Monday, April 16, 2012

10 Reasons Not to go to a Christian College

1. Your youth pastor went there

When the majority of your social life consists of youth group, Christian concerts, and church events, the center of your universe that incredibly hip, never gonna act (or dress) his/her age youth pastor. They are the wacky and wild beacon shining a light into the dark world of troubled teens. They are helping forgotten youth. If you want to help people, you need to be just like them! Or do you?

Unfortunately, many church kids are so entrenched in Christian culture that they can't imagine life after youth group. So they take the next best route and seek out the college that made their youth pastor so awesome to begin with. This isn't to say that the college your youth pastor attended is never going to be a good fit for you. However, if this is one of the primary reasons you're making your decision, I'd encourage you to reconsider.

2. You are pursuing a non-ministry degree

This isn't a judgement on the academic quality of non-ministry degrees offered by Christian colleges. That will vary from school to school and even between departments at the same school. Rather, it is about cost effectiveness. Yes, you can get a degree in elementary education from a private Christian school, but considering the average starting pay for teachers, would you be better off getting the same degree at a fraction of the price from a public school? It's something to consider.

3. You are pursuing a ministry degree with no clear vision or desire to work at a church.

I cannot stress this enough...when you are evaluating your school choices, be sure to get information from a variety of sources, including those outside of the institution itself. Most schools want to make sure to maintain/increase their enrollment numbers.  I know far too many people (myself included) who were reassured by their Christian university that their major would allow them a high degree of flexibility. They will say that a ministry degree is gladly welcomed to a number of non-church/ministry related fields. Let me clear that up right now....It is not. A degree in a ministry field will never be as a highly regarded among non-Christian circles. If you are uncertain as to what you truly want to do, don't just sit in your major until you figure it out. Go to a community college, get your generals out of the way, and take some time to do a little soul searching.

4. You are a woman who ultimately dreams of being a pastor's wife and/or stay at home mom.

This may sound harsh to some, but I've known these women. While studying at their Christian college, they constantly talk about how really their only dream is to be a stay at home mom and wife. They earn their four year degree, ended up married withing two years of graduating, never work a day in the field they majored in, and end up burdened with tens of thousands of dollars in school debt resulting in high monthly repayment amounts while living on a single income. If your ultimate dream is to meet a nice Christian college guy and live happily ever after with no intent to work, here's what you can do: Rent an apartment near your favorite Christian school. Starting attending church as well as the college-aged Sunday school group at one of the most popular Baptist/Evangelical Free/non-denominational church in the area. You will save tens of thousands of dollars and likely end up with the same result.

5. Everyone else in your family has gone to school there.

Never make you choice based on the perception of others or what has always been done. College is an important and personal choice and should be treated as such.

6. You want to go to a school with like-minded people.

Guess what?? There are like-minded people anywhere you go and there are people you do not think like you everywhere as well. Wearing the label of "Christian" is no guarantee that you think alike. There are countless other matters on which to disagree (politics, music, movies, denominational differences,etc.) even when you share the same basic fundamentals of faith. Christians exist at state schools as well. You are more likely to find people who think like you do by pursuing the activities/causes that interest you most rather than simply assuming all Christians will get along and agree. The exciting thing about discovering such people in non-Christian circles is that it will open your eyes to the common ground that people of differing beliefs share rather than viewing it as an "us vs. them" situation.

7. It is out of your price range.

I have come to believe that one of the absolutely most irresponsible things that Christian colleges tell prospective students is reminding them that "God will provide." My own Christian alma mater actually promotes such an idea in its marketing literature. One of the major statistics that they cite is that the financial aid department has "helped 97% of our students reduce the cost of tuition and an affordable education." Phew. Well, that's a relief....wait a minute...

In this case "affordable" is an extremely relative term. One family's "affordable" is another's "more than twice what we can afford." Apart from that, such a statistic doesn't say what kind of financial aid those 97% received. Grants will indeed reduce your tuition costs. However, when it comes to loans, you will pay for them in the long run. Odds are once you finally get those student loans paid off (I'm at nearly 8 years and counting...) you will have paid much more than the amount of the original loan.

I know it's hard when you really have your heart set on something, but don't listen to anyone who says that money shouldn't be an issue. It is, and unfortunately it is an issue that will haunt you long after you've earned your degree.

8. You don't think you'd ever be able to handle having a gay/atheist/Buddhist/alcoholic/sex-crazed/etc. roommate.

Becoming an adult isn't about being comfortable, it's about learning and growing in an attempt to be a better person. That growth will not happen if you are unwilling to interact with anyone whose beliefs may differ from your own. Also, such reasoning assumes that there are no other Christians at a public school and that there are no gay/sex-crazed/alcoholic/etc. students at conservative Christian schools. Both are a myth. The gospels never suggest that Jesus avoided contact with those he disagreed with. On the contrary, he often interacted with them. If you truly want to live like Jesus, people who are different than you shouldn't be anything to fear.

9. You fear that a secular school will corrupt your faith.

As a general rule, I don't believe in making any major decision based primarily on fear. Unfortunately there are many Christian leaders willing to play into this fear when encouraging people to choose a Christian school. A secular school is no more sure to destroy your faith than a Christian one is to strengthen it. Faith is a personal matter that needs to be invested in by the individual who possesses it. It does not fall or stand based on the label of the school one attends.

10. You want to do God's will.

That's not to say that it is never God's will for someone to attend a Christian college. I'm not much in the market for claiming to know God's will. What I mean by this is that it is a terrible idea to choose a Christian school if you believe it is the only way to do God's will. God doesn't confine himself neatly to our boxes and assumptions. Quite frankly, he doesn't care about our categories and is willing and able to work in whatever way he wants, even through people and institutions that do not bear his name. You can serve God and live out your faith wherever you are.

In the end, choosing a school is a personal decision and one that should be made based on solid research about the institution as well as a thorough personal assessment of what it is that you are looking for and wish to accomplish through schooling. As it is the time of year when many graduates are making school decisions, I wanted to share my perspective. If you attended a Christian college (or as a Christian chose not to) is there anything you would add to this list?

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Messenger is the Message

Another Easter has come and gone. This year I spent that afternoon planting seeds (literally not in the overused Christian metaphor sort of way). It seemed appropriate for the occasion. The morning was spent in church. I tend to pay extra attention to Easter and Christmas sermons, mostly because I'm always curious as to the different ways pastors choose to approach the stories their audience is the most familiar with without simply repeating themselves year after year.

This time the sermon surprised me. It wasn't the eloquent oration on resurrection and eternity that one would have expected. Rather, the pastor spent most of his time speaking on the idea of bringing life to places where there once was death and how that is the true call of Christianity. That is what the actions of Christians should always seek to do - bring life and light to dark and death filled areas. To my relief he didn't expand on that be relying on excessively cumbersome messages of spiritual metaphors in the context of evangelism. Rather the example he gave was one of love and acceptance towards others in all circumstances and the powerful impact that makes. I've been thinking about it a lot this week.

I've been thinking about it in the context of all of my personal disappointments with the American church as well as the narrative of Jesus' life we find in the gospels. The more I think about it, I keep coming back to the same thought:

The messenger is the message.

Perhaps that is the core message of Christianity when you boil it all down. Not just in the sense that Jesus is the core message of our faith, but in the sense that we are the message of Jesus to the world. Perhaps that is what Paul meant in the Bible when he said "If I speak in tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Cor. 13:1) What if when the book of Hebrews tells us that "The word of God is living and active..." (Heb 4:12) it doesn't simply mean that reading the Bible can spark inspiration to motivate us, but also that the true word of God is meant to be lived out in an active manner as we seek to live our lives in the example Christ example that spent time with the marginalized, objected to legalistic religious leaders, sought to heal people's pain, and put others before himself.

I can't help but wonder, if the messenger really is the message, what message are most churches and Christians sending to those around them?

This week I haven't been able to stop thinking about it and the more I do, the more I keep coming to the same conclusion:

The messenger is the message.