the shape of leadership

Keeping the Faith in College

Stephen Kellough offers guidance for Christian students on secular campuses

Taylor Albertini on September 19, 2019

If someone asked you to name the most significant spiritual challenge facing today’s college students, how would you respond?

Easy enough, you might think, and start rattling off any number of spiritual hardships: Secularism. A skewed meaning of purpose. Lack of Christian community. Biblical illiteracy.

And you’d be right.

But what if the most significant spiritual challenge were actually much simpler? What if the most significant spiritual challenge facing university students today is simply to know they are loved by God?

According to Stephen Kellough, a retired Wheaton (Illinois) College chaplain of 25 years, knowledge of God’s love is the supreme challenge for today’s Christian and non-Christian students alike.

In his newly released book Walking with Jesus on Campus: How to Care for Your Soul During College, Kellough draws upon his years of campus ministry experience to help Christian students navigate 10 critical issues that either draw them deeper into the love of God or push them further from Him during the college years.

Weaving interesting stories throughout, Kellough presents each of these 10 make-or-break issues in a straightforward manner:

What if the most significant spiritual challenge facing university students today is simply to know they are loved by God?
  • Weakness
  • Perfectionism
  • Doubt
  • Depression
  • The Sabbath
  • Sexuality
  • Singleness
  • Servanthood
  • Community
  • Revival

Each of these critical decision points receives its own chapter, in which Kellough paints a vivid picture of the influence of the secular college campus on that topic and highlights how students can redeem such influence for God’s glory. Every chapter concludes with a set of reflection and application questions.

Perhaps this structure is best illustrated through an example. One of the critical decision points for Christian students from Kellough’s above list is servanthood, or what he coins as “beyond me-ism.” While “me-ism” can play out in myriad ways, Kellough uses a scene familiar to many students and educators to showcase one way it often plays out in a college classroom:

As a professor lectures on material, a student raises his hand. “Is this going to be on the exam?” he asks. What the student is actually saying, of course, is “What is the very least I have to know to get by?”

Kellough parallels this to the story of the lawyer in Luke 10, who asked Jesus to define the meaning of “neighbor” in the commandment “Love your neighbor.” More than looking for a definition, argues Kellough, the lawyer was looking for the bare minimum he could do while still technically keeping this commandment.

Then Kellough goes on to challenge Christ followers that this “very-least” mindset is not an option. Following Jesus on a secular campus, and in life, requires Christians to set a radically different example in both small and large actions.

As a Christ follower and recent graduate of a secular university, I found Kellough’s 10 critical issues deeply resonant. Looking back over my time as an undergraduate, I see numerous occasions where I came face-to-face with each issue in some way or another.

This is an important book for any university student, but especially for high school seniors and other young people on the verge of entering college for the first time. Its format and built-in discussion questions would also work well for a small group based around this topic. After all, the optimal time for students to think about how to handle critical decision points is not when they arrive on campus, but before they leave home.

The summer prior to starting college, I read a similar book. It helped me arrive at college confident, prepared and knowing where I stood in Christ. When critical decision points came, this foundation and my local Chi Alpha group helped me navigate them. As a result, I am walking with Jesus today.

Before a Christian friend of mine went to college, no one talked with her about the critical decisions she would have to make on campus. She started college unprepared for what to expect, did not prioritize finding Christian community, and struggled when critical decision points came. Now, as a graduate, my friend is no longer walking with Christ.

Parents, youth leaders and others who journey with students, this is a book worth putting in their hands. If you can do so before your student heads to college, even better. Equal parts thought-provoking, challenging and informative, this book may prove an invaluable tool when your university student faces critical, faith-determining decisions.

Book Reviewed

Stephen Kellough, Walking with Jesus on Campus: How to Care for Your Soul During College (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2019).

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