Hope for Tomorrow: A father's burden at the start of this school year
by KEVIN BUMGARNER
Executive Editor

Article Date: Aug 29, 2014

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

I got a reassuring phone call from Alex on Sunday afternoon. He was ready to start classes the next day, and he remains excited about the church plant of which he is a part.
 
He says he’s doing well. And, yet, he is only 20 years old and 6,000 miles from the place we now call home.
 
My wife and I made arrangements to let our son stay in Hawaii to finish his education when we moved to Jacksonville so I could become the executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness. We’ve been physically separated since February, and because of his job we only got to spend a couple of weeks with him this summer.
 
Not seeing him bounce into the house every day with details of his latest adventure has been difficult. But his absence has kept him and his needs prominently displayed on my prayer list.
 
Given where we’re at, and where he’s at, helping the FBW staff put together our Aug. 14 centerpiece headlined “Surviving Calculus and Faith 101” touched me in a deeply personal way.
 
I know I’m not alone. Thousands of Florida parents have been sending their kids off to college in August, and for the Christians in that group the headlines can be worrisome. That’s why, as your Florida Baptist Witness staff started to put together our back-to-school package, we talked about ways to go beyond scaring parents and church leaders with the obvious statistics. We wanted to encourage parents and churches with what they can do to help our young adults grow spiritually through the college experience.
 
I hope you were as encouraged—and challenged—as I was by what Reporter Nicole Kalil discovered and wrote.
 
While Barna Research Group and LifeWay Research, among others, report that way too many students have a fallout with traditional church during their college years, that doesn’t mean all those students “lose their faith.”
 
What the research doesn’t seem to do as good a job accounting for are those students who get involved in Baptist Student Ministries or other Christian organizations that can help them fill the gap when it comes to staying connected to their faith during their college years.
 
“The kids we’re losing are the ones whose parents made them come to church in high school,” Eddie Gilley told Nicole in reporting for her story. He is the director of Baptist Collegiate Ministries at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and has worked with college students for the past 25 years.
 
I am encouraged by the strong network of Baptist College Ministry leaders in Florida for several reasons, not the least of which is that Eddie and his peers work hard to keep college students plugged into a local church—something that not all campus ministries do.
 
But they are only part of the solution, because no one disputes that the culture is stacked against our students at the vast majority of state-run universities—and even a fair number of private institutions.
 
To combat that, we have to help our students develop a legitimate foundation for their faith years before they leave for college, while they are still in the safety and comfort of their homes.
 
Then, as the college years approach, we must talk with our emerging adults about a specific plan for becoming engaged in church and campus ministries. Many of us spend hours talking with our students about how to find the right course of study and then succeed in their academic environment. But too many of us do too little to prepare them for their spiritual growth, which often comes through David v. Goliath-type battles, during those same years.
 
Finally, helping college students get involved in a church or ministry during the first three weeks of their freshman year is critical to how they are likely to live out their next four years. So, whether you’re a parent, church leader or both, feeling a sense of urgency when it comes to getting new students plugged in is critical.
 
When I look at how we tried to prepare Alex for this season, I am thankful that those who invested in his life helped us do a lot of things right. I am also sensitive to the reality that he still has a long ways to go before he completes a successful transition to adulthood.
 
Given that awareness, I am going to do one other very important thing: Call once again on the name of Jehovah God to do more than protect our students as we enter the new school year. I am praying that He will find those who call ourselves disciples to be faithful to that call when it comes to preparing and equipping the next generation.
 
We have no other hope. And neither do they.
 

 

Share your thoughts
 
Is your church doing something unique to attract and disciple college students? I’d love to hear about it. Share your thoughts by emailing me at kbumgarner@goFBW.com, calling me at 904.596.3171, tweeting me @FBW_editor or finding me on Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn under my given name.

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