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Alex McFarland offers teens help by asking the questions they need to consider for an unshakable faith. Prepared, they can enter college with the ability to identify false worldviews and discern God's voice. Teens will become proficient at ...
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Alex McFarland offers teens help by asking the questions they need to consider for an unshakable faith. Prepared, they can enter college with the ability to identify false worldviews and discern God's voice. Teens will become proficient at interpreting campus content and circumstances from a consistently biblical perspective. They will know how to nurture and develop their faith and begin a life of service to God even in a stressful changing environment. Tyndale House Publishers
The Lord is the stronghold of my life. -Psalm 27:1
I know the Bible says pride is a sin. But I'll confess I was a proud youth pastor when, in 1995, I watched as some of my most dedicated leaders graduated from high school.
They were six of the most outstanding young men and women in our church. And I had poured myself into them during the preceding few years. All six were going off to college. All six had a vital faith in Christ. All six had everything I knew to teach them at that time.
But today these six are adults, and only two of the six are still actively, enthusiastically following the Lord.
What Went Wrong?
Researchers knew what I didn't at the time-even good youth group kids fall away from the church once they reach college age. Consider these statistics:
Only one out of three evangelical teens say, "The church will play a significant role in my life once I leave home."
Between 70 and 94 percent of evangelical teens are leaving the traditional church after high school, and very few ever return.
Ninety-eight percent of professed born-again youth and adults say, "Ibelieve in Jesus Christ," but their actions, attitudes, lifestyle, behavioral patterns, and life goals do not reflect New Testament, biblical Christlikeness.
Only one-fifth of twentysomethings have maintained a level of spiritual activity consistent with their high school experiences.
A peek behind the statistics
The news was not all bad with my youth group's first graduating class. In fact, sometimes I tell myself that if I were a major league ball player, I'd probably be an all-star. Two out of six is a .333 batting average! That's pretty good.
But these are not base hits. These are human lives.
What I've learned from my own experience, interviews with college students, and from listening to other youth pastors is this: What happens to students in the first six months after they graduate from high school has huge consequences in their lives. The ramifications can affect even the lives of their children.
Yes, during that graduation week of 1995, I was impressed by the spiritual commitment of the students in our group. I was happy about things I saw the Lord doing in their lives. But now I know I should have been a bit less proud and a bit more aggressive in making sure they were ready for the challenging college years that lay ahead.
What went wrong with my kids and what is going wrong in our colleges today? I've asked myself that question a thousand times, and I've asked hundreds of youth pastors and thousands of teens that same question. The answers are as varied as there are people, but there are patterns. No one suddenly wakes up in the morning and announces, "Today is the day I flush my faith." Emotional traps can lead teens away from the church more quickly than you'd think. Look around you at the next youth group meeting. Imagine that 80 percent of the seniors in the room will stop going to church within the next four years. Who will go, and who will stay? It's difficult to predict.
For years I have had the privilege of crisscrossing the country, speaking to teens throughout the nation. In getting to know countless students, I have come to recognize some predictable patterns. I'd like to summarize a few details from the lives of some teens I've known along the journey.
Let me introduce you to six EVERYTEENS who will represent good youth group kids. Throughout the book, we'll watch them during their freshman year in college to see how they fare spiritually, academically, socially, and emotionally. We'll look at what affects them and how those challenges will change the course of their lives.
EVERYTEEN Adam is a natural leader, Becuse he is handsome and athletic, youth pastors love to have Adam in a youth group. Other kids will come just to hang out with him. Not quite talented enough for an athletic scholarship, and not quite brilliant enough for an academic scholarship, he is nonetheless sought after by colleges who love his well-rounded capabilities. Adam has a full scholarship to a Christian university.
EVERYTEEN Cameron is the most intellectually gifted of the group. He is the valedictorian of one of the largest high schools in his state. He is off to a major university in Indiana and wants to study law. Voted "most likely to go into politics" by his senior class, Cameron can articulate the tenets of the faith almost as well as his pastor.
EVERYTEEN David is your average kid. He does well in math and science classes, but also enjoys reading literature. He was a regular at youth group, helping with the worship band setup and takedown. He's going to a state college, where he will study accounting.
EVERYTEEN Erin is a new Christian. She began coming to youth group at Christmastime when a girl from the swim team invited her. She is going to a division one school on a partial water polo scholarship. Her parents are hoping she'll outgrow her newfound friends and crazy ideas at college.
EVERYTEEN Joel recently found out the roommate assigned to him is a Mormon. That's okay with him, because the roommate describes himself as quiet and studious. Perfect. Joel didn't party in high school and is entering a small liberal arts college with the goal of avoiding that whole scene. He has already contacted the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and has the phone numbers of two student leaders.
EVERYTEEN Megan, like Adam, has great leadership potential. She is the salutatorian of her large senior class and has been accepted at several colleges, including a couple of schools rated among the top 300 in the country. At high school, she has many friends. She is that smart girl, the outspoken Christian, the student-council leader who somehow manages to avoid the "geek" label.
What's in Your Spiritual Bank Account?
You wouldn't be reading this book if you weren't serious about your spiritual growth and want to make the most of your college experience. You can probably tell that I am passionate about teens going deep with the Lord and becoming everything that God intends.
You may be more ready for college than you realize. A lot of people have been investing in you since you were born-you didn't get where you are today all by yourself. Additionally, God has given you spiritual resources and He expects you to use them. Let's call both of those things "spiritual capital." Let's compare such spiritual capital to the accumulation of wealth and becoming financially secure. A popular television commercial for a credit card asks the question, "What's in your wallet?" The advertiser suggests that with its card, you'll have the buying power you need to meet the expenses of life, and you'll have protection against high interest rates.
I'm certainly not advocating that brand of credit card or, for that matter, credit cards of any kind. But I do like the question: "What's in your wallet?" As you prepare to go off to college, what do you have tucked away, so to speak, to see you through the challenges that life will have for you in the years ahead?
I believed I had sent my students off to college with what they needed. I've discovered you'll need resources in four important areas if you are to withstand the challenges you will encounter in college and beyond. Those four are academic, social, emotional, and spiritual. These areas are so important that I will devote an entire chapter to each. For right now, a quick overview will do.
Academic Challenges. Most people who lose their faith during college usually don't reject Christianity because they were unprepared for academic rigor. So while the academic indicators are important and shouldn't be neglected, other reasons should compel you to do well in college, such as gaining character and wisdom. When you study hard, you are not only learning the subject, you are learning discipline. If you develop those skills early, you will find yourself well prepared to face the intellectual challenges of life after college.
Social Challenges. There's something about being a senior in high school. Even if you go to a big high school or you're not particularly popular or well-known, just being a senior confers a certain status. You're a big fish in a small pond. But college is different. You're back to being a freshman. It's likely that the college you attend will be many times larger than your high school. You may see some of your classmates only once a week. How do you develop friendships in this environment? While you are away from family and longtime friends, who will really be there when you're lonely or just need to talk? Where will you find trustworthy people?
Emotional Challenges. When things go well, it's not hard to deal with life, to remain upbeat and positive. But what happens when social and academic challenges of college get the better of you? And, trust me, they get the better of us all from time to time.
Part of emotional health is being able to maintain an emotional even keel during the storms of life and avoid making decisions that are motivated by fear or desperation. In the King James Version of the Bible, Colossians 2:10 says that the believer is "complete" in Christ. That's how we are in Christ-full and complete. We may not always feel that way, and circumstances can certainly conspire to make us feel like a loser. But don't cave in to those emotions, because if you forget about your blessed standing in Christ, it may lead to less-than-ideal decision-making.
Spiritual Challenges. As important and challenging as these other three areas are, they rate a distant second, third, and fourth to the challenges you will face in your spiritual life. It sounds a bit odd to say it this way, but the worst academic or social decision you make might affect your life for years, or decades, or even your whole life. But when you die, that will be the end of it. The spiritual choices you make will affect you for all eternity.
A secular college can be a dangerous place for the unprepared because it is full of people who pride themselves in offering spiritual challenges to other people. It is a place where destroying someone's Christian faith is considered a virtue.
Count on this: Your faith will be challenged. Your mission-our mission together during the course of this book-will be to give you the tools to help you fight that challenge and emerge victorious.
Preparing Your Heart
I told you that two of my six were still following the Lord, and that's so. My point is not that some people are bailing on their commitment to the Lord. That happens in every generation. The real news is you don't have to be one of them. A consistent Christian walk through college and into adulthood can happen for you. God promised to never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Jesus overcame the tribulations of this world (John 16:33), and He promised that nothing could separate believers from His protective care (John 10:28). Let's look at what God will give you to prepare your heart for the college experience.
God can use whatever type of family you have as a foundation for a successful college life. If your family is able to support you financially, emotionally, or spiritually then rejoice and use those resources wisely and thank God for them. If your family doesn't offer you that kind of support, don't despair. You can learn early to trust God for your needs, and your faith will be built up. He is able to supply all of your needs beyond what you can ask or even imagine (Philippians 4:19; Ephesians 3:20).
Your educational background
As you prepare for college, you may have some insecurity about whether you can hack it at this next, much more advanced level. That's understandable. But let me remind you that for all kinds of reasons, from financial to a concern for their reputations, colleges are not to the business of seeing their students fail. If you have been accepted to a college, someone there-and probably many someones-believes that you can succeed and be a positive representative of that institution for years to come. They believe you have what it takes-whether you believe it or not!
The Bible is a rich source of wisdom and practical knowledge. It is also the Word of God. By daily listening to what God's Word is saying to us, the world slowly, inevitably starts to make more sense. Life's challenges, though new and seemingly overwhelming, are neither surprising nor overwhelming to God.
You are not alone. Just as God is at work in your life, He is also at work in the lives of others. Some college campuses can be difficult places for Christians-incredibly difficult places. Once I led my youth group in an outreach event near a college that had originally been founded by a Christian. The history of this particular century-old college was entrenched in church work, and the denomination that had birthed this school still had a presence on campus. Sounds great, right? Imagine our shock when we learned that there was a "clothing optional" dorm on this formerly religious campus!
We learned about this in talking with some concerned Christian students who were faithfully representing Christ on their campus. Yes, "clothing optional" turned out to mean exactly what we thought. Yes, comparisons to Sodom and Gomorrah did come up in conversation! No, none of our ministry team went in!
But even in such extreme environments, I have yet to run across even the most secular campus where there were not dedicated, godly Christians who are serious about their spiritual health and the spiritual health of others. Seek them out, and you can be sure they will be happy to have you in their fellowship.
The Holy Spirit
Every Christian believer has the Holy Spirit living in him or her. Think about that! The God who spoke the universe into existence, who overcame death, who performed all manner of miracles-that very God lives in you. Now, I want to be clear that the Holy Spirit is not some sort of cosmic errand boy who will do what you want Him to do. No, just the opposite. The Holy Spirit's role is to give you the power to do what God wants you to do. But the good news is that as you mature, your will and God's will become more and more aligned, and the power of the Holy Spirit will be even more real to you.
The example of Jesus
It's a huge comfort to me to look at the life of Jesus and know that He faced all of the challenges I have ever faced, or will ever face, and He emerged victorious. The question "What Would Jesus Do?" has been overused, but the reason is because it's a good one. When I face a difficult situation, I often ask myself that question. It often gives me the courage to make the right choice here and now.
The Most Significant Investment of All ... Your Life
Have you ever heard of a CD or a mutual fund? Advertisements for such financial products often include someone asking a broker, "What's my expected ROI?" The "ROI," your "return on investment," is obviously an important consideration. As you set goals, make plans, and daily purchase your tomorrows, remember that the greatest returns will come from investments you've made with God.
To carry the investment analogy even further, we may legitimately raise the issue of "risks." There will be physical, academic, emotional, and spiritual challenges during your college years and afterward. But if you take an honest spiritual inventory, you'll probably discover that you have tremendous resources at your disposal. In the pages ahead we'll examine them in more depth, because my goal is not merely for you to survive, but to thrive and be victorious during your college years.
So, back to the question of that credit card commercial: What's in your wallet? The answer is a lot, more than enough to meet the challenges before you. But before we strategize about wisely investing your spiritual capital, I want to make sure you understand a few key ideas-even if you forget everything else in this book.
So turn the page and I'll tell you what they are!
Excerpted from Stand Strong: In College by Alex McFarland Copyright © 2007 by Alex McFarland. Excerpted by permission.
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