Will anyone recommend Christian higher education?

Students who have chosen Christian higher education: the student council at Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask. Pictured are (back, l-r): Julia Wall, Elya Penner, Christina Giede, Kaylee Buhler, Devon Frostad, Jesse Foster, Justin Suderman, (front) Natalie Preston, Mandy Nemanishen, Greg Klassen, Tony Wikkerink, and Lisa Braun (dean of student development).

Students who have chosen Christian higher education: the student council at Bethany College, Hepburn, Sask. Pictured are (back, l-r): Julia Wall, Elya Penner, Christina Giede, Kaylee Buhler, Devon Frostad, Jesse Foster, Justin Suderman, (front) Natalie Preston, Mandy Nemanishen, Greg Klassen, Tony Wikkerink, and Lisa Braun (dean of student development).

Hundreds of Mennonite Brethren youth will soon graduate from high school. Some may be wondering what to do in September, or which university or college to attend.

I wonder if anyone will suggest they consider a Christian university, Bible college, or faith formation program.

Surveys at Canadian Mennonite University routinely show that the greatest factors leading students to consider such a school are friends, family, and church. I know that was true for me, a long time ago when I was wondering where to study. I had narrowed down my options to a few schools. But then some older adults at my church asked me: “Have you considered going to Bible college?”

Actually, no, I hadn’t. At least, not until these people I admired put the thought in my mind. As a result of their prompting, I decided to give Bible college a try. It was the best decision I ever made. It set me on my life’s course, gave me an excellent education, and provided me with a strong and abiding faith.

I hope that kind of thing is still happening today. I’m not afraid to tell young people to consider a Christian university, Bible college, or faith formation program. So far, nobody has told me it’s none of my business.

Why do I do it? Part of it is, I know the positive impact it had on me. But I also do it because the stakes are so high – the future of the church depends on the educational decisions that Christian youth make today.

I’m worried

The fact is, I’m worried about the church in Canada. I’m worried that it won’t be relevant – that its voice won’t be heard or respected – unless it encourages youth to take time to learn how to live and speak thoughtfully, biblically, and Christianly in a post-Christian world.

Where else are they going to be given opportunities to ask what it means to be a follower of Christ as a lawyer, doctor, teacher, scientist, businessperson, engineer or any other profession?

Where else will they get to ask how Christians should deal with thorny ethical and moral issues, or how Jesus would have them respond to a world filled with war, violence, hunger, sickness, and pain?

I also wonder where the church is going to get its future pastors. Over the next 10 to 15 years, many MB pastors are slated to retire. Where will new ones come from? Pastors don’t drop magically out of the air and into pulpits; they have to be trained and prepared for ministry. Higher education is an essential step in that process.

Sundays not enough

It’s true that youth groups and Christian education on Sunday mornings play a role. But these hours together cannot match the intense and deliberate study that takes place in a classroom over an academic year. Everyone should spend at least one year studying the Bible and being challenged in their faith so they can be prepared to live as disciples in the world, no matter what their career path.

Mennonite Brethren who are also concerned about the future of the church can assist in at least three ways.

First, they can encourage youth to consider studies at Christian universities, colleges or faith formation programs.

Second, they can offer to help pay the tuition of students who choose that option. Education is expensive, particularly at Christian schools, which don’t receive as much, or any, government support as non-religious schools.

Third, individual members can give to Christian universities, colleges, or faith formation programs – schools like CMU, Columbia Bible College, Bethany College, and Outtatown.

Hundreds of MB youth will soon be deciding what to do next. Will the adults around them, and their churches, recommend Christian higher education?

And make it possible for them to go?

John Longhurst is director of marketing and sales for Mennonite Publishing Network; previously he was director of communications at CMU.

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