A number of years ago we compiled a college advisory list to inform Christadelphian young people about the location of colleges and universities in proximity to ecclesias in the United States. Although not updated recently, the idea was and is to encourage those choosing to go to college to choose active ecclesial involvement as well. Fellowship deprivation at any stage of life is spiritually harmful, and especially so at the crossroads of youth. Young adulthood is a time of great potential. The college years can be a time of profound personal development, propelling one into a lifetime of service to Christ. It can be a time when minds are sharpened and skills honed, equipping them to present the gospel to others with confidence. It can also be a time of crippling personal struggle, when hope falters and the fire of faith burns low.
In addition, if at all possible, choose a college where there are other Christadelphians, either staff or students. Some of the greatest joys possible in your spiritual life will be to associate with others who are like-minded in this most exciting and stimulating period of your life.1
Parents plan for their child’s future from birth. For a Christadelphian family, preparation is made with the Kingdom in view. Our distinctive Scriptural values give our children the foundation for their future. Spiritual preparedness helps them in every way, including academic preparedness. Youth seminars and resource websites have been developed to help young people face the challenge of living in a godless society.2 Transitioning from home to the potentially toxic environment of college and the larger world is a significant watershed in a young person’s life.
Back in the sixties, Bro. Alfred Nicholls wrote Youth at the Crossroads.3 He de- scribed a crossroads: the “Trivia,” the intersection of “three ways”. The current road (childhood) ends and the journey forward goes in one of two directions. Destinations are signposted and choices must be made. At the Trivia, as at college, people meet to exchange ideas, to enjoy the excitement and entertainment. “Triviales” describes one who lingers in pursuits of little or no value.
“The crossroads of youth,” writes Bro. Nicholls, “is an exciting and dangerous place. Here are obtained the first glimpses of what life has to offer, the merchandise of goods and ideas of every kind. Here can be found the equipment and the traveling companions for the rest of the journey.” College sounds much like this, a place with potential for help or harm. Coming to “linger” leads to ruin; coming with purpose, reading the signposts carefully and moving Kingdom-bound, leads to success.
Eccl 4:12 offers the image of a strong rope: an attacker might prevail against one who is alone, “two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken”. The message is that alone, a person can be overcome, two people may withstand an attack but with three is strength. Leaving home and facing the Trivia of college can be difficult, but with caring adults and a supportive ecclesia, these experiences can be intellectually profitable and spiritually rewarding and even more so if you can share these experiences with other Christadelphians on campus.
To the student
Young people come “with the desire to live their lives free from adult control or nagging interference, to be real people in their own right,” says Bro. Nicholls. “It is impossible not to feel the thrill and excitement at this crossroads… It is the age of resilience, when bodily knocks and fatigue are quickly thrown off and anything in the world is possible. In the best young people are mingled fierce idealism, courage, a passionate sympathy for the underdog, spontaneous generosity, quickness of imagination.”4
If you have been raised in a Christ-centered home, you have the foundation and framework from which to build a solid life. From a child you have been taught to love God, to pray and to have J-O-Y by putting Jesus first, others next and yourself last. You have learned the first principles of faith, “ …be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Rom 12:2). It is time to prove the worth of all you’ve learned. And if you have had a troubled family life, now is the time for God-guided change so that you can move forward. Acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths (Prov 3:6).
Be honest with yourself
Have you had a good education in the Truth? What can you do to up the ante in your spiritual life? God’s Word is a light to your path and a lamp so that you don’t stumble (Psa 119:105). There is darkness in the world; if we are honest with ourselves, we admit there is darkness in ourselves. If you have subconsciously thought, “I know it’s a party school but…”, have you considered the downside? Living for the moment, letting morals go unchecked, and acting as if God doesn’t know, can destroy idealism and, worse yet, destroy hope. That’s too big a price to pay.
Honest self-examination takes discipline and is easily avoided. We often hear our inner voice saying, “God has forgotten, He’s not looking and He will never see” (Psa 10:11). There will be times and circumstances, often influenced by the people we’re with, when this inner voice is loudest. What does it take to shout down the voice of doubt? Holding yourself accountable is the first step. Talk to close friends in the Truth and your parents; seek fellowship in the ecclesia so that you remember the one who is “the way, the truth and the life.”
If you have not been baptized, this needs to be the subject of your most honest inner dialogue. Baptism is the anchor decision. We have “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place…” (Heb 6:19 ESV). Choose to be an ambassador for Christ, the greatest career choice possible.
Talk to Your parents
Pushing for independence is natural and healthy. Parents can get in the way but remember, your independence is their goal too. Be grateful for their love and sup- port, and avail yourself of the benefits of their experience. Having parents who want to support your education is a blessing. Talk to them about your activities, your classes and your grades. It’s a smart move since increased accountability will probably boost your efforts!
“Honor your father and mother” is now an exercise of free will. It’s the one commandment with the promise of inheritance. God is our Father in heaven offering us His kingdom. As you honor God by trusting His promise, so you honor your parents by trusting them. Up until now they have initiated those dreaded “talks” but to really be in the driver’s seat, you need to broach subjects like friends, plans, and similar items. What are their expectations and fears? Ask them. Reassure them and give them a chance to tell you how much they love and trust you!
Develop your gifts
College is about increasing your ability to serve God and your neighbor. True? Can developing the power to reason give glory to God? Yes, when developed with humility! “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God…that God in all things may be glorified” (1Pet 4:10-11).
Encountering different viewpoints is not to be feared. Critical thinking can train us to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2Tim 2:15). At the age of about 22, Brother Harry Whittaker confessed to “a short period of uncertainty”. He began a “reinvestigation of what we rightly call First Principles”. The encouraging outcome was that his uncertainty “was effectively laid to rest by (a) much college encounter with unbelief, and (b) a rigorous re-read of Christendom Astray”. Bro. Harry wrote that “As the years have gone by, the solid truth of the Christadelphian faith has become the sheet anchor of my Bible understanding. Lots of encounters with other points of view have left me in no doubt about this. Our Christadelphian faith is the best in the world.”5
In a similar fashion, Brother and Sister Styles wrote:
“University can be time-consuming and normally presents to the student a powerful temptation to temporarily slight Bible study and ecclesial activities. This can be spiritual suicide. Study of the Word and ecclesial support must be a part of our lives at all times for when we lost momentum in the Truth, the inertia of fleshly habits is nearly impossible to overcome. In fact, if the young person has difficulty passing exams, he would be well advised to forget about advanced schooling. Such a person can easily be swamped by school studies and have little time left for the far greater benefits of Bible study.”6
The fight begins with “flying the flag.” Let your faith be known early. Preaching in college has transformed lives. Hundreds of people have come into the truth because a classmate spoke up! The message of the Gospel is powerful. Speak about it and you will be blessed with stronger faith! Make college the time when your mind is sharpened and your skills honed to preach the word with confidence in season and out of season (2Tim 4:2).
Be part of the ecclesia
The ecclesia will welcome you when you relocate for school. You’ll get invitations to lunch after meeting and rides, maybe even the offer of room and board. Let this receptiveness and generosity flow in both directions. You have decided that a college near an ecclesia is your number one priority; take the plunge and be involved.
Working in the ecclesia means working with people of all ages. Try being a Sunday School teacher and visiting the elderly. The onus is on you to ensure that no generational barriers arise. From your Biblical upbringing you know the importance of giving respect to and learning from the older generation. A media-driven youth culture and the segregation of dorm life can desensitize the appreciation of these first principles; yes, first principles (Lev 19:32).
Living on campus is sometimes regarded as necessary for getting the “whole college experience”. But there are parts of that “whole experience” to be avoided. The greatest danger is “free time” and weekends. These are the periods of greatest temptation. Who will we associate with, what will we do? Would we be better off living off campus? Could we rent a place with other young people who are also committed to living faithfully?
You are equipped to do what is right, to be valiant for the Truth! As you approach the “Trivia” of college, follow the signpost for the Kingdom and be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you (1Pet 3:15). With loving adults and an ecclesia nearby, make the three strand cord strong.
Bill and Carol Link (Baltimore, MD)