I recently read a study that found that 65% of American evangelical students lose their faith while attending college, and that only 20% of students who were highly churched as teens remained spiritually active by age 29. In my own experience, these statistics ring true. It is not uncommon for Christian students entering the university to drop out of church altogether, become disconnected from faith, and eventually adopt a more secular worldview so that Christianity has no real bearing on their lives anymore by the time they reach their 30's.
There are a host of reasons for this arresting phenomena, with no simple answers. I think, however, it may be pertinent to observe how God is using university life in a person's life: he is testing a student's faith.
When the ancient Israelites came out of Egypt, and passed through the Red Sea, God took them out into the desert in a very roundabout way to the promised land. Through the new, different, and hard circumstances the Israelites faced, God was testing them to see if they would pay attention to him and obey his commands. Through this it became evident that the majority did not have a genuine faith in God and their hearts became hard (Exodus 15:25-26; Hebrews 3:7-19).
Jesus, when beginning his ministry, was baptized in an identification with the ancient Israelites in their baptism through water, and was immediately sent into the desert. While there he was tempted, tried, and tested in order to prove the genuineness of his Sonship and that he was doing what the Jews could not and did not do for themselves. Through Christ's championing of faith in his life, and in his redemptive events of cross and resurrection, he is able to give us the faith that we need for life.
As believers in Jesus Christ, Christians undergo entry into faith, and are tested in their devotion to God. This testing is important for each person, so that it may affirm belief, and bring needed endurance and maturity to live for God throughout the entirety of life (James 1:2-4). For the Christian life is not a 100 meter dash, but a marathon that must be run over the course of a lifetime.
Going to college is a sort of rite of passage into adulthood in our American culture. As students enter into university life, God is using the new, different, and hard situation to test the faith of the Christian. Those who allow their faith to be stretched and grow come out of school as being one of the greatest formative experiences ever in their lives. But those whose faith has not been found as genuine allow their hearts to become deceived and hard.
Knowing this reality, we must endeavor to be an authentic community of redeemed persons who provide a loving and nurturing place in which to grow amidst the rigors of college life. We must also strive to wrestle in prayer for students on a regular basis, that they will be challenged in their faith and come through affirmed and strengthened in belief instead of jettisoning their background in the church. Furthermore, we must also seek to be mentors who walk with students through the desert so that they are not alone in their journey. May college be the desert place of spiritual formation into knowing God. Amen.