One thing that small Christian colleges tend to do well: Provide Christian community. One thing that Christian colleges tend to do poorly: Prepare their students for how to cope with the loss of that Christian community.
I went to a small Christian college that provided me with excellent Christian community. We had small groups, chapels, and Bible classes. Students debated theology in the cafeteria and talked late into the night about life, God, church, relationships, etc. It was wonderful to be surrounded by hundreds other believers, to be within 10 feet of a close, Christian friend at all times, to have dozens of potential Christian spouses surround you in the cafeteria, to hear conversations about God in every classroom and every dorm room – in other words – to be able to really do life together as Christians.
Then came graduation.
After spending 4 years of my life investing in and surrounded by a wonderful Christian community, all of the sudden it was gone. We all graduated. Some moved back home. Others stayed in the area. Others found good jobs and relocated. And in the midst of that, my Christian college community was gone just as quickly as it had come 4 years earlier. I began to experience something I’ve started calling Christian College Aftershock.
When you graduate from a small Christian college that has excellent community, you begin to experience spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental isolation. Your roommates and neighbors aren’t Christians anymore. And they aren’t your age. And they don’t want to talk to you. Like, at all. Your co-workers don’t share your values or your beliefs and certainly don’t want to talk about God or church with you. All of the sudden, you’ve left the “stocked pond” at your small Christian college and there doesn’t seem to be a potential spouse anywhere. And most devastatingly, you just can’t seem to find Christian friends your age.
Maybe you graduated from a small Christian college and didn’t experience CCA. I certainly hope there are some of you out there. But if you’re like me and most of the people I graduated with – the struggle is real. Whether you have recently graduated from a Christian college, or are still enrolled in a Christian college, here are a few suggestions for how to fight the inevitable arrival of Christian College Aftershock:
1. Think ahead and prepare accordingly.
When senior year comes around, life speeds up and graduation hits before you know it. Though by senior year your commitment to and love for the school community around you has probably diminished, you will quickly realize you’ve been taking it for granted for the last few years. For those of you still in college, spend time thinking ahead to life after college. Spend time investing in people and friendships that will endure through graduation. Maybe plan with your closest friends to try to live in the same place, go to the same church, and continue to share life with one another. Thinking ahead and preparing for life after Christian college will help reduce the effects of CCA when the time comes for you to don your cap and gown.
2. Learn what real Christian community is.
There is no better time and no better place to learn (both in theory and practice) what real community is than your 4(ish) years at a Christian college. Whether you’ve already graduated or are still in school, spend time trying to understand what real Christian community looks like – and what it doesn’t look like. Learn to share yourself with a community of people that are committed to God and to one another. Learn to build Christ-centered relationships. Read the Bible together and see what God has to say about what Christian community really is and what it is really supposed to look like. Real community involves studying the Bible together, talking to and about God together, walking through the good times and the bad times together; committing to one another, even through troubled times, disagreements, and suffering. You only get a few years immersed in the Christian college community so make the most of it by simultaneously enjoying it AND learning what real community is.
3. Join a local church during AND after school.
Christian community doesn’t revolve around Christian colleges, it revolves around the local church. Though it is tempting to give your life completely to your college community for numerous reasons, it is absolutely vital (and Biblical) that you get involved in a local congregation of believers. Your Christian school is not your church. The fact is, real Christian community includes people who are different than us – older than us, younger than us, stronger than us, weaker than us, different educational backgrounds, different ethnicities, different socioeconomic classes, and so on. Real Christian community is found in the local church. Plus, your Christian college won’t let you just hang around forever once you graduate unless you keep paying tuition.
One of the most important things you can do to avoid CCA is to join a local church during AND after school.
Ideally, they are the same place and you can commit your life after college to the church you committed to during college. But depending on where you get a job, where your family is, and where God is calling you – this may not be possible.
Don’t just attend a local church on a semi-regular basis – JOIN a local church. Become a member – commit to the community and form a covenantal relationship with the church. Join a small group. Serve together. Do outreach together. Go on mission trips together. Eat dinner together. Hang out on weekends. Make the local church that you commit to your family and your home – through thick and thin. Though you will only be in college for a few years, your church membership and the relationships you develop there will last a lifetime. Christian college students – PLEASE join a local church and commit to being there every week. Hopping around from church to church or showing up once a month to a random place won’t provide you with real Christian community and won’t help you cope with CCA when you graduate. Find the church God is calling you to and then commit your life to the people there.
4. Root yourself in God and His Word.
Lastly, and most importantly, if you want to avoid being overcome by CCA you must root yourself in God and the Bible. Isolation, depression, anxiety, and fear may all come your way at some point, but it is God alone that can help us fight through these struggles. In your search for genuine Christian community don’t forget that the single most important relationship you have is with God, your Father, your Friend, your Creator, your King. To have the best friends and the best church in the world means nothing if you do not have community with God. True Christian community is only possible if you, your church, and the people around you are deeply rooted in God’s truth and value your relationship with God above all else.
CCA may or may not find you when you graduate, I pray that it doesn’t – but I also want you to be prepared to deal with it should it come knocking. So think ahead and prepare accordingly, learn what real Christian community is, join and commit to a local church, and never ever forget that it should all be centered around God and your relationship with Him.
Have you already graduated from a Christian college? Have you experienced CCA? How did you deal with it? What wisdom would you pass on for current students? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.