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.