Students standing out for Christ on campus
[In 2010] students will leave university with an average debt of £13,501. Those starting in 2009 will pay over £3,000 per year just on tuition fees. Not surprisingly, in a recent survey, 59% of students said that their finances (not their studies) were their main worry.
Money is a big issue and it is not just affecting non-Christian students, but also the many Christian students who attend our universities. In a culture where debt is the norm, how do Christian students stand out? What is their experience? What are their struggles? And how does Scripture shed light on these issues?
Spend, spend, spend…
Perhaps the most obvious way in which Christian students can stand out is how they actually spend the money that they do have. Students are not immune from the trappings of our general culture where the principle seems to be, ‘If you want it, buy it (whether you have the money or not)’. This is felt particularly keenly in the student world, where people live moment by moment and where the pressure to live the ‘student life’ is high.
One student writes about a non-Christian colleague:
My friend once spent £40 on drink in one night! Add this to the taxis, the entrance tickets for the various clubs, the inevitable new outfit and you’re looking towards a total cost of about £80. This was viewed as a joke by some of our friends. ‘You only live once’ is the general outlook.
In this atmosphere, the challenge for Christians to honour God with their finances is very real, especially when most students give it little thought. For those Christians who are struggling financially, the challenge is even greater. One writes:
It’s quite hard being around people who have no need to respect the value of money. It’s hard not to be jealous when some students can afford to have no debt/loans at all.
My flatmate spent the whole of his loan in the first two weeks of uni. I was shocked when he told me; even more so when he said his parents had given him £2,000 to make up for it. Stuff like this caused feelings of disdain and jealousy, as I knew my parents were unable to support me at uni.
But God will provide
Yet Christian students are often trying really hard to swim against the tide, in particular, by not worshipping material things. Bible passages about God’s provision (e.g. Matt 6:25-34) help them to prioritise and not to fall into the trap of thinking that they need everything that ‘everyone’ has, but to remember that they have a faith ‘of greater worth than gold’ (1 Pet. 1:7). One student testifies:
I think I can live rightly by doing what I can with the money I have. Whether that’s being sensible with what I buy for myself, being generous with friends or giving.
For many girls, clothes are a major downfall. We want to keep up with the latest fashion. A friend pointed me to the verse in Matthew, ‘So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies…’, so I think being content with what we have is important.
- Students under financial pressure, especially as they fight feelings of jealousy towards other students, who are not concerned with God but are doing really well.
- Students to honour God with their money, enjoying what they have, but not wasting God’s good gifts.
The problem of debt… and of credit
Most students (Christian and non-Christian) expect to use a student loan. One student writes, ‘I know that when I finish I will owe the government £19,000 (and that doesn’t include the help my parents have given me)’. Another speaks of expecting to ‘…owe the Student Loans Company about £28,000 when I graduate after four years at university’. Of course, this is a massive amount of money, but university is just too expensive for most people to afford without a loan.
One girl did not want to take out a loan, but after one year of struggling to support herself, even she has decided that there is no other option, since her savings are pretty much gone. She refers to it as a ‘necessary evil’. Therefore, in terms of taking out a loan, it is fair to say that there is little difference between Christians and non-Christians. Yet in the way they view that money and that debt there are distinct differences. For instance, a Christian student celebrated the fact of her loan because, although she will be paying it off for many years, it meant she could come to uni. She said, ‘It also means it’s my debt and not my parents’ debt’.
The credit card
Perhaps more shockingly, there is wide acceptance that using a credit card is okay. For Christians, there is a real temptation to live like others in this area, especially if they are already struggling financially. The credit card sometimes seems like the best way to get that new pair of boots that everyone has and it’s a struggle not just to give-in.
However, Christian students, in general, try to be more thoughtful about what they need and encourage each other not to spend what they really don’t have. One student says:
I do try to be sensible. I can’t really say I budget; I just try not to go over the top. For the most part, I try just to buy what I need.
Helping students think through these issues is something that UCCF takes really seriously and students are often challenged in their thinking through small group Bible studies and seminars. We also encourage local churches to help their students tackle these difficult issues, particularly as they leave university, when the challenge changes, but by no means gets easier.
- Students not to worry about the financial position that taking out a loan puts them in and instead seek to honour God in this situation.
- Students not to blend in with the credit culture, but seek to live within their means.
God loves a cheerful giver
An issue facing Christian students, which is entirely different from their non-Christian colleagues, is whether and how much they give. This can be a massive witness to those around. As people get to know them, they will hopefully see an entirely different attitude towards money, even in their poverty.
Of course, many Christian students do struggle with this issue. Some solve the problem by considering their loan to be their income. They then give a percentage of the loan they receive. This is often a helpful view, as the loan has no payback date. Graduates pay their loan back as a monthly percentage once they are earning enough.
One student says she is helped to think through her responsibility for giving by the work of the Christian Union, which will often need more money than that allocated to it by the Students Union. She says:
We have Gift Days, which outline the monetary needs of the CU and students give what they can accordingly. If I can give to CU, why not my church or other causes?
Giving money that isn’t yours
However, it is not straightforward and often students don’t give for a variety of reasons. For instance, it can be hard for students to work out how they can give money which technically isn’t theirs. One student said,
Why don’t I give? I guess because I’m selfish and have put myself under the illusion that ‘I can’t afford to’; the ‘I’m a student’ excuse often works. I argue, ‘God won’t expect me to give from my (limited) resources’ without realising that they’re His anyway! Perhaps I’m also unsure of knowing how much to give.
The reason for not giving can be more than just not wanting to; it is perhaps because they have never done it before and are not quite sure how. Again, UCCF staff workers and local churches can give advice, helping students understand the biblical principles about giving, so they can work out what is right for them. This is particularly crucial in developing a right attitude towards giving while they’re students, so that once they are in the ‘real world’, they are ready to give generously to the work of the church at home and abroad.
- Students to be willing to give, even out of their poverty.
- Students to give generously and cheerfully whatever their financial position.
The big message is: Pray for students in the area of money and stewardship. There are many pressures, which seem to increase year by year. Our culture says, ‘Spend what you have, spend what you can’, yet it also writes our Lord and Saviour out of the equation. Pray that students will honour their God with their money and stand out for Christ on campus.
Katie Taylor was a UCCF Staff Worker working with CUs in Derby, Nottingham and Loughborough.