It's OK not to go to a Christian college!
This post is originally from January by one of our own Patrick Willis. Feel free to give it a read.
One of the things that I'm trying to do more purposefully here in 2017, is work on at least one area of skill development or personal development each and every day (other than on my day off). I'm currently reading through a leadership book by Brad Lomenick, one of the main guys over at Catalyst. (How this applies to the title of this post, you'll see in a second.)
Since the very beginning of my time working in the field to which God has called Emily and me, one of the most distressing and saddening things is how many churches (sometimes inadvertently) 'excommunicate' or ostracize those youth in their congregations who make the decision to attend a 'secular' college rather than a Christian one. This past school year, just prior to the start of school, I saw on a Restoration Movement minister's Facebook page ministers talk about how we should take time to pray and support those students who are about to begin their semester at one of 'our' Christian universities. (Of course I couldn't simply let that pass without saying something, so I did so in the most loving and kind way that I could.) However the fact remains, I believe this post reveals an issue that is troubling and that has resulted in some drastic implications/consequences for our students who make the decision to go somewhere else other than a Christian university. From serving in campus ministry, I see many students who have grown up in youth groups and plugged into the 'typical' American church programs make the decision to simply walk away from the faith in which they had been raised. A lot of times, this is a result of their own lack of discipline, spiritual depth, etc. Yet I think the truth that a lot of congregations today would like to ignore, is that we very much so carry a part of the blame in this. What am I talking about? I believe it's rather obvious. By emphasizing our 'pride' of those students going to 'Christian' universities over non-Christian ones, we've effectively removed a support structure (even if it's just perceived by the student as removed) for those who choose the non-Christian college route. While working up in PA, this was one of the BIGGEST sought after things of why students got plugged into things such as sororities, fraternities, and why they looked anywhere and everywhere for a new support network.
If you ask me, I believe that in reality, the students who enroll in non-Christian universities need our support even more than those who enroll in Christian ones. Now don't hear what I'm NOT saying. I still think that students who go to Christian universities need our support, but we shouldn't neglect those who feel God's calling into a career that requires them to study and train at a school other than a Christian university. Even the simplest of things can help combat this feeling of 'non-support' that these students deal with. For example, the next time your church decides to send care packages to your college students, DON'T FORGET THE ONES AT NON-CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS! (Not getting a care-package while hearing that your buddies at the Christian college got one communicates that you don't really care about them whether you mean that or not.) Another way to think about the importance of supporting these students is to think about it this way. While students who enroll in Christian universities are often training to be the next preachers, ministers, and pastors of our churches, it is the students who come out of non-Chrisitian universities who are (primarily) becoming the elders of the church of tomorrow. I firmly believe the 'church' today needs to stop only rewarding and supporting students who are obeying God and pursing their calling into vocational ministry (enrolling in only Christian universities), and start ALSO rewarding and supporting students who are obeying God (in arguably a more risky way) and pursuing THEIR calling into a field where they are going to be missionaries in their own right.
What prompted me to write all of this and finally get it out of my head so others can read it, you ask? Well, it was a small blurb I read in Lomenick's book, that when I read it confirmed (once again) all of what's been bothering me for so long. I'll conclude and challenge you with this:
"When the time came to begin looking at colleges, I was naturally drawn to Christian colleges. I figured if I anted to apply my love for God to my full-time job, I needed to go into the ministry. Though I didn't fell called to work in the church world, I wasn't going to let go of my commitment to live out my faith vocationally. A Christian college seemed like the most natural next step. For months, I struggled with this decision. My mind was torn between what I believed I needed to do in order to follow Jesus and what I felt in my heart God was pushing me toward. One day, I woke up with a startling realization: I didn't need to become a minister to follow Jesus. The stress of the decision miraculously lifted off of my shoulders and I decided to attend the secular university I felt God was leading me to. Though I had accepted that the pastorate wasn't for me and didn't yet know where I'd end up, I felt confident that I could bring my faith to bear on any career."