In their book Nurture Shock, authors Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman attempt to identify “supertraits” that, if learned and applied, will ensure a child’s success. Despite their exhaustive research, they concede that because children are “walking contradictions,” there is no one-size-fits-all approach to training up a child. Think Ian Malcolm’s chaos theory, which claims results vary due to the presence of slight variations within any given dynamic. Considering God created each student uniquely, it is impossible to predict one’s outcome due to a myriad of variances: a wayward student might attend a secular college and find faith, whereas a student deeply-rooted in their faith may attend a Christian college and walk away from God — or not.
Be encouraged knowing the decision process is not black and white; it’s not either/or.
Pastor Adam Griffin of the Village Church encourages the decision-maker to not “overvalue the right choice versus the wrong choice,” worrying that one leads to success and the other does not. Instead he says, as a starting point, filter all decisions through the lens of faith — a faith that is “genuine” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT). Students and their guardians should begin in prayer together, seeking God’s will, then answer the following three questions.
Is college necessary?
This question borders cultural blasphemy considering the western industrialized belief that the only route to success requires the completion of a 4-year degree — any degree, from any college. However, college should not be the default option. In a recent Harvard University study, in the near future, only 33 percent of jobs will require a 4-year degree or higher; 30 percent will require a technical certificate or 2-year degree; and 36 percent will require a high school diploma with an added certificate or apprenticeship. Given similar percentages exist in our current economy, many students are graduating from college, in debt and under employed.
This problem emerged when an increasing number of students chose to attend college as a way to delay adulthood by extending high school, or by complying with the status quo. Dr. Tim Elmore says we can reverse this trend by no longer asking students where they want to go to college, but instead ask: What problem do you want to solve?
For some, college will be the answer to that question; for others it may be an apprenticeship, technical school or 2-year degree program (or any given combination of the aforementioned). Others might consider a “gap year,” which, according to Time, results in students arriving to college “more engaged in their education” after having spent time working and exploring personal interests — that is to say, matured.
Remember, God cares about one’s motives. Students should search their heart and be certain that no matter which course they choose, it is a way to develop into the person God desires for them to become. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [whichever path you chose after high school], do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NLT).
Is there an accessible church nearby?
The root issue behind why students leave the church after high school can be traced back to what some experts call the “holding tank with pizza.” With the professionalization of youth ministry, which has yielded many positive results, it has unintentionally allowed for a large percentage of students to solely experience “church” within the given context of a ministry designed specifically for them. Because their circle of relationships were primarily among peers, graduation from high school meant graduation from what they consider “church.”
Having intergenerational relationships — other adults who care for, pray for and encourage students — has proven to keep them connected to the church after high school when entering college. Lifeway research confirms that “when teenagers see an active, practiced faith in their parents and other positive examples at church, they will stop being dropouts and start being disciples.”
What does the institution value?
During the 2012 presidential campaign, candidate Rick Santorum implied that President Barack Obama was a “snob” to suggest that every student attend college, implying students would be indoctrinated by liberal professors. “Oh, I understand why [President Obama] wants [every student] to go to college. He wants to remake [them] in his image,” Santorum said. “I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.”
Whether a student’s political views tend to swing more left or right, Genesis 1:27 clearly states that humans are created in the image of God — chosen “to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29 NASB) — not political leaders or even one’s parents. Students should seek to conform to the image of Christ as they embrace His values, which can be equally visible (or absent) on either the Christian or secular college campus.
U.S. Presidential Scholar Jada Olivia Holliday, a pre-med student and biochemistry major at Baylor, said the best way to determine the values of the school is to listen to what the person giving the tour talks about. Holliday was seeking to grow in the Lord, find a community to fellowship with and minister alongside, and have her talents used to glorify God; it was imperative for her to walk on campus and “feel the presence of the Holy Spirit,” to sense His values permeating through the college — values that form one into the image of Christ.
As a caveat: the three questions above will only be useful to students sincerely following the advice of Pastor David Platt, author of Radial: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, and current president of the International Mission Board (IMB) when he says, “the goal is Christ.” Students must keep this in mind as they pray about and discuss life after high school with wise counsel. And be ready for the enemy to cause confusion and hesitation. When this happens, and it will, remember this: A Japanese cosmetic company struggled to find a way to prevent soap boxes from leaving the factory empty. While the engineers tinkered with expensive solutions, it was the technician on the line that solved the problem. He placed an inexpensive fan near the assembly line belt that would blow empty boxes off the line. Simple, yet effective.
When it comes to selecting the right college, students can feel confident in their decision and let the pressures from society diminish by choosing the path in which they “will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10 NASB). Simple, yet effective.
C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at The Church at Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. He loves to mentor the next generation of leaders and considers himself a fast food connoisseur. For questions or comments, connect with him on social media: @thecjwetzler.