TURNING THE TIDE
What parents can do to keep their Christian freshmen from
becoming atheistic seniors.
by Israel Steinmetz
I'is another decade before I send my first child off to college,
but it's never too soon to begin preparing her and her siblings
for that day. Inevitably I think of my own experience, having
attended college for eight of the past ten years. What prepared
me to withstand skepticism and secularism, the doubts and
doubters? How can I pass these things on to my own children?
Our children face serious challenges to their faith as they enter
adulthood and attend college. We hear the reports of Christian
dropouts and see the failures every day in our churches and
families. In the face of this crisis we ask, "What can we do to
empower our children to come out the other side of higher
education with a stronger faith?"
One thing that preserved my faith through my twenties was
maintaining a genuine relationship with God. I knew God and God
knew me. I loved God and knew God loved me. I knew what it was to
be a sinner and what it meant to be saved by God's grace through
faith alone. No amount of Bible reading, Scripture memorization,
church attendance, or doctrinal knowledge - necessary as these
are - can replace a genuine and ongoing encounter with the living
In moving toward adulthood on a college campus, our children will
meet new things that are real, living, exciting, frightening,
life changing, and compelling. The hope that they will hold to
sterile, secondhand religious tradition in the midst of this
existential adventure is unrealistic.
The best way we can prepare our children for college is to help
them encounter the true God who desires to be their Father,
Friend, Savior, and Lord. If my children leave home as nominal
Christians, they simply will not withstand the appeal of unbelief
and sin in college. But they will if they genuinely know the
Lord. Children encounter God as adults do - through worship,
prayer, fellowship, and being attuned to God's presence and
providence in everyday life.
Of course, we can't expect our children to have a genuine
relationship with the living God unless we're first encountering
Him through a dynamic, vibrant faith. I learned to know God first
from my parents, then from mentors and friends in churches I
attended and from my second family - the staff, students, and
friends of Spring Vale Academy. My relationship with God,
nurtured by these people, carried me through my college years.
Looking back on the way they loved God, experienced His love,
faced both victory and defeat, and trusted God in the face of
doubt empowered me to do the same.
An authentic, dynamic relationship with God takes place not just
at home but also in the community of Christ's body. As doubts and
fears assailed me through college, I leaned on Christian brothers
and sisters for prayer, guidance, inspiration, and correction. We
can't wait until the children in our churches become adults
before engaging them in the life of the body, helping them
discover their gifts and place among God's people. Building a
meaningful friendship with them now means they will trust us with
their doubts, faults, and fears later on.
When my children are vitally connected to Christ through His
church body, they have the support and encouragement to face the
challenges of adult life and the seduction of unbelief in
college. They will continue to rely on the relationships they
built with their parents and friends from their home church. And
they are likely to seek out new connections with Christ's body in
college, through Christian groups, campus ministries, and a
nearby local church.
Arriving in Dallas for college, I entered a city where I knew no
one. Thanks to the church "grapevine," I was quickly adopted by a
local family and congregation who provided the support I needed
to handle my first real taste of independence and adulthood. I
hope to provide the same network of support for my children
should they leave their hometown to attend school by connecting
them with fellow Christians in the area of their campus.
Sense of Purpose
How helpful it will be to our children if they can grasp their
general, if not personal, calling in life before they leave home.
Some kids will know the specific area of ministry God has called
them to at a young age, as I did. The rest of them will not
discover this until they become independent adults. What is
absolutely vital is that they understand early on the purpose and
calling on all God's people to be ambassadors for Christ,
ministers of the gospel, members of Christ's body, and lights to
Do our family and church foster this sense of identity? Or
do we foster a lack of purpose and direction in which young
people drift aimlessly in a world of fast entertainment, mindless
leisure, and selfish pursuits? I was blessed to not only know
what God was calling me to but also have family and church
friends who encouraged, shaped, and supported my pursuit of God's
purpose in life. Without them, I might never have stuck with His
To support them in pursuing God's high purpose, we must help our
children see that life matters, that time is too precious to
waste, and that they are called to make a difference in the
world. We must give them tools and motivation to engage God and
people in real, life-giving relationships, rather than settling
for the impersonal and hypnotic fix of electronic screens.
Entering adulthood with true purpose, they will mature and pursue
their studies with that in mind, rather than being dragged
mindlessly into the doubt and disbelief that will inevitably
Taste of apologetics
Something else very valuable to me, and that I hope to pass on to
my children, is a taste of apologetics - the logical explanation
and rational defense of our biblical faith. It is an essential
element in our children's training as they enter college.
Some folks would call for a heaped-up helping of apologetics for
teens, believing that with enough training, a youth develops an
unassailable Christian worldview to answer any question and fend
off any skeptic. I am less optimistic that a college frosh can be
fully ready to argue for the existence of God, explain the
problem of evil, or answer the scientific claims of the
evolutionist, the philosophic claims of the secularist, and the
religious claims of the pluralist.
But I think we can expose our children to Christian apologists
who will show them that Bible believers are tackling the most
complex questions and finding compelling answers. In this way,
we'll guard against the inevitable professor or person who wields
a well-trained intellect and a well-honed vocabulary to make all
others sound like backwoods ignoramuses with archaic
By exposing our children to solid apologists, we help instill
this confidence in them, that while they may not grasp all the
arguments, they do line up with those who do engage the skeptics
at the highest level. Thus they can have both hope and a deepened
desire to !earn. During my high school years, I had the privilege
of attending a creation seminar, conducted by "Answers in
Genesis," and an apologetics conference with Ravi Zacharias that
had this very effect on me.
Many pop-apologists offer inaccurate or simplistic answers that
serve only to make Christians more vulnerable to their
Work and pray
Preparing my children for adulthood and college, some old advice
comes to mind: Work as if everything depends upon you, and pray
as if everything depends upon God. When we've done all we can to
prepare our children and have entrusted them to God, we must hope
that they have truly come to know Him and that He will preserve
them through these trying years. The reality is that people make
their own choices.
I pray that as we trust and obey the Lord in this matter, we will
see our children know and love God and, when they enter college,
rise up and turn the tide against unbelief.
With his wife, Anna, and their five children, Israel Steinmetz,
lives and serves from their home in Kansas City, Mo.
RESOURCES for HIGH SCHOOLERS.org
The resources under each topic are listed in order of their level
of challenge to a high school student - from least to most
advanced. None of these can replace relationships with God,
parents, and church family, but each might supplement those
For additional resources, please visit baonline.org.
Knowing and serving God
Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris (www.therebelution.
How to Stay Christian in High School, by Steven Gerali
How to Stay Christian in College, ThInk Edition, by
The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel (www.leestrobel.com)
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (www.rzim.org)
Answers in Genesis (www.answersingenesis.org)
Christian campus groups
Campus Crusade for Christ (www.campuscrusadeforchrist.com)
Youth With a Mission (www.ywam.org)
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (www.intervarsity.org)
Chi Alpha Campus Ministries (www.chialpha.com)
From the September/October "Bible Advocate" - a publication of
the Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver, CO. USA