Minding the College Gap: It’s about Priorities

In my previous post, I sought to explain that wise parents don’t assume that their son or daughter will participate in a local church during their collegiate years by default. Rather, as demonstrated by the example of George Scarborough and Benajah Carroll, instilling the importance of local church participation begins before a child heads off for college and requires that parents play a role in helping their children find a biblically-sound college church home.

My Story

I began college with all of the excitement of so many freshmen in the Fall of 1997 at a private Baptist college. I recall moving into my first dorm room, carrying my new bedding and dorm refrigerator up the stairs, meeting new people with each step. My roommate was an athlete that first semester, and his schedule was dramatically different that my own. We rarely saw one other, which didn’t bother me. I was on a mission. I was going to do what I wanted to do, study what I wanted to study, live how I wanted to live, and become who I wanted to be.

I had been reared in a small town and this was my first taste of freedom. There were no parents to rule over me. Looking back, my experience at that school was a mixed bag; I had both good and bad times. But I was on a mission of self. I wasn’t a Christian and most of those around me didn’t look or act like Christians. Being a private Baptist college, we were required to attend Bible classes, but the theology was loose and liberal; our New Testament Survey professor gave us more cause for doubt than faith. Eventually, I dropped out. I had only managed to make a mess of my life in my mission of self.

One year and two moves later, I gave college another shot, this time at a small liberal arts college. It was drastically different from the private Baptist university I had attended before. The president was a well-known and vocal atheist and anything the mindset both on and off of campus was “anything goes.” Each spring trimester, the cool fraternity would throw the “Bros and Hoes” party; it was like scenes from the old National Lampoon’s Animal House. And my life reflected this worldly mindset. It was from this environment that the LORD saved me. You see I had been on the mission of self, but that path was lonely, and headed for self-destruction. I too was worldly.

My Turning Point

At this second university, I met, carefully-watched, and listened to a group of college students who were Christians. Each of them prayed, witnessed, and loved me despite my sin, and they lived out a genuine faith in Christ that I had never seen before. The Gospel was on display and lived out before my eyes. They were like Christian Soldiers straight out of the sixth chapter of Ephesians. Their mission was different from mine. They had been called by Jesus Christ. They had been armed with a strong faith in God the Father, abided in the Son, and were empowered by the Holy Spirit! They heeded the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote to his young son in the faith,

Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12 CSB).

I owe a great debt of gratitude to the LORD God for his having surrounded me with this collegiate mission force. Their influence changed my life for Christ and they rejoiced greatly when I surrendered my life to him and joined God’s mission. I remain on that same mission even today.

None of them could have had any idea that one day I would one day marry and be called into the Gospel ministry as an evangelist. Nor could they have known that I would (Lord willing) one day complete a PhD in evangelism, while regularly sharing Christ with others and introducing precious souls to Jesus. They were participants in God’s plan to redeem my life from the pit of destruction and lead me into the bliss of forgiveness, mercy, and the grace of Jesus Christ.

It Comes Down to Priorities

Looking back, here’s the lesson learned: God had brought this group of individuals together for his eternal purposes even during their college years. Their first priority was serving God; education, for them, was only of secondary importance. They weren’t perfect, but they were obedient to Christ and deeply in love with him; they were involved in various local churches and the Baptist Student Ministries (BSM). They chose to live for God’s glory. They had a heart for the lost around them because they had been discipled and taught how to share their faith without fear. They were fearless soldiers of the cross.

Perhaps as a parent, you’ve heard others lament the spiritual conditions of our colleges and universities or you’ve taken your family to watch God’s Not Dead in theaters and you’ve wondered, “What can I do?” And God has answered that question in the person of your own college-aged student.

God can create in him or her the mind and heart of a soul-winner. He or she is the mission force of God on the campuses around the world. Revival can still break loose on campuses world-wide. Train up your children now to be personal evangelists. Teach them by example. Take them door-to-door evangelizing in your neighborhood and model what sharing your faith looks like. Go on international mission trips together and work in the harvest. Disciple your student and instill in their hearts a love for the lost, the Scripture, and the things that Jesus loves and then encourage them to live it out before their college classmates. Kingdom first; education second. No greater impact could be made on college campuses for Jesus Christ than the one your college student and their friends could make. Raise up a generation that will mind the college gap.

Jesus Follower. Husband. Father. Evangelist. PhD Evangelism @SWBTS. Woodturner. Cyclist. Cast-Iron Culinarian.

Minding the College Gap

All over the nation, students are heading to college. As difficult as this time can be for some parents, it is an important time for pastors as well. Just recently, I observed on Twitter a well-known pastor in one town placing a college-aged new believer under the care of another pastor in this new believer’s college town. I know both pastors and agree that the college-town pastor is the right man to shepherd this new believer. Their interchange demonstrated the beauty of cooperation and trust between Almighty God and these two Baptist pastors. Indeed, the entire interaction reminded me of another example of pastoral trust.

In a great biography titled Lee Rutland Scarborough: A Life of Service, the author, colleague, and friend of the subject, H. E. Dana records a similar transaction as a young seventeen-year-old Lee Scarborough travels by train from the West Texas frontiers to Baylor University in Waco, TX in January of 1888. George Scarborough, a Texas frontier preacher and Lee’s father, arranged for the young Scarborough to sit under the preaching and teaching of B. H. Carroll, who was the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church. The shared trust between both pastors shaped the life of young Scarborough who matured in the faith and would eventually surrender his life to the service of gospel ministry.

Two valuable principles in this example merit noting.

Parents, your parental responsibility does not end when they go to college

Local church attendance in college requires parental guidance and accountability. These days, an enormous gap exists for most first-time college students who leave home unprepared to find a local church home. According to 2016 research done by Barna Group, as much as 59% of young people from churchgoing homes walk away from the faith. Such a statistic proves that more than half of our young people are unequipped and unguided to think, identify, locate, and commit themselves to Christ and his Church during college. Continued collegiate discipleship begins long before your student leaves home for university. George Scarborough regarded Carroll to have been the finest preacher in Texas. He spoke often about Carroll’s preaching and the happenings in the First Baptist Church of Waco to his son, Lee. Young Scarborough left for college with an understanding that he was to include local church membership and regular attendance as a vital part of his educational experience. Scarborough’s parents taught him to value Christ Jesus and the importance of local church membership. All of this guidance began in the home.

Pastor, your pastoral responsibility does not end when they go to college

B. H. Carroll had a well-known reputation for faithfully preaching the Word of God. He was faithful to Southern Baptist polity and doctrines. Not only had George Scarborough kept informed with Southern Baptist life and its preachers, but he assisted Lee in making an informed crucial decision about college church membership and attendance. The First Baptist Church of Waco welcomed college members.  George Scarborough wrote a letter of introduction to Carroll personally on his son’s behalf. Scarborough entrusted Carroll with young Scarborough’s spiritual formation during his years in the university.

The reality: rearing godly college students begins years before these students ever step foot on college campuses. Children glean most of their values and many habits from watching and listening to their parents. Parents, pray for your students to walk-in their faith while in college, but before those days, give them instruction and make provisions for them to make spiritually-healthy decisions about local church membership and attendance. In short teach them to follow Jesus, even without your direct oversight.

College towns are usually filled with local churches and faithful pastors. Indeed, they have been given the task of shepherding tomorrow’s leaders. Pastor, when you step up to the sacred desk next Sunday, look out and make eye contact with your college students, you may very well be looking into the eyes of the next Lee Rutland Scarborough or Billy Graham.

Over the course of the next few articles, I am going to discuss the issue of discipleship and provide some ideas to both parents and local churches in the hopes of helping to close this discipleship gap found in too many local churches. We have a responsibility to the next generation before God to disciple them well.

Jesus Follower. Husband. Father. Evangelist. PhD Evangelism @SWBTS. Woodturner. Cyclist. Cast-Iron Culinarian.