This article first appeared in Christian Standard.
By way of full disclosure, I am not unbiased when it comes to the value of a Christian college education.
My grandparents and my wife’s grandparents all attended Christian college. My parents and my wife’s parents all attended Christian college. My wife and I are both graduates of Florida Christian College (now Johnson University Florida). I am also a graduate of Abilene (Texas) Christian University. I worked for three years as director of admissions and for several more as an adjunct professor at Florida Christian College. Our daughter also attended Christian college, and our younger children discuss Christian college as viable options for their educational futures.
Yes, I am a huge fan of Christian colleges, and I deeply believe in the importance of a quality Christian education as great preparation for a life of ministry or the foundation for a Christian preparing for a career in almost any field.
That being said, not everyone I encountered on my journey shared my enthusiasm for a Christian college education.
A guidance counselor inquired, “How are you going to support yourself with a degree from a Bible college? Are you sure this is the path you want to pursue?”
A well-meaning relative questioned, “You have a good mind. Are you sure you want to go to a Bible college?”
And a high school classmate must not have been familiar with the term “Bible college” because, when he asked about my college plans and I told him I would be going to Bible college, he asked, “You’re going to a barber college?”
(Trust me! There are days in ministry when I wish my biggest challenges were sculpting a flawless coiffure, corralling an uncooperative cowlick, or dealing with difficult split ends instead of trying to sculpt a flawless message each week, corralling uncooperative church members, or dealing with challenges that could split the church.)
Yes, I went to BIBLE college, I love ministry, and, even though many people did not understand my educational plans, my parents completely supported my decision. But not every parent agrees with such a choice.
As a Christian college recruiter, I periodically encountered parents who needed to be convinced Bible college was actually “real” college. Some of them thought Christian college was little more than glorified Christian camp that would lead to unsustainable spiritual highs and unmanageable financial lows.
I understand Christian college is not for everyone, and that a degree from a Christian college doesn’t typically result in big paychecks. I also understand that going to a Christian college does not automatically make one a “better” Christian than a Christian God calls to live and learn on a “secular” college campus. In my opinion, pitting Christian college against secular college is a dead end. It’s a false dichotomy that leads to defensiveness among Christians who attend or who have attended both types of colleges.
A Christian who is a certified nurse assistant from New Mexico, Adriane Brownlee, wrote of her experience with the faculties of both the Christian college and a state university she attended:
They [state university faculty members] were just as much invested in my college career and future endeavors as my Christian college professors. In fact, they were the ones I would attribute as being the most influential in my academic success. Some were even Christians as well.
But based on my experiences on a Christian college campus and as a board member for a campus ministry at a state university, attending a Christian college tends to put a student in an environment that builds up his or her faith, while going to secular school tends to put the student in an environment where one’s faith is attacked.
That is what RaVae Erickson experienced. Erickson, who attended a Christian college and a state university, wrote to me about both the struggle of being a Christian at a “secular” university and the strength of faith she gained at a Bible college. She wrote, “There is no doubt in my mind that I would not have survived (spiritually) at the state university for the year I was there if I had not come immediately from Bible college.”
The spiritual strengthening that can occur at Christian colleges is important not just to the students who attend, but also the parents who encouraged and/or allowed their children to attend a Christian college.
As a part of my research for this article, I surveyed readers of my blog (https://mylordandmyblog.wordpress.com). Among the questions I asked, two revealed spiritual issues as the primary reasons parents encourage and/or allow their children to enroll in Christian colleges and why students choose a Christian college for themselves.
Christian parents I surveyed—51 percent of them—encourage their children to attend at least one year of Christian college. Two primary reasons, both of them spiritual, were “the calling of God” (35 percent) and an “opportunity for their child to build his/her faith” (33 percent). These responses were consistent with what I discovered when I asked students to identify the biggest factors in choosing a Christian college. The top two factors: “the calling of God” (60 percent) and Christian college is “an opportunity to build my faith” (16 percent).
I wish I would have conducted this research back when I was a Bible college recruiter. I would have spent less time calling prospects and more time on my knees asking God to make the call for me!
“The Calling of God”
It was so refreshing to hear both parents and students talk about the power and importance of God’s call in deciding where to go to college.
Steve Street, a therapist in Greeley, Colorado, whose son is overseas studying to be a worship minster, wrote,
We didn’t specifically encourage our son to attend a Christian college, but it was always understood that he would go to college somewhere. We tried to raise him to seek God’s direction for his life, so when he showed interest in Hillsong College in Australia, we wanted him to allow God to lead him. We didn’t want to discourage our son by saying “no” to what he believed God was calling him to do, so we joined him in faith to see if this was God’s plan and to see how God would provide.
“An Opportunity to Build Faith”
My faith was undergirded and strengthened during my time at Christian college and university, and that’s what both parents and students expect when they choose a college. Rose Larimer of Vancouver, Washington wrote,
I cannot imagine a liberal, secular college providing the proper training for my son who wants to be a youth/music minister, or my daughter who wants to serve as a missionary. I’m so proud of my kids for choosing schools that will provide them with firm biblical foundations that will strengthen their value systems.
The second major reason I found among parents for why they encouraged and/or allowed their children to attend a Christian college was their desire for a social environment that would nurture and support their child—heart, mind, and soul.
Kenny Olsen, of Jacksonville, Florida, wrote,
As a parent of a young man who attended a Christian university, I can name key factors that shaped the decision. First, we felt he would thrive in a smaller classroom environment. Second, it was more appealing to be where the faculty and fellow students genuinely have your best interests at heart. Third, we feel like too often in secular universities too much emphasis is placed on convincing [students] to follow their political and religious views (which typically are different than ours) than on actually teaching.
Tami and John Stancil echoed similar concerns in explaining why they encouraged and/or allowed their son to attend a Christian college.
For us, the question wasn’t about sending or not sending our son to a prestigious college. It was about who would be influencing and teaching our son for the next four years. It was also about who his friends would be and the impact they would have on his life. This made the decision an easy one. In hindsight, now that our son has graduated, we see we did indeed make the right decision. He is a godly man that inspires others.
The Stancils’ son, Jordan, interned with us a few summers ago, and I can confirm he and they made the right decision. Now, like me, Jordan can’t cut hair to save his life, but he is a godly young man with a strong faith and compelling passion to continue to answer God’s call to help save lost souls.
Arron Chambers serves as lead minister with Journey Christian Church in Greeley, Colorado.