A Little Friendly Advice for College Graduates

This past Sunday Stanford University celebrated the graduating class of 2015. Over the past year I have had the privilege of working with a few of these students through our church’s campus ministry. At our group meeting two weeks ago I took a moment to offer a little advice to our graduates. Here’s what I said.

(1) Find a Good Church
(2) Understand that Your Work is Good
(3) Remain a Student
(4) Pursue Competence, Not Self-Promotion
(5) Read Your Bible Every Day

(1) Find a Good Church
At the risk of becoming an object of ridicule by those who think only in categories of earthly success or personal fulfillment, let me say that even more important than your new job is your new church. As you make plans to leave college and take a job in an unfamiliar place, make the goal of finding a solid local church your top priority.

If your faith during college has been nurtured primarily through para-church organizations that failed to emphasize the importance the local church, these admonitions may sound like little more than the rantings of a disgruntled pastor(al assistant). Let me assure you that they are not. Scripture is clear that our perseverance in the faith depends upon help from the community of believers, and the local church is an essential component to our ability to remain Christians and finish the race (see Hebrews 3:12-15; 10:24-25; 12:15-16). Cut yourself off from the local church, and you cut yourself off from assurance of final salvation.

Others might say, “Shouldn’t the first and most important bit of counsel to college graduates be to ‘Love Jesus,’ or ‘Keep the gospel central?'” Surely both of these are vital. But your ability to consistently love Jesus or maintain a gospel-centered approach to life will be sustained, in large measure, by the preaching, teaching, accountability, and Christ-honoring relationships found in your local church. No church means no enduring love for Jesus or the gospel, nor much else of spiritual value for that matter.

(2) Understand That Your Work Is Good
As you venture into the word of business or politics or medicine or elementary education, enter your chosen field with the confidence that your work is good. Yes, there is work that is inherently evil. The pornography industry, for example, offers no legitimate form of employment. But even in a fallen world, much of the work we can do is good and beneficial for others. And not only is it useful for others, but work has been sanctioned and approved by God himself since the beginning of creation (Genesis 2:15). Your good works don’t start when you get to church on Sunday or when you step foot off the plane in Guatemala for the annual mission trip; your commitment to work heartily unto the Lord at your job will produce an abundance of good works for your employer, your fellow employees, your clients, your patients, your students, your community, even the world.

Yes, avoid strenuously the temptation to idolize your work; but resist just as strenuously the idea that normal, everyday labor is reserved for second-class Christians while the top-notch believers are the ones who serve as pastors or who are globe-trotting with the gospel. Paul told the church at Thessalonica to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1Th 4:11-12). The quality of our witness for the gospel will be determined by the quality of our daily work.

(3) Remain a Student
For the past few years you’ve been devoted to learning. It may have taken a couple semesters, but you finally realized that growth in knowledge requires that you admit you are deficient in knowledge. Once you grasped this basic truth, your mind and heart swelled with useful knowledge about the world. Now that you have acquired some useful knowledge, you have something to contribute to your chosen field of labor. But here’s the key: if you want to continue to contribute, remain a student. The best leaders, teachers, engineers, computer programmers, interior designers, and doctors are the ones who have a passion to learn.

(4) Pursue Competence, Not Self-Promotion
In light of our culture’s bent for self-appointment and self-promotion, it may be difficult for you to consider this bit of advice with any seriousness. Refusal to self-promote? That sounds like a recipe for mediocrity. But just the opposite is actually the case: self-promotion usually tends to keep one from growing in the skills required to advance in their careers. Employees who exert their time and energy, not to developing greater competency in their field, but to figuring out how to leverage this or that relationship, pad that resume, impress that superior, maintain that image, or spruce up that LinkedIn account may learn–painfully–that their efforts neither impress nor facilitate their advancement.

So don’t be fooled by the voices that decry humility and exalt self-promotion as an essential key to success. It is the one who is skillful in his work that will stand before kings (Proverbs 22:29) while the self-promoter may be the one asked to return to his seat (Proverbs 25:6). Even the best business thinkers of the day are starting to recognize that effective leaders and productive employees are those whose work is characterized by humility.

Susan Green, in her article “The Perils of Self-Promotion” at the Harvard Business Review notes a recent book by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic “which persuasively argues that we’ve taken our culture of self-assurance and self-promotion too far.” She continues,

Chamorro-Premuzic frets about the impact on our skill-building abilities, because his review of the research on confidence (and competence) shows that it’s actually low self-esteem—not a healthy ego—that propels us to success. After all, he writes, “wanting to be good at something is incompatible with thinking you are good at something.” He advises the ambitious “not to have high confidence, but to have high competence.”

Make it your aim, then, not to “fake it until you make it,” or to promote yourself, but to focus your efforts to honing your craft. In other words, do all you work as unto the Lord and trust him to take care of the rest (Proverbs 16:2).

(5) Read Your Bible Everyday
Finally, graduate, by God’s grace, discipline yourself to read your Bible everyday. It is no coincidence that the bookends to this brief exhortation relate directly to your walk with Jesus. As the hard-working preacher Charles Spurgeon said to the students of his pastor’s college over 150 years ago, “we shall be likely to accomplish most when we are in the best spiritual condition.” (Lectures to My Students). And you can only remain in the best spiritual condition to the degree that you are fed by the word of God. Scripture will restore your soul, equip you for good works, renew your mind, ground you in Christ, inform your work habits, and enable you to maintain integrity when you are confronted with unethical business practices. Neglect the Bible and you will soon be washed away in a tide of spiritual indifference and moral relativism. Read your Bible everyday.

Photo: Volcan96

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