College provides both opportunities for Christian growth and experiences that challenge and mold faith. How do you make the most of those opportunities? How do you discern wisely? We took our question to several spiritual leaders in the Christian college community. Here's what they had to say.
1. Build Good Habits Now
"A lot of students leave for college with zealbut you need more than zeal to grow spiritually," says Bob Rohm, vice president for Christian ministries at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. "Zeal without knowledge can lead to chaos."
It's never too early to start practicing the basic disciplines of solitude, service, prayer, worship and Bible study. Even if you practice the disciplines now, there may be ways to make these activities even more meaningful.
"For instance, when you study the Bible, don't just read the words. Meditate on them. Chew on them," recommends David Roland, campus minister at Shorter College in Rome, Georgia. "Also, keep a spiritual journal and write prayers and questions to God."
Bill Fisher, dean of Christian faith and life at Huntington University in Indiana, agrees that students should always study the Word in a way that broadens and strengthens their faith.
"I love it when students come to college with a hunger for God's Word in a new way," says Fisher. "These are students really engaged with the Scripture. The Bible is always food for your soul but making it food for your mind will help build a solid spiritual foundation."
Personal devotions are also important in enhancing your spiritual development. However, try not to approach it thinking, This is my devo time and when I'm through with this, I'll go about my day.
"Paul talks about praying without ceasing and walking in the Spirit," says Fisher. "Try to live in a way that every moment is your devotional life. Devotional time should bleed into your day. It should be your launch pad for your life as a whole, including how you date, how you study, how you build friendships, everything."
2. Jump into Community
You should start connecting with the campus' Christian community even before you settle into the dorm. During your campus visits, check out a few churches in the area. Also, ask current students where they go to church and what they like best about their church.
"I think the most important thing for students to do when they first get to college is to find fellowship groups. That peer support is crucial in fostering spiritual accountability and growth," says Stan Keehlwetter, dean of the chapel at Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
The typical college campus is exploding with opportunities to connect. Besides the fellowship you'll find at church, there are dorm Bible studies, peer support groups, music programs and athletic programs, just to name a few. You just have to find your niche. For example, if you dig nature, try campus prayer walks.
By making connections with people on campus, you'll also find spiritual mentors and accountability partners. These folks are crucial to your spiritual well-being. For instance, if you recognize that you're struggling to make time for God, talk with your resident director, a professor or the campus chaplain. All of these people can provide wise counsel to help get you back on track.
"Christian colleges have a very well-established and organized support structure that students can take advantage of when they need help refocusing," says Keehlwetter. "Faculty and staff, as well as resident assistants have all struggled with the same issues themselves, so they are in a great position to be able to offer advice."