If you are the mom of a soon-to-be-college freshman, hang on. You will survive. But the more important question might be—will your child survive spiritually? Even if he or she has checked all the boxes associated with growing up in the church? I have walked in your shoes twice. And so far, my young men are thriving in college and are still striving to walk with Christ. Personally and professionally, I’ve gained insights I’d like to share with you.
So here’s the thing. We moms are experts at making sure dorm rooms are outfitted, classes are registered, meal plans are sufficient, and laundry is, well, laundry. However, there is one area for which it is not uncommon to assume our child is already prepared. Because, after all, we’ve been doing this for the last eighteen years, right? But unfortunately, statistics and experience show that we are not doing as good a job as we thought we were in one key area. More accurately, we are not being as intentional and strategic as we should be about the area of spiritual preparation for college.
But it is not too late! The summer months are a great time to prepare while also having focused time with your almost-adult child before you send her off. In fact, as I post this, you have about two months until you cut the apron strings.
This is an emotional time for us moms–especially if you are sending your first fledgling out from the nest. The inner conflict of letting your baby go wars against the inner celebration of more freedom for yourself. However, you will feel better after that last hug knowing you wrapped her in tactical armor to navigate the spiritual landmines ahead. So, what do you say? How about engaging in a summer spiritual boot camp for college prep?
Today, I’ll overview the top ten topics you should try to cover. I will follow this blog with detailed blogs breaking down each topic with resources and action steps. Now before you throw your hands up in despair or throw your face in a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s, ask God for discernment. He knows your child even better than you and is willing to show you what to accomplish before orientation week.
1. Research churches and campus ministries your student could attend. Research shows that your child’s involvement with a local church and campus ministry during the first two weeks of college is crucial to her spiritual health. Additionally, maintaining intergenerational relationships bolsters faith and makes it more “sticky” down the road. Keep in mind a campus ministry and a nearby campus church are not substitutes for one another. They play different roles in your student’s life. I’ll provide some key tools to help with this search, but one thing to do in the meantime is have your graduate talk to returning college students about campus ministries they are involved in.
2. Build confidence for the truth and evidence of Christianity and a biblical worldview through the study of apologetics. Never done that before? I’ll provide great resources and an action plan. Done it? Review it. Seriously. This is like the review class you paid for before the SAT or ACT. It increases confidence when faith is put to the test. Apologetics is a form of discipleship and theology that gives confidence in the Christian faith as a reasonable, viable, trustworthy worldview. It helps answer the “why” behind the “what” of what we believe. Your kid’s faith will NOT survive as a hand-me-down faith on the college campus.
3. Develop or reinforce the basic spiritual disciplines of Bible Study and prayer. Provide the best resources your child will personally enjoy to foster these disciplines. You wouldn’t send your kid to college without a meal plan. Consider this a spiritual meal plan. He’ll be getting enough “junk food” on his own from peers and professors. He’s a big kid now. No more milk. Time for solid food.
4. Start or join a Moms in Prayer college group—this benefits your child, the campus, and you! This is the only “approved” way to go to college with your baby. (Be honest, there’s a part of you that wants to.) Praying for your college child and the campus is one of the most intentional, strategic things you can do. More on this later.
5. Facilitate a way for your home church to intentionally stay in touch with your college student—you are sending them out as missionaries into hostile territory. The church has a vested interest in this while they are on campus and when they are home on “furlough.”
6. Sharpen critical thinking skills using media, music, and movies. Whether we like it or not, the entertainment industry is probably the most powerful worldview shaper outside of the professors they will soon encounter. Think of this as advanced training for discerning truth and for being thoughtful, conversational ambassadors of the Christian worldview with their peers.
7. Train in tactics for defending the faith. Yes, this includes apologetics, but it’s slightly different and worthy of its own emphasis. Until we discuss this further, go buy Greg Koukl’s book Tactics in Defending the Faith. If you learn nothing else from this book, learn this, teach it, and practice it together: Ask these three questions when challenged on a biblical worldview: 1) What makes you say that/what do you mean by that? 2) How did you come to that conclusion? 3) Have you ever considered…?
8. Create a healthy atmosphere, attitude, and action plan for doubts about faith and for potential moral failures—and for your response. I pray no mom/parent will ever have to deal with their child seriously doubting their faith, even walking away from it, but I have talked to too many parents and heard too many stories of it happening to know that it is a reality. So make sure your child knows he can come to you with his doubts and questions. And in the meantime, prepare yourself.
9. Be apprised of the latest issues on public and private campuses. These issues may catch your student off guard if not familiar and ready to respond—especially regarding Christianity and conservatism. Get your head and your child’s out of the sand. Eyes wide open, friends. This is no time to be ignorant. In my detailed blog, we’ll discuss safe speech zones, microaggressions, trigger warnings, and more.
10. Discuss a biblical view of sexual ethics and why gender matters. These are two of the key issues facing the church today and maybe the greatest moral issues on the college campus. This is hard. We are all reeling from the lightning speed at which these issues have advanced. Gender does matter. And there is a compassionate way we can make that known. Moral issues are a key way your child’s faith can be derailed in college. Help them stay on track through prayer and honest discussions.
As you walk through these steps together, consider sharing about your own successes and failures, doubts and fears from your college years. Use discernment of course. But letting your child know you’ve been there, what you wish you had known, and what you know now could go a long way to keeping the communication lines open. And parental influence is still key in the college years when it comes to faith.
You’ve got about two months to prepare if you have a soon-to-be freshman. You can do it! We are all in this together. Grab your spouse, a friend, and God, and go do this. If your kid is already in college, you can still put these pointers into practice. If your kid is headed to college in the not-too-distant future, consider this your Spiritual College Prep Guide. Take it just as seriously, if not more so, as AP classes, building the college resume, campus visits, applying for scholarships, and college board exam prep.
Intentional spiritual preparation will go a long way toward helping all our college students leave campus without leaving their faith behind.
For more writing by Julie Loos, visit her Ratio Christi Booster’s blog.