Realities Of Bible College
Bible college is a unique subculture to wrestle with and handle well.
Where else do you receive an uncanny amount of exposure to truth and likeminded followers of Jesus? Or get asked if you’re going to marry that person of the opposite sex you’ve spent more than 10 minutes with (Answer: church)? Where else is there an unprecedented closeness that comes with living, working, serving, studying with brothers and sisters in the faith?
So there are definitely advantages for the Christian at a school founded upon and guided by (however imperfectly) the God’s Word. But with the benefits come certain pitfalls every student should be prepared to avoid.
My Cultural Transition To Bible College
I didn’t get my walk with God straight until I went to Word of Life. I still don’t know how I ended up there. A small school with a lot of rules in the mountains was not part of my 5 year plan when I finished high school. But God is sovereign. So I ended up going there for 2 years as a student and later returned to work on staff for 2 years. I am deeply grateful to all I learned at Word of Life, both by teaching and example. Older, wiser men took an interest in me and discipled me. I learned more about God, ministry and what it meant to live as a Christian. I would still recommend Word of Life to almost anybody.
Contrary to some beliefs about Word of Life, it isn’t the promised land, nor is it heaven on earth. Like anywhere else, there are many good things, and some not-so-good things. Most people understand that.
The Cultural Transition From Bible College
For most people, there is at least some confusion about what to make of life after Bible college. Of course this is by no means a universal snare. But in my experience there has been a fair amount of difficulty in such a cultural transition. I use the words “cultural transition” because many Bible colleges are their own subculture, as already discussed in the opening of this article. Of course, there is no shortage of different kinds of Bible schools and universities. However, I have in mind one school I am particularly experienced with – Word of Life Bible Institute.
Most people don’t understand that graduating and moving on well is a cultural transition that should not be taken for granted. Sure, everybody knows “real life” doesn’t look like life at Bible College. But acknowledging that isn’t the same as understanding those differences nor does it imply an ability to navigate them with wisdom. This is the great challenge to educating students on the importance of preparation for transition. They equate a knowledge of how Bible colleges function with understanding. I know I did. But wisdom is more concerned with how to handle knowledge than the mere possession of it. To that end, here are some highlights from previous lessons. Hopefully these will help graduates, whether past or future.
Pitfall #1: The Potential For Identity Crisis
Anybody who has been to Word of Life as a student knows that Bible Institute students stay busy. Very busy. Planners are packed to the brim. Between homework, ministry assignments, service assignments, class, dorm jobs, devos, snow camp season, discipleship and any extracurricular activities, there isn’t room for much else. Most of these are related to ministry, ministry training and experience. Even washing dishes takes on new purpose, because it’s done for the Lord and for people learning about Jesus. This perspective can be misused or misunderstood, but it is clearly Biblical (Col. 3:17, 3:23).
The potential problem surfaces once these activities cease. They are replaced by a job in the marketplace that feels less “holy.” This is an identity crisis. It is a subtle danger. But in an active culture with an eye towards serving God, is it surprising that there can be a functional forgetfulness of the gospel? Before we know it, we place our emphasis on how many shifts we haven’t missed and how many devotionals we have led. We slowly lose our wonder at the foot of the cross. When the scene shifts to a place with much less ministry opportunity and exposure, we might begin to question our very worth and significance before God. We get sucked into the performance mindset. And we forget that the essence of the gospel isn’t what we do, it’s what Jesus did. What Christ has done for us will always be more important than what we do for Him.
Pitfall #2: The Potential For Presumption
I am by no means the first person to draw attention to the issue of leaving Bible college well. In fact, professors who taught when I was a student thought it was important too. Many of them said so during lectures. They highlighted difficulties of “real life” and challenged our consistency in transitioning.
My response? Sighs and rolling eyes.
“Yes, of course the world is a difficult place with more exposure to sin and less of a set routine for spiritual growth; but isn’t God faithful? Isn’t His Spirit indwelling? Isn’t His Word true? I don’t think I need to be scared about non-Bible college life.”
Part of my thinking was accurate, but the rest of it was misguided. It’s good to cling to and refer back to bedrock truths about God and His work in our lives. But if we aren’t careful, we can be presumptuous instead of faithful. The simplest definition of presumption I know came from Spurgeon. He called it “trusting God for what He has not promised.” Sure, God has promised to be with us, to comfort us, to guide us, to help us, to preserve our faith, to make us more like His Son. These are non-negotiable. But the Bible is also replete with the difficulties of the Christian life.
For example, the Psalms and Paul’s account in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 both alert us to the fact that although God is gloriously faithful, He is faithful to us in the midst of difficulties and hardships. He doesn’t promise to create a rose laden path for our soft, untested feet to walk on. We can forget that being a Christian is not a safeguard against experiencing life in a fallen world, and we can mistake our current spiritual comfort as an unconditional blessing for obedience. And that leads us to the next thing to watch out for.
Pitfall #3: Potential Unreasonable Expectations
Some students are forced to go to Bible school by their parents. Others go to hang out with their best friends. Still others go because they don’t yet know what to do with their life. But I have never heard of someone who went to Bible college as an act of rebellion. If you’re going to be rebellious for its own sake, you can do a lot of other things besides running away to Bible school. I say that to highlight the fact that generally speaking, most people on a “Christian campus” kinda like being there. They either wanted to come, learned to like it, or wanted to leave. But a lot of Christians end up enjoying and valuing their time at Bible school.
But this enjoyment and appreciation has the potential to create expectations and perhaps stretch them beyond their intended purpose. Subtly but surely, we can begin to think that Bible college life is the ideal Christian life. Again, that is partially true, but partially false. Things like worship, genuine fellowship and discipleship are Biblical expectations for Christians living. But they don’t exist in the same quality or capacity everywhere we go. It should push us to holy discontent and improvement.
But you might be surprised that seeds of bitterness can be planted in the graduate’s heart. That’s typically because following God in a different context doesn’t look the way they think it should. The antidote for this is an honest assessment of what we base our expectations on. Is it the current cultural climate with all of its demands and values? Or is it the Word of God? And such a juxtaposition alerts us to the fact that even cultures seeking to be guided by the Bible are not infallible. The Word and our school have a lot of overlap in practice and purpose. But we need to beware of elevating our college too highly and using it as the basis for our Christian experience and expectation.
Pitfall #4: The Potential For Neglect Of “The Cares Of This World.”
When Jesus broke down the parable of the sower, He talked about what was sown among the thorns. He says the thorny soil describes the person who “hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22). A lot is happening in this parable. But the principle here is that the cares of the world have potential to choke the power of the Word of God in our lives.
Really? Could something so commonplace be a spiritual hindrance? I used to think that spiritual neglect was always the result of laziness or apathy. This is often true, but not always. Spiritual neglect can very well be caused by sheer normalcy of life in a fallen world with so much to do. Things like work, school, friendships, health, paying the bills, groceries, cooking, laundry and tracking finances make life a very busy thing. If we aren’t careful, these things will slowly chip away at our spiritual vitality and hinder our relationship with God.
But what does this pitfall have to do with leaving Bible college? To be frank, although most students are frantically busy and have a lot to deal with, some don’t have to deal with issues in the same capacity as non-students.
For example, colleges buy, prepare and serve your food for you. Although you are definitely paying for it, you aren’t paying in time. This alone saves you a minimum of 5 hours a week. Another example is the centrality of all your needs. Housing, food, classes, laundry, friendships and the gym are all in the same location. It’s surprising how much time you can soak up driving to obtain all of these things. And maybe it goes without saying that Bible college is an environment that provides truth on a silver platter, while most other environments require intentional seeking.
The general idea is, don’t underestimate the influence the cares of this world have on your soul. Jesus didn’t, nor should we.
Note On The “Potential” Of Each Pitfall
I put the word “potential” in front of the previous points for a reason. Not everyone who goes to bible college is doomed to struggle with cultural transition. And this isn’t a back-breaking issue for all students. But I do think the issue is experienced more often than it is examined. It at least deserves attention. And although this subject finds no difficulty in filling up 6 lessons worth of material, I hope this post will be a resource for anyone who might find themselves thinking through the particular and sometimes peculiar circumstance of leaving Bible college. I hope this will help them do it well.
Lewis indirectly deals with the issue of Christian expectation of living “post-conversion.”
I haven’t read all of these articles, so I can’t personally endorse them. However, it’s at least a wealth of resources on the general topic of maintaining vibrant faith in the midst of Christian education.
Paul Tripp has excellent reminds for audiences, like where they live, what they experience as a result, and Who they should Hope in. That’s a helpful reminder for the Bible college student.
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