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5 ways to ensure you flourish as a Christian Student in Dublin

1 September 2014

Dublin is home to around 75 000 students and is a great place to study. Do read my earlier post for why Dublin is a great place to go to university. In this post I want to look at how someone who calls themselves a Christian can flourish whilst a student in Dublin.

SINK OR SWIM?

sink-or-swimAs someone who has worked with christian students for over 10 years in a variety of universities in the UK and Ireland, university is usually a place where Christians either sink or swim. Let me explain what I mean. Sometimes a young Christian who has been very active in their local church back home and calls themselves a Christian comes to university and either because of the new choices available to them, the desire to fit in or the intellectual landscape they encounter, they end up giving up on the faith of their youth. On the other hand, others who were maybe nominal Christians growing up and were never very active in nor convinced about their faith, suddenly discover that in Christ both their intellectual questions and the desires of their heart are fully satisfied. For the former, university becomes the time when they fall away from faith. For the latter, university becomes a time when Jesus shapes and dictates the rest of their life. Now of course not everyone will fit into those two categories; but broadly speaking university is a time when Christian students either sink or swim.

So how can you ensure that if you are coming to Dublin (or any city for that matter) as a student this September (whether for your first year or a subsequent year) that you flourish? Here are my 5 top tips:

(1) Find a good local church.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I would always encourage students to join a local christian group on campus. I think these are great for finding like-minded Christians in the same stage of life as you and together you can become a community that demonstrates your faith in Christ to others on campus. When I was a university student, I was actively involved in leadership in the CU and I currently help out and speak at a number of CUs that are facilitated and resourced by IFESIreland as well as the Agape Student Life Group. However, the Christian Union or Agape is not the primary place for belonging or discipleship; that is the role of the local church. That was Jesus’ model. The CU should see themselves as a missionary army on campus, sent to spread the love and peace of Christ to their peers. In the local church you will find people who are older, wiser and more experienced than you and this will provide stability and a refuge for you during your time at university. Additionally, ensure you find a church that teaches the bible clearly and well as this is the primary means by which God grows his saints. It is not about being impressed by the latest ideas; it is about being built up with the Word of God (see 2 Timothy 4:2-5 for more on this distinction). If you’re interested in what we do check out http://www.christcitychurch.ie or get in contact.

(2) Find genuine and deep friendship

friendshipEither with some christian friends on campus or in your church, it is important that you to find 2-3 friends who you will get to know well and who will know you well. In our church we talk about 4 C’s – people you can cry with, celebrate with, confess your sins to and chill with (cheesy I know!). The bible says that our main problem in life is that we like to justify ourselves and prove ourselves by our academic performance or the way we look or our christian duties/morality or our achievement in another area. However, our greatest need is to humble ourselves, admit we could never make it on our own and throw ourselves on God’s grace. Jesus said “blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Matthew 5:3) so we need others who will help us be real with ourselves, our failings, insecurities, weaknesses and sin and will help us become all that God intended for us to become. For more information on this see Hebrews 3:12-13 and Ephesians 5:8-10. DON’T try and be best friends with everyone – that will end up in slavery and immaturity. Invest in a few friends well. Proverbs 18:24 puts it nicely.

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

(3) Engage your brain

kellerWhen you come to university in Dublin, you come into an intellectual landscape that is (a) increasingly secular and (b) deeper than you have ever had to think before. If you are not careful, you may find that your reasons for being a Christian are rather flimsy and shallow compared to others around you. This naturally leads to doubt and confusion and is the reason many fall away from faith. The bible tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. One of the ways we can do that is to engage our brains, even if you are not someone who is into theology or philosophy. That is one of the reasons why I wrote The Intro Course which is all about asking the big questions of life (questions on meaning, truth, love, Jesus, suffering and religion). I was acutely aware that 18-35 year olds today have no place where they can ask their questions, voice their doubts, grapple with different perspectives and develop their thinking. There are few places to dialogue together with people from different world-views and religions. So my encouragement to you would be to face up to the fact that you probably know less than you think and that your Christianity is probably more shallow than you think – and engage your brain. A great place to start is to read The Reason For God by Tim Keller, If God Then What? by Andrew Wilson or The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. If you are struggling with the reliability of the bible then you should read The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable? by FF Bruce.

The book of Hebrews is a pretty harsh book to a church that was falling back into old patterns of thinking and sinful behaviour and many in the church had already deserted Christ. The writer has these strong words to say,

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

Many of us need to move on from the elementary teaching about Christ and move from milk to solid food (see also 1 Corinthians 3:1-2).

(4) Take a stance early

stand outIt is very important you nail your colours to the mast early because if you compromise your christian value-system in the first few weeks for the sake of fitting in (whether with drink, drugs, sex or whatever else) you will find it very hard to claw back that ground that you have lost, and you’ll feel like a hypocrite. Now there is always new mercy every day (Lamentations 3:23) and God is gracious, patient and forgiving, but that is no excuse for excusing sin. It is actually a stimulus for holy living!!

Now to take a stance early you will need to (a) be convinced biblically on the stance you are making and (b) be confident in the value Jesus gives you. If either are unclear in your heart or your head then you will more than likely compromise when peer pressure or exam stress kick in. Knowing your identity in Christ (point b) is so important because it will give you the power to be rejected by your peers, because you know you are ultimately accepted by God. This also leads back to points 1 & 2 and finding a good church to support you and genuine and deep friendship.

(5) Go for it.

jumpingThere is nothing more destabilising for your non-believing friends than to find that you are the life and soul of the party. Jesus promised us life to the full and you’ll be amazed when your friends see you living life fully for God but also fully engaged in many aspects of university life. They may have (previously) written you off but over time, you will win their respect.  In the end, a quiet confidence, a humble strength, a deep-seated joy and a genuine love for others shines through. Those qualities are all found in knowing your identity in Christ (see number 4) and the way to that is through the scriptures and community (numbers 1-3). Of course, you’ll need tonnes of the Holy Spirit too!!

My cousin Luke Smith (who works full time with students) put it well in an interview when he said:

My advice to a christian fresher is tell your house mates that you are a Christian as soon as possible (don’t expect them to be impressed). Then be the life and soul of every party (watch them be affected over the first year)!

So there you have it. I am sure there are more things to be said, but these would be my 5 top tips. One final point – however you decide to navigate the challenges, tensions and complexities of being a Christian student in Dublin in the 21st Century, whatever you do, do NOT end up in a “Christian bubble!”

I hope you end up swimming!

 

 

 

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