Yes, there are real dangers in attending a secular campus but these are no more perilous than the temptations in everyday adult life.
Every so often I get the “fear” piece from a Christian College. This full color mailer or mass email fundraising tool is designed to horrify tuition-paying Moms and Dads everywhere. It reads something like, “Parents your precious child is in danger of being consumed alive on the evil secular campus. If you let them go to this den of sin, by Thanksgiving he or she will be an atheist, deviant or both. However, by attending Christian U they are sure to become the next Billy Graham.”
Ok I exaggerate a bit—but only a bit. I love Christian Colleges and through the years have had many good friends who work among their ranks. As a campus missionary I have encouraged hundreds of students to consider these institutions and have encouraged more then a few Christian college students to not drop out of them. I am not anti-Christian college.
With that said, I have to speak up about these mailers and other not-so-sound recruiting quips. Some of these fear tactics have gotten so pronounce that a few major denominational officials and key church leaders are implying that the only way to save our young adults is to spend millions and millions on building more Christian colleges (never mind the fact that more then a few schools are already struggling to stay solvent).
There is a serious crisis among young adults. According to Barna “a majority of twentysomethings – 61% of today’s young adults – had been churched at one point during their teen years but are now spiritually disengaged (i.e., not actively attending church, reading the Bible, or praying).” In another survey, Lifeway Research, an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention confirms what most of us who work with this group already know. Namely, that this generation is not that impressed with church.
In light of this massive retention problem, it’s fair to ask if the secular campus is causing a drastic falling away? Are Christian colleges the answer to our crisis in retaining young adults? Should a responsible leader only direct his/her students to attend a Christian college?
The first thing an honest observer must note is that we lose many young people even before they even go to college. The next time you are at a major teen conference, survey the attendees. You will find that the vast majority are 16 or younger. It is rare for a 18 year old to still be committed to his or her youth group. Veteran youth workers will tell you that once they get their drivers license they become increasingly difficult to hold unto.
This is not a condemnation youth ministry in general, it is just an honest acknowledgment that this is very challenging time of life for ministry. In the face of these difficulties, we must be willing to go beyond the simplistic options of “to attend or not to attend” Christian college. We need to look for new strategies. Maybe many HS juniors and seniors find meetings that are geared toward 16 year olds (or younger) less than engaging. Could a intensive one-to-one coaching model during the ages of 16 to 19 help them stay on course regardless of where their passion and calling take them?
Besides, once they do get to college they will face temptation no matter what kind of school they attend. After working with this age group for over 20 years I am convinced that the enticements of a secular college campus are also alive and well in the world of most Christian College students. Our culture bombards them with the same amount of anti-god polemics, pornographic temptation, and alcohol abuse, etc. as their secular counterparts. Thinking that a Christian campus alone will somehow keep them pure is both theologically wrong and practically naive.
Even if they do make it through their senior year of High School intact and then survive four plus years of college without being confronted by a hostile anti-faith world, this alone is no guarantee that they will still love Jesus when they are 25. In fact, staying in this Christian sub-culture might deprive some of the skills they need to endure the assault on their faith that will surely come once they enter the secular work force.
Let me be clear, by no means am I suggesting that Christian Colleges are a bad option. However, to suggest that they are the only or the best option is to grossly misrepresent the problem and to guarantee that the church continues to shrink in our time.
Yes, there are real dangers in attending a secular campus but these are no more perilous then the temptations they must soon face in their everyday adult life. It is better to confront these tribulations and learn to gain victory over them first hand, than it is to hide from them. Bring on the atheists, sexual libertarians and those who would water down His inspired word. With Christ’s help, our youth can handle it, if we are willing to walk beside them.
Jesus taught in the labratory not the lecture hall. By separating the teachings of Jesus from the act of living among lost people we rob students of a God authored opportunity for real spiritual growth and kingdom impact. Many Christian colleges do a great job of giving their students laboratory experiences. For many students however, only a life lived on a secular campus will do give them this learning encounter. God is literally calling them to live among the future leaders that gather in this nexus of potential. Who are we to thwart that calling?
Worse yet, by encouraging the abandonment of the secular campus we ensure that the church mutes its impact on the arts, sciences, philosophy, entertainment, technology and literature of our time. If we ignore the campus we will become like the Amish. Interesting, small and irrelevant. If, however, we encourage and empower twenty somethings to succeed in this arena, the only individual who has something to fear is the devil himself.