Transitions can make or break an otherwise good sermon. Solid exposition can easily be rendered ineffective when a sloppy transition fails to move the hearer from one point to another. In a similar way, experience and research prove that a poor transition from high school into college can potentially derail a student’s academic pursuits before they ever gain momentum. For the Christian student, it is not just academic success that is at stake. Entering college can prove to be one of the greatest challenges to a young believer’s spiritual maturity and growth. Thankfully, this does not have to be the case. Just like excellent sermon transitions that persuade the hearer to continue on the journey, giving careful thought to the transition will enable a student to enter (and finish!) college for the glory of God.
From my own experience as a student, and more recently as a leader in Christian higher education, here are a few insights to keep in mind when entering college.
Being a Student is a Vocation
We often think of college as a time of preparation before we enter our respective vocations. However, in the Christian tradition vocation is defined as something far richer than a job or career.
The English word “vocation” is derived from the Latin vocare, meaning “to call.” Throughout the New Testament, the language of “calling” was used for both the call to faith (eg., 2 Thess 2:14) and the call to specific roles or tasks (eg., 1 Cor 7:17). Leading up to the Protestant Reformation, the language of vocation or calling was only applied to those who served ecclesiastically as priests, monks, or nuns. In his book, God at Work, Gene Veith notes that the Reformation eliminated the distinctions between “spiritual” work and “non-spiritual” work. “The Reformation,” Veith writes, “taught that laypeople as well have vocations, callings of their own that entail holy responsibilities, authorities, and blessings of their own.”
For a Christian student, college represents a vocation in which God has called an individual to enter for a special season of intellectual and spiritual development. Part of approaching college as a vocation entails an understanding that a student never undertakes a course of study merely for their own intellectual attainment. As Veith has emphasized, “the purpose of vocation is to love and serve one’s neighbor.” Applying this theological understanding to college transforms a student’s education from being a series of courses to complete and subjects to master to an investment in the good of one’s future neighbor.
Get clear on your worldview
By its very nature, college is an opportunity to be exposed to new ideas and expand one’s intellectual horizons. Particularly for the Christian student, college is also an important time to measure and test popular ideas antithetical to the faith and find them wanting. However, this vital process does not automatically occur. A thorough study of the deeper things of Scripture, theology, and biblical apologetics assists in solidifying a student’s worldview. At a place like Boyce College, where I serve as dean, every course is strategically saturated with a Christian worldview. Every professor seeks to demonstrate how Christianity can meet and exceed every challenge thrown at it from an unbelieving world. Here at Boyce College we implore every student to biblically and prayerfully follow the example of the Bereans (Acts 17:11).
The strategy at schools, whether public or private, takes a much different form for those who adopt a secular worldview. It is unreasonable to imagine that students who are taught by seasoned professors who do not hold a Christian worldview will be properly equipped to meet the fine-tuned arguments of a world opposed to the gospel. At Boyce we offer a one-year worldview program aimed at equipping students for such a challenge.
Immerse yourself in biblical community
Admittedly, much of the transitional difficulty to college involves being uprooted from the familiar context of established relationships and being placed in a new context with few connections to friends and family. This can be particularly detrimental to Christian students who find themselves released from the accountability provided by believing family and friends. Therefore, part of a successful transition involves becoming a member of a Christ-centered community. At a Christian college like Boyce, we aim to live life together in the environment of biblical community. This is the filter which informs every aspect of who we accept into our programs, what events we schedule, how we select and train student leaders, and how we hire faculty and staff. Regardless of the type of school one attends, I implore you to seek out a community of fellow believers who desire to glorify God with their lives while in college. This community is vital to your growth as a Christian.
Join and serve in a local church
While an on-campus Christian community is important, it isn’t enough. An effective transition to college includes a transition into a local church where students can grow as they sit under the preaching and teaching of God’s Word and faithfully serve. I still remember assisting with a children’s Sunday school class my senior year of college. While my role seemed minimal, serving in the children’s ministry provided me an opportunity not just to receive from the local body, but to give as well. Whether you are a student at a Christian college or any university, no transition is complete without becoming a meaningful participant in a local church near your campus.
As you transition from a familiar world to one that is quite unknown, college can prove to be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be. I am confident that if you approach being a student as a vocation, are clear on your worldview, immerse yourself in biblical community, and join and serve in a local church, you will be well on your way to transitioning to college for the glory of God.