Dear College Freshman,
I know you have just moved into the dorms, and a scary and exciting new life lies before you. I want to apologize for taking advantage of your vulnerability and asking you to trust me, a complete stranger, to talk to you about a very personal topic, faith in God.
You see, I was told that this was not only the right thing to do, but one of the most important things to do. I was taught that the most loving thing I could do for someone is to tell them that they are in need of a savior. And although I do think it is important to know that a loving God is out there, I now see how intrusive it was to knock on your door and ask for you to listen to me.
There is so much behind one’s personal faith journey, that is seems crazy to me now to ever think that a 10 min conversation would be enough to convince someone to make a life-changing decision to trust in Christ. Faith is deeply personal and complex, but there I was, knocking on your door, asking you all kinds of questions to gauge where you were at in your spiritual journey. I had every good intention to invite you into a loving community where you could ask questions, and discover for yourself what a relationship with God would look like. I had every good intention. Good intentions can still hurt others. I see that now.
I worked for a christian college ministry, and it was part of our strategy to reach as many freshmen as possible the first five weeks of the school year. Why? Simple, college freshmen are the most open to exploring new things. It was our hope that you would be open to exploring our community and exploring faith in God. Once involved we would teach you all about how to grow in your faith, and then after some time, you’d be knocking on dorm room doors too.
We all hated it. Sure, as a leader, I wouldn’t tell you that. I would tell you that it wasn’t so scary after awhile or that it was fun because you’d meet some interesting people. I’d tell you funny stories like the time I knocked on a door to have it opened up by a sweet freshmen girl whose room was clearly divided in half with an imaginary line drawn between two sides. Her side had a line of my little ponies wrapped around a shelf below the ceiling. Her bed spread and posters all matched her theme and clear passion of the toy horse. Sitting on the “other side” was her roommate with an expression that needed no words, “this is not what I signed up for.” Were we deterred in starting a spiritual conversation? No way! We were on a mission.
I might tell you about the time I was talking to two roommates who were both hanging out on the same bed. I was half way through the gospel presentation when something under the covers moved. Out popped a guy who had been underneath the covers the whole time without my knowledge. He came out from under them to ask a question and I jumped a mile. Needless to say I don’t think I finished my “story.”
This is what I was taught to do and in turn taught others to do. Looking back it is interesting to think that every one of us were mortified doing it. But every evangelical Christian and church will tell you that it’s the right thing to do. We were on a mission, telling the lost about the way to heaven. If you questioned it, you were convinced this was God’s plan. If you were nervous you were told to have more faith.
To make matters worse, as a full-time ministry leader, it’s how my job performance was measured. How many conversations did we have? How many times did you share the gospel? We set goals as “faith steps” and celebrated every conversation.
I cringe now, which admittedly still feels scary to express out loud. I fear getting in trouble for saying how much I hated doing this or doubting that it was a helpful approach. Every August as the school year rolls around, my stomach ties in knots at the thought of having to spend 5 weeks knocking on dorm room doors all day long. And I haven’t worked in ministry for three years!
But I did hate doing it. It felt so intrusive. Never mind that I would never feel comfortable with someone coming to my home and doing the same, I mean, I actually hide and pretend I am not home when church people knock on my door. How hypocritical of me! Faith is well, messy, and intimate, and full of questions and experience and exploration. I’ve been a Christian for most of my 36 years of life and I feel like I have less answers today than ever before. I’m more lost, more confused, more doubtful today. Why I would have the audacity to come to you “with the answer” to your problems and the worlds problems, is beyond me. But I did. Because I was told to do so.
My strength as a leader, my reputation as a Christian, and my faith in God were all judged on this act.
I am sorry, dear freshmen. Please forgive my insensitivity and intrusion. Take your time in college to ask questions and explore what you believe. I still believe that there is a God that created you and loves you- but if that’s the case, he has a million ways of showing you that. Enjoy the journey.