College transition is a hot topic in youth ministry circles. More and more parents and churches are recognizing that students are not prepared for the challenges that college often brings.
Anecdotal evidence is easy to find. There are many stories of students who have grown up in the church, have made commitments to follow Jesus, but have walked away from the faith during the college years.
There have been numerous research projects that support these stories as well, making a strong case that the college years have not been good to those raised in the Christian faith.
The research is important and worth reading to be sure, but I’m not sure it matters all that much.
We can debate the statistics, trying to convince ourselves that it is not as bad as some say it is, or tell personal stories to make it seem even worse; or we can recognize that the challenge for students to make the faith their own is a perennial one.
The challenge will always be with us. As the writer of Ecclesiastes suggests: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” This verse gives perspective.
In all times and in all places, at some point, young people have to take ownership of their faith. This is not new.
I was reminded of this recently when I read Real Christianity by William Wilberforce, the member of the British Parliament who worked to abolish slavery. Written in 1797, Wilberforce makes keen observations about why young people often walk away from the faith.
We can learn much from his insights regarding the human condition:
Think about what happens to many young people who are raised with all the benefits of prosperous parents who are cultural Christians themselves. As children, they are taken to church, where they hear the parts of the Christian message that their particular church embraces. Although it is rare in our times, maybe they even receive some measure of religious instruction at home.
Eventually, they leave home, and launch out into the world. Some go to work; some go to college. They face temptations that they have not faced before and give in to them. Their lives might get out of control with the use of alcohol, and they might give in to sexual indulgence. At the least, they never read the Bible or make any attempt to develop a spiritual life.
Most don’t even attempt to take what knowledge is at their disposal and form their own beliefs and convictions. They don’t learn to think.