build laborers for the kingdom. There is no better time to begin training for evangelism in college than in high school. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few (Matt. 9:37). Students need to build a conviction for their lost friends and petition on their behalf to the Lord of the harvest to soften their hearts, open their eyes, and give them ears to hear and receive the gospel.
As a new school year launches, keep the main things the main thing. Don’t over complicate student ministry. Love them well. Love them deeply. Disciple them through word and deed and lead them well to do the same. Christ is risen and is ruling at the right hand of the Father. He has conquered sin and death and is using you to advance his kingdom through the lives of high school students. Rejoice that victory is his and that you can play a part in equipping students to love him more.
Interested in learning more about preparing students well for college? Come join us for our 2023 Conference in Nashville, TN where you can hear a workshop from RUF pastor Kevin Twist on “Helping Prepare Your Students for College.”