A Christ-Follower’s Guide for the Journey to college

Part 2 of an interview with Jonathan Morrow,
Author of Welcome to College:
A Christ-Follower’s Guide for the Journey
Is there a more frightening question for a graduating high school senior than "What will you do with your life?" In college, whether they realize it or not, students will answer that question every day with each decision. All of the new friends and new experiences of higher education will shape their future. It's critical that students know how to handle college before they're in the thick of it.

In Welcome to College: A Christ-Follower’s Guide for the Journey (second edition) (Kregel Publications), Jonathan Morrow tackles the tough questions that arise during these formative years, including:
  • How do you grow spiritually?
  • How do you manage your time to both study well and have fun?
  • Is all truth relative?
  • Are there good reasons to be a Christian?
  • As a Christian, how should you view issues like dating and sex?

Q: What challenges do college students face today that may not have been as prevalent when you wrote the first edition of Welcome to College nine years ago?

The two biggest issues drastically emerging throughout the last few years are (1) the tyranny of tolerance and (2) challenges to the biblical understanding of God design for sexuality and marriage. There is growing confusion among young Christians about homosexuality and the Bible. With the success of the LGBT agenda in getting same-sex marriage legalized in 2015 by the Supreme Court, this conversation has only become more prominent. In this update, I spent time helping explore and engage these important questions.

Related is the fact people have misunderstood the meaning of tolerance to require agreement with everyone’s sincerely held beliefs rather than extending to others the right to be wrong. Tolerance is not agreement. It’s treating someone who believes very differently than I do with dignity and respect as one made in God’s image. Today, people are afraid to disagree about spiritual and moral questions because they don’t want to be viewed as a bigot or judgmental. We need courage to talk lovingly but boldly about the truth. To love someone is to seek his or her highest good — that includes having some gentle, but perhaps uncomfortable conversations about important questions.

Q: What is one of the most important first things a new student can do when he or she arrives at college?

They need to find their people (Proverbs 13:20 and 2 Timothy 2:22). They need wise relationships in the form of both mentors and peers. Here is a question every student needs to answer: Who will I let influence and shape my future? Who will I let steer the direction my life? This is especially important when it comes to dating relationships. Get plugged in, especially in the first six weeks while everyone is “new.”

I know the importance of this firsthand. Within a couple of weeks, my roommate, Dave, and I had met a great group of Christian friends. We all ended up walking through college together. Within another couple of weeks, I had pledged and “de-pledged” a fraternity. God had other plans in that area that would unfold in my junior year.

Q: One of the chapters is on tolerance. Is OK to have friends who believe differently than we do?

We live in a challenging culture when it comes to truth, but this also gives us exciting opportunities to live out the Gospel in front of people. The fact is we need to embody the truth and speak the truth. Loving people well can’t be separated from truth because reality is involved. With that said, we need to push back against the tyranny of tolerance in our classrooms, workplaces and culture. How do we do this? Without getting defensive, we need to reframe the conversation. Tolerance used to mean giving other people the right to be wrong and disagreeing with them. Now tolerance has come to mean I must accept what everyone around me does, says or thinks. But that’s false and, quite frankly, unlivable. Someone’s views will always get imposed upon.

Moreover, Jesus was loving and tolerant but did not compromise on truth. Sometimes he simply asked a question, and sometimes he pushed back hard against hypocrisy. We need wisdom and discernment on how to do this well given the situations we find ourselves in, and He’s our example. We all need to be courageous and ready to stand for truth as thoughtfully and graciously as we can when (not if) those times come. 

Q: How has social media affected culture as a whole? As individuals, what should students be particularly mindful of in their online interactions? 

The irony is we are a culture that longs for connection and intimacy, but we hide behind our devices because they give us the illusion of control. We are afraid of being known. The social media revolution has brought both challenges and opportunities to our culture. Three of the challenges students need to be aware of are:
  • Students now have digital footprints that will follow them all of their lives. Unwise decisions posted online could affect future jobs, relationships and families.
  • We are a distracted culture. Social media keeps us superficially engaged and overwhelmed by data, opinions and information. We have largely lost the capacity to sit still, be quiet and reflect without having to check and see what we have missed. The fear of missing out (FOMO) is real. 
  • Students will have to fight hard to resist trying to find their identity from social approval in the form of follows, likes, shares and comments. This is an exhausting and dangerous way to live. Our identity is rooted in God, not social approval. When we forget that, we pursue a lot of foolish dead ends that will ultimately hurt us.
Q: You write, “Most Christians have bought into the lie that religious beliefs are to be kept private and should not impact who you are — and what you say — in public. It’s easy to fall into this way of thinking, but I want to help you avoid this trap because it will weaken your faith.” In a time where society is increasingly hostile toward Christianity, what advice can you share for being courageous and firm in our beliefs?

First and foremost, do you know why you believe what you believe? Do you own your faith? Is Christianity really true? Not were you raised in a Christian home, or what do your mom or dad believe, but what do you believe? Remember, just because you believe something doesn’t make it true. Sincerity is not enough. If Christianity is true, then it is true for all of life. Following Jesus is a way of life not just a Sunday-morning activity.

Young Christians are growing up in culture that is deeply confused about what is right and what is true. It’s hard for them to break free from the riptide of relativism, but if you lose truth, then you lose Christianity. Period. Students need to know how to understand, explain and defend objective truth. Without training, they will simply fall into the default settings of those around them. When the pressure is turned up and the tyranny of tolerance presses in, Christians tend to wilt if they do not have the confidence that only comes from knowing why they believe what they believe.

Essential areas they need to be ready to engage in: How do I know God really exists? Is truth relative? Who was Jesus, and did He rise from the dead? Can you trust the Bible in the 21st century? How do I have helpful spiritual conversations? How can Jesus be the only way to God? If God is good, then why is there so much evil?

Q: What three pieces of wisdom do you offer students just starting out on their college experience?
  • You are not alone. Everyone has felt what you are feeling.
  • With freedom comes responsibility.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.
Q: What is one of the most important lessons you learned during your time in college? What’s something you wished you had done differently?

It’s easy to lose your way or accommodate whatever everyone else is doing. Living for Jesus will take courage. You must overcome the temptation to please or be accepted by everyone all the time. Do you know who you are? Are you secure in your identity? Do you know what you believe and why? During college I was in a fraternity and saw many other guys who grew up in Christian homes check out from their faith or reject it completely. They were simply not ready for the challenges to accommodate their faith. There were many nights at my fraternity house when they were so drunk they would come up to me and apologetically say, “This isn’t me. I’m not normally like this.” There may be no more important decision during the college years than who you choose to surround yourself with. I have seen so many students go down paths they never intended to because they surrounded themselves with friends who were not committed to following Jesus. Be intentional with your time — your college years will go quick. Don’t waste the opportunity for influence God has given you!

By God’s grace (and some really great friends), I emerged on the other side of college without any major regrets. But one of the things I wished I had done differently is handled my finances more responsibly by sticking to a budget and not getting in as much debt. Unfortunately, I fell into some bad spending habits during the college years it took a while to recover from.

Find more resources to go along with Welcome to College at www.WelcometoCollege.tv or visit www.jonathanmorrow.org. Jonathan Morrow is also on Facebook (ThinkChristianlyOrg) and Twitter (@Jonathan_Morrow).