“I can’t hold on much longer,” I admitted, trying not to look down.
Hiking with a friend had seemed like a great idea until we became stranded on a cliff. While my friend managed to pass the danger zone, I remained stuck with no further footholds—and time running out.
“Don’t you have a rope in your backpack?” my friend asked.
Right! I fished out the cord and tossed one end to my friend, who had a firmer grip on the cliff. Together, we worked our way to safety.
I share the rest of this story in my book for Christian students, Prepare to Thrive, explaining how, like I needed a rope connected to a grounded friend, Christian students need connections with others who are securely gripping the Rock, Jesus. A support system of these connections makes up a student’s interpersonal foundations—one of three foundations Christians need to keep their faith strong at college. (You can learn about the other two in my previous articles. Part 2)
Students I’ve met around the world weave their interpersonal foundations from communities including campus ministries, biblical churches, and godly mentors. Let’s look at practical tips for getting involved with each.
The benefits of joining a campus ministry can include friendship, encouragement, prayer support, accountability, opportunities to serve, and—importantly—regular reminders that you’re not alone in your biblical beliefs. However, some students I’ve spoken with said they couldn’t find solid Christian groups. The leaders didn’t teach the Bible, or the members didn’t act like they knew Jesus.
Joining a group with compromised doctrines or lifestyles can do your spirit more harm than good. To recognize an unhealthy group, ask:
- Are there doctrinal issues within the leadership?
- How will spending time with this group impact my spiritual health?
- Will these relationships more likely lead me closer to God or closer to compromise?
Your personal boundaries will be far easier to overstep if professing Christians around you overstep them too. The point of steering clear of such relationships isn’t to be self-righteous, but to guard your heart and relationship with God (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
As awesome as campus ministries can be, peer groups alone aren’t enough. Students also need connections with the wider Body of Christ. That’s where the local church comes in. As a retired professor once told me, “Not attending church is the biggest mistake students make.”
Research suggests that students who move away to college are most likely to stay plugged into church if they find a new home church within two months. So, it’s essential to find a solid church early. What should students look for in a church? The most important must-have is solid biblical teaching. Ask, “Does this church believe, teach, and live out God’s Word?”
Churches are prime places to connect with potential mentors. A mentor is simply anyone willing to personally share valuable wisdom, knowledge, and insights to benefit someone less experienced. From what I’ve seen, students can benefit from at least three types of mentors:
- Sages—seasoned individuals you might meet for regular discipleship.
- Allies—older Christians who offer informal support, whether by inviting you for lunch, chatting with you after church, or praying for your exams.
- Responders—people who you may not see often, but who are always available to answer questions or offer advice.
What are some practical ways to find mentors? Here are seven ideas:
- Ask God to connect you with the right people.
- Look for trusted Christians who you want to be like and ask if they’d be willing to meet.
- Consistently attend a biblical, intergenerational church.
- Intentionally get to know older adults who walk closely with God.
- Find ways to serve or volunteer alongside mature Christians.
- Be open to asking older Christians for prayer.
- Remember that books and media work like mentors too. Through (auto)biographies especially, we can be mentored by extraordinary men and women of God throughout history! On the flip side, beware of negative media influences, because we become like those we spend time with.
Ultimately, connecting with godly mentors, biblical churches, and campus ministries are three ways to build interpersonal foundations for surviving university. And the number one trait to seek in all three community types is a commitment to God’s word. By surrounding ourselves with others who seek to learn, understand, and follow Scripture—and by being such people ourselves—we can stay grounded for life on the Rock.
There’s much more to say—enough to fill a book! Find practical tips for building strong spiritual, intellectual, and interpersonal foundations in the book, Prepare to Thrive: A Survival Guide for Christian Students.
Patricia Engler is a Christian apologetics speaker, writer, and Youth Outreach Coordinator for Answers in Genesis. After 12 years of homeschool and a B.Sc. degree, she backpacked 360°around the world documenting how Christian students keep their faith at university. The top takeaways from this research are available in Patricia’s book, Prepare to Thrive: A Survival Guide for Christian Students. You can follow her stories and get connected through Facebook, Instagram, and AnswersinGenesis.org.