Faith, as many of us know, can waiver and grow over time. Growing up, I was blessed to attend a church that led me to Jesus and grew my faith. I was surrounded by people who wanted to further their relationship with the Lord and learn how to share his Word with others. While I assumed my faith would always stay the same, as I transitioned to college, I learned that might not be the case.
College is a big shift all across the board. After you move away from home, students take on the responsibility of attending class, maintaining health, making new friends, and trying new things. On top of this, college students are now responsible for our faith; there are no parents or youth pastors around to hold us accountable, so we have to make a conscious effort to pursue the Lord in an environment that we’re still adjusting to.
If I’m honest, I struggled with my faith at the beginning of college. I remember how frightened I was because I didn’t know what to expect. I church hopped for a little while, but none of the churches I attended resonated with me. So, I stopped going. I would watch my home church’s service online instead of trying to find another church in the area, but I still felt like something was missing. I longed for more, but I was too scared to do anything about it. That was until sophomore year. That summer, I talked with trusted friends and mentors about the way I was feeling and I prayed for direction. It was then that the Lord, in his kindness and sovereignty, led me to a YoungLife, a ministry that that focuses on teaching teenagers the good news of the gospel, instructing them about the Word and the joy that comes in pursuing a relationship with Jesus.
I had heard about this organization and loved everything that it stood for, but I let my fear of going alone stop me from pursuing it. But God supplied me with bold courage. Though I was terrified to attend workshops where I didn’t know anyone, I knew this was what the Lord was calling me to do. I couldn’t be happier that he did. I get to help disciple an amazing group of seventh grade girls who never fail to amaze me. We have all taught each other so much, and it is a gift to see their growth and watch how the Lord is at work in their lives, as well as mine.
Belonging to the Body
It was also during my sophomore year that I started to attend a local church in my college town. I was unsure of it at first, as it quite different from the church where I grew up. Despite this, I knew that gathering with a local church in person was something that I needed.
It continues to amaze me how God used this church to speak to me. Every sermon I heard applied directly to my circumstances, even those I didn’t want to accept. He spoke to me where I was and provided me with exactly what I needed to hear. Going to church weekly refreshes the mind, body, and soul and reminds us of what is True. Though the Word is easily accessible, sometimes we need someone to help open our eyes to see what God is saying. There is something so special about worshiping among fellow Christians and surrounding yourself with those that are longing to grow in their relationship with him. Plus, church has provided me with a community of like-minded believers. I have met so many amazing people that I might otherwise not had ever met, just through attending church every Sunday.
Trusting the Shepherd
I would be lying if I said it didn’t take me a while to get here, but I wouldn’t have changed a single thing. It is one thing to say that your faith plays a strong role in your life, but it is another to have it at the forefront. I have a desire for the Lord, a never-ending thirst for the Word of God, and that came through pursuing a relationship with him. Freshman year threw me for a loop and I found myself relying on what was comfortable, but not what would strengthen and further develop my relationship with him. It is very easy to fall into our comfortable old habits, or to shut down completely, but that is a trick of the enemy to keep us away from our Good Shepherd.
I knew there was more, and I knew I was being called to do more, but I let fear steer my life, which only left me feeling more alone. As you care for students who are entering college, encourage them to push their comfort zone and pursue what they feel God is calling them to, even when that’s scary.
Encourage them to pray for strength, as God is the only one on whom they can count in the tougher moments of the transition to college. Remind them that God will not leave them to go through these times alone. He is there, holding their hands and walking them down the path he has laid in front of them. My time in college has taught me that only with God is there joy, hope, and love. He knows our hearts, he knows exactly what we need, and he asks us to trust him and follow his direction.
As a youth pastor, remind your students that there will be times when the Devil will feed them lies and try to lead them away. I know this happens often in my life, but I am thankful to have amazing, God-fearing people who remind me what is True. Encourage your students to find a Christ-centered community who can encourage them along the way. It is so easy to stray away like a lost sheep from our Shepherd, but he calls us home and welcomes us back with open arms.
Youth pastors, remind your students that their faith is never going to be easy; our sinful nature has taught us that. But, you can encourage them to seek the Lord in everything they do as they begin their college journey. A relationship with the Father compares to no other. Turning to him first and putting God at the forefront of my life, I have felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. He wants us to come to him with our struggles, our worries, our insecurities, and our fear. He promises to meet us there with an overwhelming sense of peace and comfort, one that surpasses anything of this world.
If you’d like to hear more about college students engaging their campuses with faith in Jesus, join us at the 2023 Rooted Conference to hear RUF pastor Kevin Twit’s workshop, “Helping Prepare Your Students For College.”