5 Things That Will Help Your Teens Spiritual Life in College by Gretchen Raley
If your teen is graduating this year, one particular question (or worry) that might be on your mind is whether or not his faith will remain intact.
While it is commonly assumed that college is where teens lose their faith (and some do), it’s not necessarily the norm. Many students experience tremendous growth in their faith as they work through their doubts and refine their beliefs in light of what they are learning both in and out of the classroom.
While you can’t write your teen’s faith story for them, you can encourage them in ways that will open the door for their faith to grow. Here are a few factors that commonly influence students to pursue a relationship with Christ after high school.
“The single most important social influence on the religious and spiritual lives of adolescents is their parents.” Sociologist and researcher Christian Smith came to this conclusion while researching adolescent faith for his book Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press 2005). Whether or not your teen is willing to admit it, he pays attention to your life. Your own spiritual practices such as prayer, Bible study and worship convey the depth of your relationship with God, and he notices. Being a model of someone who seeks God can inspire your teen to do the same, not just in the teenage years, but beyond.
2. Christian Community
I experienced tremendous growth in my relationship with Christ in college, and I largely attribute that to my involvement in campus ministry. Through large and small group meetings, discipleship by a leader and relationships with Christian friends at my college and other universities nearby, I grew in my knowledge of Scripture and what it meant to follow Jesus as an adult.
Research shows that a student’s first 72 hours on campus are the most important of her whole college career. That’s why Intervarsity, an interdenominational campus ministry at more than 600 colleges in the U.S., and The Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) are so important. It’s crucial that the choices your teen makes in those first few days include surrounding herself with other believers who will walk alongside her in the process of owning her faith. I think I found my campus ministry at a club fair the first week of college. But your teen can even research ministries now. For example, LiveAbove.com is a helpful directory of campus ministries where your teen will be attending college. You can also search the BCM directory online, too.
Another important aspect of Christian community is the local church. Encourage your teen to visit a church during orientation week and begin connecting with the body of Christ there.
3. Other Adult Mentors
My freshman year of college I met a family from a local church through a Bible study I was involved in. Every week, my friends and I showed up at their house, studied Scripture and hung out. I would often go over to their house for a meal, babysit their kids or watch their dog while they were out of town. I eventually started calling them my “adopted family” since my own family was in another state.
I remember sitting in the kitchen countless times with Vicki, who was like a second mom to me. She was my spiritual hero. We shared countless conversations about prayer, trust, the meaning of Scripture, relationships … anything. Her insight from her own walk with Christ was invaluable to me. Families and older adults who are living out the gospel are a window to real faith in real life, and it’s important for college students to be a part of that. (Also Read: 10 Tips for Finding the Mentor You Need)
4. Personal Devotional Life
If your teen doesn’t have a devotional life now, the chances that he will continue it in college are pretty slim. While you can’t force him to have a “quiet time,” you can help guide him to resources. Ask him what kind of devotional he might be interested in, such as a short daily reading or an in-depth study of a book of the Bible. You can even sign up for LifeWay’s daily devotional newsletter.
Talk to his youth leader or to other parents to get ideas about what other students are using. Perhaps you can do a study together to stimulate discussion at home. By inquiry, curiosity and exploration, you are helping your teen to own his faith, not just passively inherit it. College won’t be the first time he has wrestled with the hard questions.
5. Facing Doubts and Doubters
So, what if your teen does stray from her faith? In her memoir Faith and Other Flat Tires: Searching for God on the Rough Road of Doubt (Zondervan 2012), author Andrea Palpant Dilley recognizes doubt as part of her journey of faith, rather than a departure from it. In an interview, Dilley responded to the question of how to help a loved one who is struggling with doubt:
“When I was going through my skeptic phase as a teenager, my parents couldn’t do anything to stop me,” she said. “But they did the only thing anybody can do—they were present to my pilgrimage.”
To apply her wisdom a step further, your teen should be in regular dialogue with others who doubt—whether it’s friends who don’t believe in God at all, a professor who is antagonistic about Christianity or someone who doesn’t share a particular theology. Being in relationship with others who are different from us sharpens our faith and clarifies our worldview.
What a great practice for your teen to have before reaching the doorstep of the lecture hall. Whether your teen is going to a secular or Christian college, close by or far away, there is one thing for certain: God doesn’t want you to fear. He has started the work in your teen’s life, and He will be faithful to complete it (Phil. 1:6). Your teen will begin to ask hard questions, and may go through periods of doubt, but those doubts are part of faith. The best thing you can do is to travel that road with him, praying with every step.