Across the country, new students are settling into life in halls and houses. Based on the advice of many people over the years, here’s my advice for Christian students.
Join a church
No one can make it alone as a Christian, and living as a student is no exception. You’ll probably be challenged about what you believe, whether in lectures or down the pub. There will be pressure to conform to a sinful culture; many Christians flirt with temptation rather than fleeing, and regret it later. You need people to support you and challenge you because they love and care for you. As a Christian you’re already part of God’s worldwide church, so make it a priority to join a local church community. Church will help you grow as a Christian, so find somewhere where as God’s Word is taught people grow to love Jesus more, love each other more and love the lost more.
Join the CU
Christian Unions are mission teams made up of students from different local churches, united around the gospel in order to better reach students with the good news of Jesus. In short, they exist to make Christ known on campus. Join your CU to get involved in student mission; to be better equipped to reach your friends with the gospel; and to be encouraged as you work as a team to bring others to know Jesus. Find out more on the UCCF website.
Join other societies/do other things!
God’s made a good world, with so many great things in it. Don’t do what I did in my first year and do so many Christian things you don’t have time to play football/sing in a choir/join the wine circle/get involved in student politics/act in a play/go to the pub with coursemates. Not only is it wrong to think such things are “less spiritual” (all of life is for God’s glory!), if you throw yourself into loads of Christian meetings to the exclusion of all else, you’ll find opportunities for mission few and far between. This is my biggest regret about my first year at university. Do something to get outside of the Christian bubble, even if it’s simply spending time with your flatmates!
Work hard, rest well
It may not feel like it sometimes, but you’re at university to study for a degree. This is a good thing to do! Your attitude to your work is a great witness to others, but more importantly God asks us to work as if working for him. My experience is that you actually enjoy your work more the more effort you put in; this is possibly my second biggest regret of my first year, as I didn’t get much out of it academically.
You also need rest, which may seem impossible during freshers’ week, but getting into good habits early on really does help. The temptation is to stay up late like everyone else, because you feel like you’ll miss out on making friendships, especially early on. God knows what you need though, and one of those things is sleep; you will not lose all your friends if you go to bed before them! (You may well find they’re waiting for someone else to suggest going to bed…) Naps are also useful, if you have been up late; caffeine less so.
Learn to love
Your flatmates might “borrow” your food, or not do the washing up, or wake you up after a late night out. Your lecturers might not be very good, or overly harsh, and can sometimes be ridiculed or hated by others. You might meet people in the CU with whom you disagree: on theology, on style of meeting, on whether Jesus would have joined the Conservative or Labour Party, on all sorts of things you hold dear. God hasn’t put you with these people and in these situations to annoy you: he’s given you an opportunity to learn to love people. This is important with non-Christians, but possibly even more so with Christians. If members of the CU don’t love each other, that’s not a good witness. If they do love each other, learning to put aside secondary issues because they agree on the core truths of the gospel, it’s a far better witness. Francis Schaeffer said:
Love – and the unity it attests to – is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father. (Francis Shaeffer, in Graham Beynon, God’s New Community (IVP), p92.)
You may have great intentions, but as a sinful human being you’re going to mess up. Don’t forget the gospel. Jesus died for you, and his perfect righteousness is enough to cover even the most spectacular failings. I was far from perfect at university, and needed daily reminders of God’s grace to me. (Also related: joining a church!) Living in close proximity with others, it’s reasonably sure they’ll get to see your sins and struggles – so take the opportunity to tell them of Jesus, who accepts sinners like you and them.
University is a great opportunity for so many things, but above all to grow to know and love Jesus more, and so love other people more, through living and speaking for him in your academic work, your time with friends, your CU involvement and in your church family. My prayer is that you’ll do just that!