I’ve seen the look time after time again. After another conversation with a student about their— per their confession—unsatisfactory relationship with God I saw the look that I’m growing all too familiar with.
It’s a look of desperation, hunger, frustration. A look of fading hope.
Ultimately, what they’re saying without actually saying is, “Will you help me? I’m falling apart and I can’t fake it much longer.”
We have all seen the stats about high school graduates going to college and leaving the faith. Just a few short weeks into the semester and they’ve not found a church, campus ministry, or any friends who will help encourage them along the way of following Jesus, and they submit to the idea that maybe faith in Jesus just isn’t for them.
After all, the friends they’re making seem to be happy. They may not be Christians but at least they’re not carrying the shame of trying to be someone they’ve never successfully been.
For years, I’ve written this off as the likelihood that these students who walk away are not actually Christians and they’ve finally found the freedom they’ve been longing for. While that may be true in some cases, I’m beginning to ask different questions.
How many of these students actually want to walk away from the faith?
How many of these students have tried and tried and tried to figure out how to have an ongoing relationship with God but have gotten tired of “falling short” without much encouragement?
How many of these students are actually walking away from the faith because they feel like failures in the way of Jesus?
And if they’re walking away because of shame, guilt, and discouragement, how do we help them?
If you’ve played a sport – organized or in the backyard with friends and family – you’ve gotten hurt while playing before. Few of us have made it out of a game without a rolled ankle, jammed finger, or shattered pride.
But what’s easier when those inevitable minor injuries come? Stop the game and get the help you need, or pretend like it doesn’t hurt?
I’m convinced there’s a pocket of people walking onto every college campus in America this fall who would love to follow Jesus but will walk away because the shame of failing again is too unbearable for them. It’s always easier to pretend we don’t care than it is deal with our shame and guilt that comes with falling short again.
So, what do we do? How can we as ministers and leaders in the church help these students desperate for guidance?
As I continue to ponder this question and flesh it out in real conversations with college students, I know God will give more insights. But when I pay attention to the conversations I’m having I notice one major truth from Scripture seems to be the most encouraging.
I ask them a simple question, “Did you know that God lives inside you?”
Ezekiel 36:27 says it this way, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Notice what God Himself says he will do. He will put His Spirit in us. Why? To cause us to walk in His ways.
And these verses:
“ But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:16-18
The transformation so many of these near-hopeless college students are looking for is going to come from the Holy Spirit. And because of Jesus’s work on the cross and in His resurrection, we can see and behold the glory of the Lord.
I’m convinced that the greatest work I have is helping students understand that five minutes beholding the glory of the Lord is better than a thousand hours of self-help videos on YouTube or TikTok.
I know that so many of you reading want to join in this work as well. Some of you are in positions that enable you to invest directly into the lives of youth around the state, and you do a fantastic job of it. If you’re not in a position to do that, you can still labor with us.
Would you make it a consistent prayer of yours this summer that the pocket of students I mentioned earlier wouldn’t walk away but would quickly connect with one of our Baptist Collegiate Ministries and, consequently, our churches?
Because here’s the reality: these students are most susceptible to life-altering moments with God when they are desperate for Him to do something about their situation. But, unfortunately, they are also susceptible to life-altering decisions that could send them into a spiral when they’re desperate for anyone – anything – to lift the shame and guilt they feel.