I recently heard from a Christian father whose daughter begins her first year of college this August. He took the time to thank me for the work that I do here at the Institute on Religion & Democracy and asked that I send his daughter a note of encouragement. This father is incredibly proud of his daughter, a bright young woman who loves the Lord. His daughter has already encountered hostility to the Gospel and spotted unorthodox Christian teaching but has remained faithful.
As so many of our readers know, the pressure on young Christians to compromise their convictions is intense. College is especially a breeding ground for conformity. What is most concerning to me is the pressure we see coming from professing Christians who work in some campus ministries. And so I offered this young woman my words of encouragement and a bit of caution. I share my note below with the hope that it is helpful to other young Christian freshmen.
*The student’s name and university have been omitted for privacy.
Dear College Freshman,
Chelsen Vicari here with the Institute on Religion & Democracy. Your dad tells me that you are starting your freshman year at college and plan to study nursing. First, congratulations on the start of an exciting academic career! How wonderful to be moving to a new place, meeting new friends, and studying the extraordinary ways in which God created the human body to heal with the help of medical professionals.
Second, I wanted to send you a brief note of encouragement as you begin your academic journey. The start of college is a bit overwhelming at times, at least it was for me. Maybe you are feeling a little anxious. If so, that is understandable! Remember that you are a child of God. And just as your earthly father adores you, so does your Heavenly Father who created you. If over the next year, you feel anxious over decisions or afraid of outcomes, then put your trust in Him (Psalm 56:3). You can pray to the Lord about any situation, and He will hear you, answer you, and the Bible says, free you from all fears (Psalm 34:4).
College was a hostile environment ten years ago when I was a student. Colleges seem to be placing more and more pressure on students to conform to one acceptable line of thinking, and the unaltered Gospel of Jesus is increasingly unfashionable. From what I hear, you are a very bright young woman. I doubt you will allow college administrators and faculty to bully you into compromising your faith convictions to fit a mold. But sometimes I know it can be helpful to receive encouragement in the face of new challenges. So might I offer you some unsolicited advice that I wish an older Christian had told me when I was your age?
Please remember that young women and men in your classrooms and dormitory will be watching your actions and listening to your words to figure out what makes you different as a Christian. So keep in mind 1 Peter chapter three, verse 15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Perhaps your private school will provide you more of a haven from the pressures that I experienced at a public state university. Even so, I imagine that you will face new hurdles when it comes to sharing your faith with others. Do not be surprised if you encounter individuals who are hostile to the Gospel. You might also meet professing Christians in leadership positions of campus ministries who are twisting the faith to accommodate today’s cultural whims. Please stay strong and faithful to the Lord and His Word.
Seek out a campus ministry that avoids fluffy platitudes on Sunday morning. If the minister wears skinny jeans and a fedora, run. Kidding! Seriously do find a ministry whose leaders publically encourage faithfulness to traditional Christian ethics. Be sure they preach sins must be forgiven, warn of Hell, and recognize the urgency in sharing the Gospel with unbelievers. Meet with the leadership team and pointedly ask them about their stances on marriage, the sanctity of human life, and sexuality and gender. These are all hot button issues that far too many Christians want to avoid or downplay.
You probably already know that these issues–primarily sexuality and gender identity–are causing your peers so much confusion. But Christians who avoid the topics altogether only leave confused people more vulnerable to unorthodox or heretical teachings.
One piece of advice that I desperately wish an older Christian friend would have offered me at your age is this: People find themselves at the cross of Jesus because they want salvation from the darkness of sin, not excuses for it.
Make the courageous decisions that might seem unpopular or uncelebrated.
Worry less about what everyone around you thinks, and more about following Jesus.
Never be ashamed of the Gospel.
Write down Philippians chapter one, verse 20, and stick it on a bathroom mirror or desk. This verse reads, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”
Your father tells me that you are capable of spotting distorted Christian teachings. Discernment at your age is quite impressive. Honestly, I wish I had known such a bold young woman while I was in college. Accountability and encouragement from a friend might have helped me avoid some pitfalls. I pray that you befriend many young women with whom you can share your faithfulness and wisdom.
You never know what struggles others are facing. There might be other students feeling pressure to compromise their faith. Your friendship and example of courage will be of great help to them.
In 1 Peter chapter three verse 17, the Apostle Peter goes on to remind us, “For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
It takes guts to care more about our friends’ souls than what others might think of us. You might encounter pushback for your convictions. Keep on for the sake of the Gospel. In doing so, you will be a vibrant witness on your college campus.
I’m praying for you.