Why Do Many People’s Faith Drift After College?

For the last twenty years I have spent a portion of my time each week working with college students at my church. I have generally found the college students’ faith vital with a great interest in making a difference in the world. I have watched these young men and women invest time into serving their communities, devoting time and energy into learning more about God and looking for ways to live out their faith. When I connect up with many of these students several years after they have completed college I typically find folks who still have vital spritual lives who are actively serving in their churches. This is encouraging. Yet, I believe this is the exception. It seems that a large percentage of people who have vital spiritual lives in college end up being “sunday christians”. I have been asking myself and others the question “Why do people see to lose their vitality after college?”

The first thing I have noticed is that once people leave college, they often leave behind a tight knit and supportive community. Often times, people go from living in close quarters, sharing a dorm or a tiny off campus apartment to a place of their own which doesn’t require day to day sacrifice and interaction with others. The Bible makes it very clear that living in community is very important to ongoing growth… but our culture encourages use to “get a place of our own” rather than look for how to build and deepen community. Secondly, young people are often encouraged to “make a good start” in their field of choice. This often means moving to a new city and starting a job that wants way more than 40 hours / week. People do this to get started and tell themselves that once they get established they will be able to balance life. In the mean time, they have a nice income and have the expectation that the their standard of living should go up now that they are no longer students. So money gets spent. Sometimes consumer debt is rung up, sometimes not. But it is no longer possible to live on the same money that was adaquate during student years because the appatite has grown.

So is that all there is to it? Keep hanging with friends and don’t get too caught up with money and you will be find? Unfortunately, I think there is more to it than that. I had a wonderful opportunity to talk with a number of church leaders in the last few months. There are two topics which repeatedly come up.

College Discipleship Often Misses Spiritual Formation

A number of leaders from the church planting community have noted that college discipleship typically stressed learning disciplines and basic practices, but often failed to get to heart transformation or spiritual formation. This is the very lack which Renovare is trying to encourage. More on this later.

Vocation and Work

One of the most common issues is that many people have not been taught to integrate their lives, to understand vocation. So they have a “spiritual life” and a “working/secular” life which don’t get combined. As these two world tug on a person’s heart, the work world often dominates. I tend to agree that this is one of the major issues. The college students that we have explicitly talked with about vocation and integrating faith into all aspects of life have tended to do better in later years.

I believe that the modern church has been it’s own worse enemy in this regard. While the scripture talks about the priesthood of all believers, we need to quickly divide things into spiritual and secular, and clergy and laity. I believe these divisions make it much harder for people to see it is possible to live an integrated, incarnational life dedicated to service.

If I may, let me expand on this a bit. I was at the Intersection conference a few weeks ago. This is a conference dedicated to the mobilization of the church and had a track specifically about the workplace being ministry. In the professional track there were a number of very moving discussions where people like Brett Johnson told stories about how business men were learning to be a blessing to their communities through their businesses, touching people spiritual and materially. There are a number of people who have been seeing first hand revival as well as positive economic and development results such as described in The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits by C. K. Prahalad.

Yet I had a somewhat discouraging discussion with one of the gentleman who was in the pastor’s / mobilizing track. This gentleman is a good hearted pastor who has been looking to help his congregation integrate their lives. He asked a simple question to his fellow pastors. He said: “There is a woman in my congregation who is an executive recruiter and a staffing specialist. She has her own business which is reasonably successful. How can I help her be an effective minister of the gospel?” The answers he got were teach her evangelism and take her on short term mission trips. That’s it!! Yet, here is a women who is in a great position to use her business as a way to minister to people. She can help people find their vocation and calling. She can resist the temptation to place the first qualified candidate in a position to quickly get a commission, and instead work for the long term of getting great matches for people and companies (which in the long term pays dividends). She can work with people to find their skills, there calling, which helps those people be more marketable, and helps the companies hiring them find what they really need. I could go one, but I am sure you can see how there are many ways that she can bless her community while at the same time be even more successful as a business women. Even pastors and mobilizes who are attending a conference which is encouraging integration seem to be missing the mark.

What To Do?

Live intergrated lives. Understand that the workplace is as much a ministry as someone who is a fulltime pastor. Your ministry is not just evangelism… it is how you love and serve your coworkers and customers. If is making a difference by bringing character and quality to your work. It is makes good things that will last. There are a number of resources which can be helpful. One of the best books on this subject is Richard Lamb’s Following Jesus in the Real World has been a helpful resource.

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