With the input of my own students at Southwestern College, I’ve compiled some of the most commonly observed distractions in college culture today. Here are five telling signs that you, or a student in your life and ministry, might be on the wrong track in college:
1) You binge-watch Netflix more than you study.
If you see Kimmy Schmidt and The Bravermans more than you see your Psychology, Algebra, and English notes combined, hear me say that this is your intervention. Come back down to earth. It’s time. One of the most powerful realizations that I had in college is that faithful study is a form of worship. God can use our educational tracks to benefit his Kingdom in powerful ways. Take advantage of the opportunities that you have to learn, study, and develop your critical thinking skills. College is, in the best way, a “means to an end” – graduation being that end. It’s time to make your desk your altar and Netflix less of an idol. Practically speaking, give yourself a Netflix episode limit for the day and grab a friend to hold you accountable.
2) There’s no one asking you where you were last week at church because you don’t go.
This is multi-faceted issue. Going to college often means picking a church and going without parents, and sometimes even friends, for the first time. I’ll say it out loud: that’s scary, and it might seem like an awkward task. Other practical issues at play are: sleep seems greater than church; there’s an age-group of people missing from church and you fall into that age range; you think a campus ministry fulfills the role of the church in your life. Whatever your reasoning might be, I want to challenge you to explore and articulate your theology about the Church. “Why do/should I go to church?” is a fair question, and it’s one that will continue to be a part of your life beyond college. If you think it’s important for people to attend church at all times in their lives except when they’re in college, I’d challenge you to articulate how that fits into you overall beliefs about the purpose and nature of the Church.
3) Bad company has corrupted some of your character.
One of my colleagues at the college where I serve in ministry tends to say the word “totally” a lot in regular conversation. I was surprised when my husband pointed out that my usage of the word “totally” has spiked in recent months. My colleague has clearly had an impact on me, and we laugh about it now. I share this story to prove a greater point: the people that you choose to spend time with impact your life in ways that you don’t even realize – both positively and negatively. If you’ve found yourself questioning your activities, character, and integrity in the last few months, take a look around. The company you’re keeping might be impacting you in unhealthy ways.
4) You’re a human-doing before you’re a human-being.
This is one of the most destructive lies that our culture spoon feeds us at every stage in life. We partake as though it’s cake. At the college level, school begins and all of a sudden, you’re not only a Psychology major, but you’ve picked up an under-water-basket-weaving minor, and you spend your spare time working, volunteering, sitting on student government association, leading campus ministry, and playing the triangle in the school band. All of these things are inherently good, but the combination of them together leaves little room for margin in life. Without margin, there’s no time to care for the image of God within yourself, and suddenly you begin finding all of your worth in what you can do instead of in who God says that you are: his beloved.
5) You’re having an affair with your cell-phone
Your thumb’s incessant relationship with your cell-phone is an addiction. Admittedly, it’s an easy thing to get away with when fidelity to a phone is an accepted cultural norm. I watch students come together often only to sit in a circle of silence as everyone fiddles away on their phones. I’m not encouraging you to ditch your phone cold turkey, but what I am asking you to do is consider what life would look like if you chose to keep your cell phone tucked away when you’re talking to someone, engaging in a group conversation, eating a meal, sitting in class, and in other situations where mindlessly being on your phone might be rude and might hinder you from being physically, cognitively and emotionally present.
How are you holding yourself, your friends, your children, and even students in your life and ministry accountable during their college years? Are you celebrating right steps and helping to re-direct wrong ones? Accountability in college, and in life, is one of the greatest gifts that we can provide for one another. It helps us to realize that we’re not alone on our faith journeys.