David L. Goetsch
I Don't Fit In At College
If you are a Christian attending a secular college or university, the parent of one, or if you know someone in this difficult position, this blog is for you. It is not uncommon for Christians to find that their faith puts them at odds with their peers, colleagues, or co-workers. Do you ever feel like you don’t fit in because of your Christian beliefs? This happens a lot to Christians who attend secular colleges and universities.
Christian college students who don’t drink, engage in casual sex, cheat on tests, or use drugs don’t always fit in well with their fellow students. In an increasingly secular world, a college or university campus may be the least friendly environment in America for Christians. This is why believers who attend secular institutions of higher education often feel like fish out of water. They don’t fit in.
Isaiah didn’t know college would be like this. Students in his dormitory drank to excess, used drugs, engaged in casual sex, spent more time partying than studying, regularly cheated on assignments and tests and, worse yet, pressured him to join them in their iniquitous behavior. The small Christian high school he attended had shielded him from these kinds of behaviors and the accompanying peer pressure. He had never felt more out of place in his life.
Isaiah became so discouraged by negative peer pressure, rejection, and aloneness he considered dropping out or attending a different university. However, he planned to be an engineer, and the university he attended was a top-ranked engineering school. Additionally, Isaiah had a full academic scholarship. He enjoyed his time in class. It was the hours in between classes and at night he dreaded. Besides, Isaiah reasoned, other secular institutions would be the same. After much thought and prayer, Isaiah concluded he should find a way to stick it out and learn to stand up to the peer pressure. But how? He decided to go home for a few days and talk with his pastor. This turned out to be a wise decision.
Pastor Rick got right to the point. “Isaiah, when you feel out of place among your peers because of your Christian beliefs, you are seeking approval from the wrong source. Peer approval is a conditional, one-way phenomenon based on what they want from you or what you can do for them. When you refuse to go along with their sinful behavior or participate in their nefarious activities, you are an unpleasant reminder their behavior is wrong. You become a standard of behavior they don’t want to live up to or be reminded of. That’s why they pressure you to join them."
“Forget peer approval. You don’t need it and, from the kind of peers you have described, you don’t want it. Seek, instead, the approval of God. Rather than trying to fit in with the world, fit in with God. This is the message in Galatians 1:10 where we read: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
“Having given this advice, let me hasten to add seeking the approval of God rather than the world may turn out to be a difficult challenge. Worldly approval, like most temptations, can be powerfully appealing. It’s like the aroma of coffee and donuts wafting from a bakery early in the morning or the allure of an ice-cold drink on a swelteringly summer day. It appeals to something deep inside of us."
“Worldly approval tugs persistently on our human frailties. Among other things, it appeals to our fears, ambition, ego, need to fit in, and desire for validation. These human desires are powerful, but trying to satisfy them instead of pleasing God inevitably leads to frustration, disappointment, and disillusionment. Fitting in with God will do more for you in the long run than trying to fit in with peers who reject Him."
“You fit in with God by honoring Him in everything you do. Here are a few things you can do to honor God and, in turn, fit in with him: Acknowledge God as the author of your blessings, heed the Greatest Commandment in all aspects of your life, and show others Christian love as described in 1 Corinthians 13."
“Fair warning Isaiah, seeking to please God rather than the world will not be easy. You can do well today and backslide tomorrow. This happens to all of us. Because of our fallen nature, we will always feel the lure of worldly approval. When you find yourself wanting to please your peers instead of God, don’t despair. You are going to be tempted, but remember temptation is not in and of itself sin. Giving in to temptation is sin, but feeling tempted isn’t.
Therefore, when you feel tempted to seek worldly recognition, approval, and validation, do these three things: Pray for God’s help, seek guidance in Scripture, and seek the wise counsel of fellow believers. Isaiah, when you struggle with wanting to please God instead of the world, do these things and remember who holds the keys to a better life on earth and eternal life thereafter. It’s God not your peers.”
Pastor Rick prayed with Isaiah and then gave him some practical advice to make life on a secular campus less difficult for him. What follows are the Pastor’s recommendations to Isaiah. They apply to all Christians attending secular colleges and universities:
Join a campus Christian fellowship. This will give you a place to go between classes and in the evening after class where you can interact with like-minded Christians.
Join a local church, attend regularly, and participate in church activities. This will give you regular contact with fellow Christians who can reinforce your beliefs.
Establish a relationship with a pastor or Christian counselor in the local church so you have someone to talk to and pray with when feeling overwhelmed by the secularism that prevails on campus.
Befriend fellow Christian students on campus so you can seek their wise counsel and provide yours to them.
Return home and attend your home church as often as possible to remind you of who you are and where you come from.
When challenges arise on campus, go first to Scripture. Then place your burdens at the feet of Christ in prayer.
Make it your goal to fit in with Christ not your secular peers.
Pastor Rick’s advice wasn’t always easy to apply, but it became the difference between Isaiah completing his college degree and dropping out. By the time he was a junior, Isaiah had a part-time job at his local church counseling Christian college students concerning how to earn their degrees without compromising their faith.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com