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To the concerned parent of a college freshman

By Katherine Riendeau

What a whirlwind this week has been for you! You’ve planned for months, running through the list of essentials and packing up those extra-long sheets, posters, and bed raisers, only to make numerous trips to Walmart during move-in. You finally realized there were no more errands to run to finalize the dorm room and no more paperwork to turn in, so you looked your son or daughter in the eye, took a deep breath, and said, “I guess it’s time”.

It’s been 15 years since my parents left me at my dorm room at Virginia Tech and I still remember the sadness of the goodbye that would eventually settle into an unnerving reality that things were different now. I loved my parents as much as ever and desired the freedom that becoming an adult brings, but they were no longer going to be there every night to ask how my day was or help me navigate life’s challenges.

Now that the dust has settled from move-in, I’m sure some of these realities are hitting you, the parent, as well. I believe this experience can hit Christian parents especially hard. You’ve “trained your child up in the way he should go”, teaching him God’s law “diligently when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Prov 22:6, Deut 6:7). Now you are sending him off into the world and fear creeps in. “Have I done enough?” you wonder. “Will he walk with Jesus now that he’s on his own?”

Some of the hardest phone calls and messages I receive are from Christian parents, deeply troubled that their student may not choose to join a church or campus ministry or show any interest in following Christ now that they’re out of the house. This breaks my heart, because while I have never sent a child off to college, I am a mother of three little ones, and just recently sent my oldest to kindergarten. “Will she be influenced by the world? Will she continue to love God and love others?” I have wept while pondering the question of whether I am equipping her and discipling her so that she will walk with Christ for a lifetime. Parent, I hear you and understand your concerns. I truly feel for you while you fear what the future could hold for your child and start to realize you can’t control it. From a fellow parent, and most relevantly to you, a campus minister, here are a few suggestions for how to practically care for and guide your college student, as well as process these fears.

Give them space

I know, I know. The piece of advice you probably don’t want to hear but already know to be right. Your student is journeying into adulthood. Their first semester of college, whether they realize it or not, they will begin to figure out who they are and who they want to become. You won’t be doing their laundry anymore, making their meals, or hearing from their professors if they miss class. Give them some space in their spiritual life as well. They are at a point in life where they need to be the ones to decide for themselves if they will invest in a church and campus ministry. Don’t misunderstand me; your input into their lives is still incredibly valuable and will be for the rest of your life! But trust me, unwanted pressure from parents to join a campus ministry is almost always a recipe for rebellion. Give them space and time, ask a lot of questions, and offer a listening ear.

Every year, I get at least a handful of calls or messages from parents telling me they are concerned because their student isn’t showing interest in a campus ministry or church. I welcome these calls! I am your ally and want the best for your child. It’s why our family spends our life on college campuses. Sometimes I am asked by parents to contact students without telling them that the prompting and contact information was from them. I’m happy to do this if I already have a relationship with the student. However, if I’ve never met your son or daughter, a more helpful way to connect us to them would be to give them our contact information or ask if it’s ok if you share their number with us. Part of giving space is having healthy boundaries and letting your student take the initiative. Give them some space, and then incorporate the suggestions below.

Ask for and plan for quality time

Giving your son or daughter space does not mean you are waiving all responsibilities as a parent! Your role in their life looks different now, but you’ll never stop being mom or dad. Think of ways you can connect meaningfully with your student while they’re away at school. Maybe instead of waiting by the phone every afternoon after their 2pm class (because, let’s be honest, you have their class schedule memorized), wondering if you should call or if you’ll hear from them, you could set up a weekly time for a phone call. Preserve your Tuesday mornings or Sunday evenings for that time of connection, and in the meantime, don’t stress about whether you’ll hear from them. I know this isn’t true for every college freshman, but many will miss hearing your voice after day 2! Set up your routine time and be pleasantly surprised when you hear sooner.

If you are concerned about your child’s spiritual health, try not to bring it up in every conversation. Sometimes your daughter will call you needing help with the laundry machines because, remember? You’re not doing it anymore. Don’t try to sneak in a mention of how she should check out Cru or the church down the street in between answers to her actual questions. Rather, ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom and seek out unhurried moments of quality time with your child. Bake her favorite dessert together or stay up late for some tea when she visits. If she doesn’t have a car, offer to drive her home for break rather than take the bus.

When I was in middle school my dad would occasionally offer to drive me to school. I quickly learned that these were good for “moments of instruction” and I got a little nervous every time he offered. Then, over time, I realized that he genuinely wanted to spend time with me and that not every car ride was a learning moment. If you build in this quality time throughout the year, don’t pounce with “have you joined a church yet?” after 5 minutes of conversation. Be quick to listen and slow to speak. I bet before long you’ll be talking about her spiritual health without even asking a direct question about it.

Give up the illusion of control

Too often when it comes to discipling our kids, we assume that there’s a formula. You heed the instruction in Proverbs, they memorize the catechism, you do evening prayers and voila! Before you know it you’re sending off a perfectly mature, Jesus-loving 18 year old to college. What we forget is that even the instruction in Proverbs to “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he shall not depart from it” is wisdom, not a promise. Even if it were a promise, let’s be honest, none of us are going to do it right! If we truly believe the gospel, that we are imperfect sinners saved by grace, we will recognize that every aspect of our parenting will be tainted with sin. What good news that God, by his grace, saves our kids despite our imperfect efforts.

We don’t neglect the important responsibility of raising up our kids to follow Christ, but at the same time recognize that it is God who changes hearts and lives and not us. You may be feeling right now that you have “lost control” with your son or daughter at college, but the reality is, God has been directing the steps of everyone in your family since they were conceived. The popular modern hymn, “In Christ Alone” says this well: “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”

Parent, rest in this truth! Rest knowing that your child is in the hands of the God of the universe. I’m not going to promise you that your child is certainly saved and will eventually get “back on track” with your ideal for him. However, I can promise you that God, who is rich in mercy and abounding in steadfast love, sees and knows you, and sees and knows your kid, and is “working all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).


Parent, whether you’ve been praying for your child since conception or are just starting this practice, it’s never to late to start praying for your children. When you are fearful: pray. When you feel out of control: pray. When you lack wisdom: pray. Even, and especially, when you feel hopeless when your child walks away from the truth you’ve taught, “rejoice in hope, be patient in affliction, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).

Here are some suggestions of how you can pray for your child. Pray for:

– Your child’s salvation if he or she doesn’t already believe
– Believing friends and a community that will point your student to Christ
– Protection from anything that promises fulfillment that will ultimately not satisfy, and the realization that only Christ gives satisfaction
– A good relationship between you and your child, and opportunities for quality time and deep conversation
– Your own trust in God’s sovereignty

Dear parent, one day I will be the mom saying goodbye to my kid and I’m sure if I could talk to you, you’d tell me it’ll happen faster than I could ever imagine. For now, I’m a campus minister who desperately wants your son or daughter to know Jesus and the gospel that captures hearts and transforms lives. I’ll be praying with you and for you, and who knows? Next time I’m on campus maybe it’ll be your son or daughter the Spirit prompts me to say hello to.

Katherine Riendeau is a staff member with Cru at James Madison University. She is the wife and ministry partner of Jerry and mother of three. You can contact her at

How to Make Lifelong Friends in College

By Jane Story

We all want to be known and loved. Many of us know someone who has maintained certain friendships over the span of time. Perhaps you have an uncle who still talks to his army buddies ten years out, or your parents still keep in touch with college friends from twenty years ago. I often looked on those adults with envy.

I grew up as a military kid, which meant I was great at meeting new people, but I had no experience maintaining relationships over time. Much of my young adult life, including college, has been dedicated to learning this exact skill. I’m not an expert yet, but I’ve learned a few things. We can’t control what our relationships look like, but we can practice being a good friend. In so doing, God may in fact bless you with friends who you’ll keep your whole life!

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start. Here are some ways to pursue those kinds of friendships:

Initiate and Respond

This is going to sound like the silliest tip in the world, but I am shocked by how few people implement these rudimentary skills. If you meet someone who you want to be friends with, initiate with them. That means ask if they want to get lunch, or shoot them a text to ask how their day was.

One reminder is that, unfortunately, not everyone wants to be friends with everyone. You may come to a point where you discover that you are the only initiator in the relationship. Don’t be a stalker, and don’t pursue people who won’t pursue you back. But, in my experience, most people need to do more initiating, not less.

On the other side, if someone initiates with you, respond. This means text people back! I know this can be hard, but try not opening a text or DM until you’re ready to reply. Or set a reminder in your phone for a time when you know you’re free to write the person back. Even if it’s a person that you weren’t originally trying to become friends with, respond to them. Some of my closest friends are people I never would have expected. Give them a chance!

Listen and Ask Questions

You’ve probably heard the corny saying, “You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk”. But the principle is a good one. Make it your goal to be a listener in conversations. You’ll actually learn about your friend, and you’ll make them feel valued. Most times people will return the favor.

Is your new friend a little quiet? Prompt them with some questions. You can start with basic things like, “Where are you from?” and “What do you study?”. But then pepper in something that’s interesting, but not too invasive: “May I ask, what’s your religious background, and does that impact you today?”, “What kind of kid were you in elementary school/middle school/high school?”, or “When you imagine your life 5 years from now, what do you see?”

And finally, ask followup questions. If they tell you they’re the only girl with three brothers as siblings, ask, “Wow, what was that like growing up?”. If they mention they might join the fencing club, ask, “Cool! Have you fenced before? What do you like about it?”

Demonstrating your interest in someone else will help the person trust you, and will help them feel valued. This is a worthy goal even if you never become their friend, but most times they’ll return the favor.

Move Towards Difficult Things

While the skills above are most useful in the beginning stages of friendship (although you should practice them throughout), the real secret sauce of the deepest relationships is their endurance through tough things.

Many of you are in college, and may not have experienced the worst of what life has to offer yet. So when your peer tells you they’ve just lost a parent, or been diagnosed with a debilitating disease, it makes you uncomfortable. We often fear that we’re going to say or do the wrong thing. Or we wonder if we can really support this person when they’re facing something so huge. The result is that we pull away from hard things and, without knowing it, pull away from the relationship.

This is a double whammy, because most tragedies and struggles make it hard to reach out. It is at this moment when someone needs their friends the most, that they find it hardest to ask for help. Your friend’s trial is the ultimate test of your friendship.

If you want to make lifelong friends, you’ve got to lean in. Google their terrible diagnosis and educate yourself, then go ask questions and listen to them. Send flowers when something bad happens, or whatever the dude equivalent of flowers is (maybe just a card?). Make them a meal or, if you can’t cook, ask them if you can bring them take out from a local restaurant. Go sit with your depressed friend until they feel better, even if you have no words to say.

It is more important to show up and feel uncertain than it is to be perfect. Often you can ask someone how to support them. If they don’t know, turn to a pastor or campus staff or a parent who might have ideas. But the point here is to love your friend at their lowest. That will bond you in ways nothing else can.

Christ the Perfect Friend

Think about this. God did not wait for us to initiate with Him. He sent Jesus while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8). God is always listening to us, and often asks us questions He knows the answer to, in order to help us grow and to relate to us (Jonah 4, 1 Peter 3:12)

And God has moved towards us in every difficult thing. He came as a human (Jesus) and experienced every ounce of pain the human life can produce, even death. Then, Jesus came back to life and left earth, but sent His Holy Spirit. This means that, if you are a Christian, the God of the Universe is living inside you (1 Cor 3:16). God is with you through everything you will experience.

Human friends will sometimes let us down, but we have Christ the Perfect Friend. It is because we are already loved and secure that we can offer friendship to others. Go and extend the love of Christ to those around you! Friends will appear in the process.

What about you? Do you have any tips about how to form long-lasting relationships? Comment below, we’d love to hear them!


Jane is campus staff with Cru at JMU. You can connect with her by commenting below!

You Have to Share the Gospel to Share the Gospel

By Jerry Riendeau

We had an awesome plan.

My roommates and I were juniors in college and had just moved into a townhouse. We were excited about everything. New house, new school year, and new neighbors. In this excitement we decided that we wanted to make sure we were good witnesses of the gospel to our neighbors with whom we shared a porch. I don’t remember how we formulated this plan, but it more or less came down to this: we would be the best neighbors we could be, all the while making sure we constantly mentioned we were part of “Cru”. The implicit idea was that they would be so impressed by our neighborliness that they would want to know more about Jesus.

Why did we come up with this plan rather than a more straightforward plan of making friends with them and talking to them about our faith? Well… talking to people about Jesus can be pretty uncomfortable. Being nice is a lot easier. In other words. I was hoping to share the gospel without actually sharing the gospel.

We actually did a pretty good job being good neighbors. We hung out a number of times, including going to the lake together once. We tried to serve their practical needs too. For instance, the morning after they had big parties, I would pick up all of the beer cans and other trash off of our shared porch. One time I even picked one of them up from jail (long story).\

We lived next to each other for two years. By the time we parted ways I considered them friends. One of the last weeks we lived together we had them over to our house. That evening one of them noticed I was wearing a “Cru” shirt.

“What’s Cru?” he asked.

I was dumbfounded. We must have mentioned Cru to them a hundred times. “It’s that Christian ministry that we are a part of.”

“Oooohhhh, I thought you were part of C-R-E-W, like the rowing team!”

For two years we had done a fantastic job representing not Christ, but rowers. So much for our great plan.

In the years since this experience I have realized that there was a bigger problem with my plan than just forgetting to tell my neighbors how to spell Cru. My roommates and I were trying to find a way to share the gospel without ever actually sharing the gospel. We wanted to exclusively use our actions to communicate something that requires words.

The gospel is not common sense. It is not intuitive. It cannot be fully understood through observation of creation or Christians. It must be explained with words. Our actions, when winsome, can make people more receptive to those words, but they do not replace them. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” This is why God gave us the Bible in the first place. A book full of words.

If we want to share the gospel with someone, we have to use words. We have to tell them about what sin is and how much God hates it. We have to tell them about who Jesus is and what he did on the cross. Perhaps most importantly we have to explain that a person must respond to Jesus by faith in order to have access to the gift he offers. Anything short of this is trying to share the gospel without sharing the gospel.

Here are two dangers of trying to share the gospel without sharing the gospel…

We Won’t Be Good Enough

I was full of good evangelism ideas in college. One summer I stayed in my college town and worked at the student center. I decided that I was going to be a witness to my co-workers by being the nicest person and best employee there. I prefered this approach to having conversations with them about Jesus because it was far less uncomfortable.

There was one problem. No matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t be the nicest person at work. There was this other guy, who wasn’t a Christian, who was just SO nice. He was humble and thoughtful. He was always willing to pick up a Saturday night shift for anyone. He never complained or gossiped. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t keep up with his niceness. 

You see, when we assume that, as Christians, we can out-nice, or out-moral the non-Christian’s around us, we demonstrate that we do not understand sin or salvation. Think about Jesus’ ministry, who was attracted to him? Was it the most moral people in the community? No, it was the sinners and the tax collectors. In fact many people discounted Jesus as a teacher because his followers were such a mess.

Why do we expect to be any different? Jesus said that it is not the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick. He went on, “I do not call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17)”. People who have their act together morally (at least by the world’s standards) are less likely to realize they need a spiritual doctor, a savior. Do you know what this means? The fact that you decided to follow Jesus is evidence that you are likely a more obvious mess than people who have not decided to follow him.

Therefore, we should not find it surprising when non-Christians are able to be nicer or live more morally upright lives than us. We don’t become Christians because we are good people, we become Christians because we realize we are not good people and need a savior.

Don’t misunderstand me, all people are deeply sinful and in desperate need of Jesus. But not all people’s lives equally express that sinfulness to the world. We also should never be at peace with our moral failures. The Christian life is a journey of being transformed by the Holy Spirit to be more like Christ.

We Will Accidently Share a Different Gospel

Let’s say my strategy above worked. What if I was able to be such a good person that my co-workers that summer were amazed. And let’s say they were even able to connect the dots between the fact that I was a Christian and a morally good person. Does that mean I shared the gospel with them?

No. In fact, if that is all I did, I actually shared a different gospel than the true gospel.

If all I have done is live a morally upright life in front of my coworkers, all they know about Christians is that they are morally good people. So, if they decide they want to be Christians, what do they do? They try to be really, really good people. Not only is that not true, it is the opposite of the truth. The real gospel message is that we cannot become Christians by living a good life. We are far too sinful for that. We can only become right with God by acknowledging that we cannot do it on our own and need a savior. 

My actions, no matter how good they are, cannot teach that truth. I have to use words.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

Should I abandon my efforts to live a kind and morally upright life? Of course not. I should strive to live like Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing that I will fail at times. And when I do, I should admit my failures and apologize.

In addition to that, I need to recognize that if I want the people around me to know about Jesus, I eventually need to actually tell them about Jesus. This might be uncomfortable, but it is the only way. You can’t share the gospel without sharing the gospel.


Jerry Riendeau is one of the directors of Cru at James Madison University. He is married to Katherine. Together they have three children, ages five years and under. You can contact Jerry at You can follow him on twitter here.

7 Things For Your First 7 Days in College

By Jerry Riendeau

So you’re about to start your freshman year at college. Or maybe you’re transferring to a four year school after finishing community college. Or maybe you’re just starting another year and want this one to go a little differently.

Regardless, below are a few things I have observed over the years that have helped students get off to a great start. Theoretically you could do one of these each day for the first week of the semester.

(Almost) all of these things would be more fun with a friend. Grab an acquaintance from high school, or better yet, meet someone on your hall and bring them along. Trust me, every other freshman on your hall is hoping someone will invite them to do something.

Travel to Your Classes Before the First Day

You’re going to be nervous on your first day of class. That’s unavoidable. What is avoidable is being stressed because you can’t figure out which bus goes to campus or why in the world room 105 is not next to room 106. In the age of Google maps being available in your pocket, most of us assume we can figure out how to get anywhere without planning ahead. In my experience, college campuses, especially old ones, are unique creatures that heroically resist being conveniently labeled and located on map apps.

Extra credit: If your campus has a bus system, jump on a couple of them and just ride the whole circuit. This may confuse the driver, but it will give you a good sense of how to use the buses to get around in the future. 

Call Home

Your mom did not pay me to write this. I am a firm believer that college can be the most relationally exciting season of your life. But that does not happen overnight. You will, almost certainly, feel lonely for some period of time. A call home may be just the thing you need to help you over the hump. On top of that, don’t underestimate how difficult your leaving home is for your parents. They may have put on a brave face when they dropped you off, but their lives have just irreversibly changed. A call from you would certainly do them good.

I know not everyone has a relationship (or a good one) with their parents. If that’s the case for you, reach out to another familiar voice. It could be a friend from high school or a sibling. The point is that a dose of familiarity and affection will greatly improve your first week.

Visit Several Campus Ministries

Ok, so this is probably not one you can reasonably do in one day. Nevertheless, it is very important. You may be tempted to say “I need to focus on classes my first week, I’ll check out the Christian ministries after I settle in.” That would be a huge mistake. That first week every freshman and transfer student is in the same boat. It is not weird to show up and not know who to sit with. In addition, the upperclassmen are geared up and ready to meet you. No matter how hard the ministry tries, they will not seem as welcoming week two or three as they will week one.

Your college certainly has a website that will tell you about all of the college ministries and when/where they meet. Ask your pastor back home if he would recommend any particular ministries at your college. Check out several that first week and be prepared to give them another try the next week. Eventually you will want to choose a particular ministry to really invest in, but that can wait.

Update Your Calendar

For some of you, the first step for this one will be to start using a calendar in the first place. This is a must. Do not fool yourself into thinking you will be able to manage college well without a calendar of some form. Even if you think you are succeeding at doing so, the people around you will not. You do not want to be known as the person who always forgets about group project meetings and friend hangouts.

You basically have two options here. You can use an electronic product like Google Calendar or you can buy an actual, physical, planner. To my continual surprise, many of the college students I work with still prefer the second option. It is not uncommon for students to reach into their bag and pull out their planner when I ask them when they are free to meet. There are some advantages to that route. For one thing, if you are artsy, your planner becomes not only a useful tool but another form of expression.

Regardless of which option you choose you’ll need to add your class, work, and social calendar. I would also highly recommend that you go through all of your syllabi the first week of college and add every single assignment due date. Just the process of adding them will help you internalize your responsibilities.

Explore Downtown

College towns are strange bohemian colonies plopped sporadically around the country. The ratio of coffee shops, restaurants, and thrift stores to population is always absurd. There are entire industries built up specifically to entertain you. Beyond that, the town almost certainly has a rich history and culture all of its own. It will take you a couple of years to really grasp how awesome your college town is, so start early. Take an afternoon and just stroll through town that first week. Stop into a couple of stores and buy a cup of coffee and a used book of poetry (possibly at the same place).

Go to a Game

I am a sports fanatic. Attending both home and away games was my primary hobby in college. But even if you aren’t into sports at all, don’t miss out entirely on this aspect of college life. At many colleges, sports are a primary expression of school spirit and community. They are places where you go to cheer for your community. In some respects, the game itself is secondary to the experience. Check out the athletic schedule and attend one event that first week.

Visit a Church and Don’t Leave Right Away

This is the most important piece of advice on this list. Go to church the very first Sunday you are in college. If you skip even once you will start to get into the habit of sleeping in on Sundays, and that is a very hard habit to break. 

Sunday mornings on college campuses are… weird. No one is moving around. If you live in a dorm with old plumbing like I did, you might find that it takes like 10 minutes for the hot water to start flowing in the shower. I got into the habit my freshman year of going to the hall shower, turning the water on, and then going back to my room for a bit while it warmed up.

There are two mistakes you need to avoid here. First, do not believe the lie that you don’t need to find a local church because you visit your hometown church sometimes. The obvious exception here is if you go to college in your hometown. Church is intended to be both local and constant. You can’t take four years off of being a member of a local church.

Second, don’t get into the habit of showing up late and leaving as soon as the service is done. You’re a college student, so arriving late may be unavoidable. That means you need to stick around a little while after the service so you can get to know people a little. If you’re an introvert, this may be a challenge, but it will be worth it. Say hi to a few people you don’t know, preferably non college students. Not only will this help you connect with the community, it could open up some really valuable relationships for you. Need a place to do laundry for free? A home cooked meal? A quiet place to study during exam week? The families you meet at church have all of these things!

Jerry Riendeau is one of the directors of Cru at James Madison University. He is married to Katherine. Together they have three children, ages five years and under. You can contact Jerry at You can follow him on twitter here.

Seven Books Every Christian Should Read in College

By Jerry Riendeau

I recently asked a student, who is a fairly new believer, what Christian books he has been reading. He replied that he was not much of a reader. This surprised me. This young man had gained a great deal of knowledge about his faith in a relatively short period of time. So I asked him how he had managed to accumulate so much information without reading.

“TikTok mostly”, he replied.

I am guessing his response will elicit at least three reactions from those reading this post. Those over 35 will probably ask, “what is TikTok?” (Answer: it is a social media platform where users post short videos.) Those between the ages of 25 and 35 will probablys ask, “there is Christian content on TikTok?” (Answer: Apparently.) Those under 25 will probably not find it all that surprising.

Praise God that quality Christian content is available on so many platforms these days from social media, to Youtube, to podcasts, and yes… even TikTok. With so many sources of content available, it begs the question, why read Christian books?

This is supposed to be a post about what you should read, not why you should read. But let me give a brief apologetic for books themselves before getting to my list. And to be clear I am not saying that you should only read books. By all means, absorb truth from any platform available. I am humbly suggesting that you include a healthy serving of books in your media diet.

Reading books forces us to be reflective in a way that consuming content on other platforms does not always accomplish. In my experience, watching or listening to Christian content is like a nice relaxing bath. I just sort of soak it in. Reading Christian books on the other hand feels a lot more like a wrestling match. I read an assertion and find myself saying (sometimes out loud) “Prove it!” And so the battle is joined. The author makes her case in the text of the book and I present my counter arguments in handwritten scribbles in the margins. Sometimes I find myself bested, and other times I leave unconvinced. Either way, I understand the issue better than when I began.

Though a relaxing bath has its place in a healthy lifestyle, no human body remains healthy and fit for long without some strenuous exercise. Reading provides for the mind what exercise provides for the body in a way that other media forms often fail to.

Another reason that books are important is that they are, by their nature, more thoroughly vetted. This does not mean that they are perfect. In fact, many aren’t even good. However, the process of publishing forces at least some degree of reflection, editing, and correction. CS Lewis would argue that reading old books provides an even greater degree of vetting, but that is a topic for another day.

So, college student, here is a list of books that I want to challenge you to read before you graduate. I chose books based on a few criteria: 1) I selected books to fit 7 different topics I thought were important, including apologetics, biblical theology, and evangelism. 2) I emphasized brevity. Let’s be real, college students already have a lot to read for their classes. Short books are more likely to be read. 3) I emphasized practicality. I picked books that could be directly applied to your life.

A disclaimer: I am not claiming that these are the ONLY books a college student should read. I’m not even claiming these are the most important books you should read. I humbly propose that these are 7 books you should make sure you read among others.

So, without further delay, here is the list:

Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin

McLaughlin identifies and responds to the twelve most prevalent and powerful objections to the Christian faith in our culture today. The chapters are short and readable, yet her arguments are compelling and powerful. This book accomplishes two things at once. It helps the reader wrestle with his own doubts while simultaneously equipping him to engage with his friends on these topics. 

For further reading on apologetics: The Reason for God by Tim Keller

God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts

Hopefully you have heard someone explain that “the Bible is one unified story”. But honesty, how does the book of Numbers or the weird second half of Daniel fit into that story? Roberts provides a framework that can be used to insert whatever text you happen to be reading into the story of scripture. For visual learners, he provides a very helpful diagram.

For further reading on Biblical Theology: Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church by Michael Lawrence

What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

Thabiti covers an incredible amount of ground in just 117 unusually small pages. You could read it in an afternoon if you wanted to, but it is better absorbed over time and, if possible, in the context of community. Consider reading this and discussing it with your Bible study or a group of friends. Thabiti succinctly explains how a Christian can be an expositor of scripture, a Biblical theologian, and an evangelist. But, most importantly, he explains the absolute necessity of being a committed member of a Bible preaching local church. If you were only going to read and apply one book on this list, pick this one. If you get your commitment to the local church right, most everything else will follow in due time.

For further reading on Ecclesiology (the church): How Jesus Runs the Church by Guy Waters

Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, reading this book in college was borderline life changing for me. Cloud explains the importance of both bonding with others and separating ourselves from others (boundaries) and the consequences of failing to do so. In recent years I have reached out to several trusted Christian counselors to confirm that they would still recommend this classic. The response I received is that many of the truths in this book are indeed, timeless. One criticism I have is that Cloud sometimes ventures out of his area of expertise into Biblical exegesis with mixed results. 

Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman

Do you worry that you would not know how to respond to questions if you were to share your faith with friends or classmates? If so, this book is for you. Newman explains the importance of asking questions, not just answering them when doing evangelism. I guarantee that if you read this book you will feel far more comfortable having spiritual conversations with anyone. I should note that this book was originally published in 2003, though it has been updated since then (purchase the 2nd edition). As a result, some of its content, including how to handle questions about sexuality, is in need of a revamp.

For further reading on evangelism: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God by RC Sproul

Pressure Points by Shelby Abbott

Walking with Jesus in college is not easy. How are you supposed to navigate issues such as dating, alcohol, loneliness, and new dynamics with your parents? Shelby asks, and answers, the question: how does the gospel apply to these and other “pressure points”? Frankly there are not many books out there written specifically for Christian college students or written by people with decades of experience working with said students.

For further reading on walking with Jesus in college: Seated with Christ by Heather Holleman

A book about Justice and Race within the Church

Ok, so I am cheating here. I am not recommending a specific book. For various reasons, my old “go tos” on this topic need to be updated. I am in the process of trying to find a new favorite book to recommend. Perhaps you could join me in that search. Here are the next two books I intend to read about justice and race in the church. Perhaps when I finish them I’ll write another post.

  • The New Reformation by Shai Linne 
  • The Beautiful Community by Irwyn Ince

This is an incredibly important topic. I would recommend you read broadly and with a generous heart. Warning: if you choose to read a book on this topic you are almost guaranteed to feel uncomfortable. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. 



Jerry Riendeau is one of the directors of Cru at James Madison University. He is married to Katherine. Together they have three children, ages five years and under. You can contact Jerry at You can follow him on twitter here.

Valley Cru Update: April

Ministry Update:

The month of April is always jam-packed with events, keeping our students and staff extremely busy as the semester comes to a close. This month, our staff hosted the fifth annual Fellowship Dinner, and our students hosted the annual semi-formal dance.

The Fellowship Dinner is a time to celebrate what God has done over the past year in Cru and a time to share vision for the upcoming school year with local supporters. According to Jenny Smith, one of our staff members, this dinner “[Is] a chance for the JMU Cru community (pastors, parents, ministry partners, campus faculty/staff, alumni, community members, etc.) to come together to glorify God by sharing stories of what has happened in the lives of college students through Cru.” In addition to celebration, it is also a fundraiser dinner that helps raise money for the goals the staff and students have set for the next year. The staff invites the local JMU Cru community to partner with them as they raise funds to make their vision become a reality for the movement.

This year, they had a JMU Cru Alumni, Lindsey Spurlock come to speak about her time in JMU Cru. People came from all over to hear her speak and it became like an alumni reunion for those who knew Lindsey or were involved with Cru in the past. This, among other things, was a unique and special part of this year’s fellowship dinner.

Lastly, our very own student-led Community Team hosted our annual spring semi-formal. The event took place on campus and was a night of good music, dancing, and food. It is always an event that the whole Cru movement looks forward to, and this year did not disappoint!


Series update:

The spring semester is wrapping up and so is our series on the continuity of the gospel in the Bible. This month, Jerry spoke about the Garden, the Fall, and the Promise. During these talks, Jerry explained how sin affects every aspect of our lives but through Jesus, we are redeemed and able to have a relationship with God. The beginning of the series explained the relationship between Adam and Eve with God before they sinned. The next talk explained the consequences of their sin and how we are separated from God and unworthy of his grace. The final talk was about how God promised Abraham that his descendants would fulfill the promise of a savior to redeem the world and restore the relationship with God.   

The most recent talk featured two of our seniors, Robin and Cassidy. Robin focused her talk on going on global missions and how God’s work isn’t done until we fulfill the Great Commission. Cassidy followed up by reminding us to bring the gospel home and share it with our family and friends, no matter how hard it is to do so.


Our seniors are awesome and we’re so thankful for all the time and effort they put into leading this ministry! Thank you, Class of 2018 and good luck with your next steps! Please enjoy these superlatives nominated by students in JMU Cru and voted on by seniors.

Aaron Bryant: Most likely to never ever wear shoes

Abby Bennsky: Most likely to be one with the Brits

Aby Klansek: Most likely to avoid all responsibilities and lay and bed and eat skittles and claim “I’m getting my life together”

Callie Hughes: Most likely to rock red lipstick

Cassidy Fleming: Most likely to be screaming “Yassss”

Cassidy Limer: Most likely to own 15 dogs

Catie Broyles: Most likely to be a human Rosetta Stone

Christian Okada: Little Drummer Boi

Eli Butters: Most likely to win the lottery and lose the ticket

Erin Shively: Sweeter than a chocolate river

Megan Holland: Quietest but sassiest

Jessi Mongold: Most likely to own Disney World

Josh Legge: Most likely to be expert on all Rock Band songs

Julia Hutchens: Most likely to win Survivor

Kalen Bushong: Most likely to be huntin’, fishin’, and lovin’ everyday

Kelsey Terry: Most likely to have a laugh that could also be mistaken for a squeak toy

Kori Mayhugh: Most likely to make you laugh so hard you pee yourself

Lakin Simmons: Most likely to tell Aby Klansek to chill

Lauren Obaugh: Most likely to wear flip flops in snow

Lex Mazczak: Most likely to campaign for women’s rights

Mallie Ziglar: Most likely to brighten up your day

Mary-Kate Mulvaney: Most likely to be loved by every single person she meets

Natalie Wainner: Most likely to bench press more than the rest of the seniors combined

Nick Diaz: Most likely to pick a fight with Jerry

Robin: Most likely to cuss out the ref without cuss words

Sage Wright: Most likely to become a famous musician

Sydney Smith: Most likely to have an awkward story to tell you about her day

Tanner Clark: Most likely to be every freshman girls’ crush

Yasmine Vaughan: Most secretly savage

Zach Mullin: Most likely to be Christian Okada


Which JMU Cru staff member are you? 

Do you ever lie awake at night wondering which JMU Cru staff member you would be? Now you can find out! Take this quiz and post your results and tag @JMUCru!

Valley Cru Update: March

Ministry Update:

Cru had some exciting things going on during the month of March! We started the month with our students serving on two missions trips. One was to North Africa, and gave students a taste of what it would be like to do long-term missions work there. The other was to Philadelphia, PA and the students partnered with Mission Liberti to serve the inner-city population of Philly.

There were also some exciting things that happened in Cru’s weekly ministry. Jerry Riendeau, one of the Ministry Team Leaders, came back from sabbatical and kicked off a large group series on how the Bible tells the same story from start to finish. In it, he discussed the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and how the tree of life in the garden is also mentioned in the last book of the Bible, which was written thousands of years later.

Lastly, a new classroom-style series started last week before large group. This series, called Sunday School Revisited, features pastors from local churches coming to JMU’s campus to teach willing students about classic “Sunday school” stories in the Bible. Last week, Pastor Chris from Aletheia Church taught about David and Goliath. The main takeaway? That this story isn’t about an underdog named David, but is instead about a sovereign and mighty God who fights on behalf of his people. (Also, books are given away at every session so come on April 5 and April 12!)

Spring (Break) Into Action:

Over spring break, five JMU Cru students attended the trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to spread the gospel to the students and community living there. They went to the campuses without a Cru movement to ask people if they would be willing to partner with Philly Cru to start one at their school. Later that week, students and staff traveled to Gloucester, New Jersey to volunteer with service projects with a pastor planting a church there. The students worked with the church to repair homes for people who were unable to do the repairs themselves.

Adriana Nicely (junior) enjoyed using a tool called perspective cards to start a discussion with college students at Drexel University:

“It was so awesome to really lean into God’s strength, goodness, and faithfulness as we shared with the students on the campus…Sharing on Drexel’s campus made me even more excited about sharing here at JMU.  Philly was awesome, there were so many testimonies of what God is doing there and how He is changing hearts and lives for Him.”

The staff of Liberti Church worked with the students throughout the week. Their hard work and passion for sharing the gospel impacted how students viewed evangelism. Even as a freshman, Jesse Settle has already noticed a change in his life:

“This trip definitely changed my view on evangelizing because before the trip I was hesitant to engage in that, but now I am even willing to do it on JMU’s campus as well because it is really fun.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Mission Liberti, talk to one of the students or staff who went!

Student Spotlight: Haley Connor

Haley Conner is one of our amazing student leaders in Cru! She serves as a freshmen small group leader and as the Conference Team leader. She is very sweet and loves to get to know other people!

What year are you?

I am a junior!

What is your major?

I am an IDLS major, elementary education minor.

What made you choose JMU?

JMU was not originally my first choice, but after touring here one time (although I was pretty indecisive), I definitely realized that the atmosphere here is different than anywhere else. There are so many friendly people and it just seems like a happy place. That’s what drew me in, and now I can’t imagine being anywhere else! #GoDukes

How did you get involved in Cru?

I remember getting an email from Cru at some point, and also being invited through text by my small group leader! My freshman roommate, Leana and I decided to go to large group one night, and we were hooked ever since then!

What is your favorite part of Cru?

My favorite part of Cru is the learning and growth that you experience through the incredible opportunities that come with being in it. Cru has such a welcoming atmosphere, and once you decide to step into it, there are so so many opportunities to learn and grow in your faith. From joining a small group or tribe, getting coffee with people, going on retreats and conferences, getting to know staff members, being discipled, and stepping up to leadership positions, God really works through all of these things and draws you closer to Him through it all.

You’re on a servant team this year- what team are you on and what is your role?

I am the conference team leader! With that, I get to work with my awesome team to plan and promote the Spring Break Trip, Fall Retreat, and Winter Conference. In addition to that, I get to work with all of the other wonderful members of servant team as we collaborate and support one another.

You went on the Spring break trip with Mission Liberti this year. What was that like? What was your favorite part?

Mission Liberti was an absolutely incredible experience for me. We had the opportunity to learn to serve those who serve, to be trained and get experience in looking for key volunteers to start Cru movements on college campuses, and to learn about and get practice in sharing our faith. No matter what we were doing, it was just awesome to be surrounded by so many staff and students who love the Lord and could encourage one another as we took on new experiences. My favorite part was going to Drexel University and spending some time sharing my faith there. We used Perspective cards to do this, and it was awesome to kind of just jump out there and trust that God would provide and give us the words to say as we talked to people. If anyone has any questions about any of this or what it means, or if you’d just like to hear more about it, please let me know! I’d love to talk with you!

Have you been on any other mission trips through Cru?

I have not been on any mission trips with Cru yet, but I am going to be going back to Philly this summer for the summer version of Mission Liberti! It’s from May 26th-June 23rd, and I cannot wait! With that being said (shameless plug), come with me!!

Women’s Retreat Recap!

Almost every JMU Cru woman will agree that Women’s Retreat is the most anticipated event of the year.  

For those who don’t know, Women’s Retreat is an annual event that is 100% student run. The senior women spend the entire spring semester planning and preparing this retreat. The goal is to create a Christ-centered weekend where the senior women have the opportunity to share what God has taught them over the last four years and how we as underclassmen can use these lessons in our own lives.

Each Women’s Retreat weekend consists of 3 main talks, multiple break-out sessions based on more specific topics, worship music, crafts, great food, and vulnerability. All talks, breakout sessions, and worship sessions are led by the senior women. The theme this year was “Live Surrendered”. The seniors shared their experiences with surrendering everything over to God and gave practical ways for us to devote ourselves completely to Him.

These women did an incredible job of showing God’s love to all of us and demonstrating what a godly community looks like! We would all like to thank the senior class for serving us with kind and open hearts and for inspiring us to be vulnerable with one another!



This post was written by the JMU Cru Media Team- a group of students dedicated to sharing the love of Christ through media on JMU’s campus.

Valley Cru Update: January/February

Ministry Update:

What college student doesn’t love to hear the words “free food!”? JMU Cru was able to utilize free food to spread the gospel around campus. How did they do it? Text 4 Cookie. Text 4 Cookie is an outreach event that gives students incentive to ask questions about Christianity. Students in freshman dorms were given the opportunity to text in questions which were later answered by Cru students and staff members. The students were incentivized by receiving a small bag of cookies for texting in a question! The first Text 4 Cookie outreach was held on January 17th and then another was held on February 27th.

Not only does Cru focus on on-campus outreach, we also focus on equipping students to do God’s work all over the globe. JMU Cru is sending out two missions teams over spring break; one stateside and one international. The stateside group will be going to Philadelphia, PA to work with Mission Liberti. For the entire week, our students will be working in inner city Philly to show God’s love to the locals by serving in the surrounding area. This trip is also a “sneak preview” of what it’s like to go on a summer mission through Cru. The other team will be going to North Africa. This team will be exploring the culture of the area and getting a taste of what it would be like to serve with Cru for a year after they graduate.


Series Recap:

JMU Cru has started off the year with a bang! Coming directly out of the Baltimore Cru Winter Conference, JMU Cru began January with a large group series called “Go, Do, Say, Give”. This series encourages students to Go where God wants you to go, Do what God wants you to do, Say what God wants you to say, and Give what God wants you to give. Each of these can be applied to going on missions, giving money or time to the church or friends in need, telling a coworker about God, and many other actions.

In the month of February, we got to hear one of our staff members, Grace speak on the idea of rest. She did an excellent job describing that we need to give ourselves a “sabbath” even if it is not in the exact same meaning as in the Old Testament. Take a nap, watch a couple of your favorite episodes of Friends or The Office, or get some coffee with some friends. Make sure you take some time out of your schedule to breathe and spend time with the Lord.

Also, the day after Valentine’s Day JMU Cru had an a guest speaker. We welcomed none other than Cru Staff member Shelby Abbott. Shelby spoke on sex and dating, but with a unique focus. The main topic was not sex and purity (though, those ARE important), instead he focused his time on speaking about technology and how it is affecting today’s relationships. Ladies and fellas, get off of those devices and talk to one another FACE TO FACE.


Staff Spotlight: Sara Beth Scaife

Sara Beth Scaife is the Ministry Team Leader of Cru here at JMU. 

She is also a wife and mother of an adorable daughter. In case you have not met her, she is pretty awesome. Here are some facts about her so that you can get to know more about her time at Cru and her background.

How long have you been on staff with Cru?

This is my 8th year on staff with Cru. I joined in April 2010 as an Intern.

How much of that time has been with JMU Cru?

I started on staff at Radford University and then was asked to come to JMU. I started on campus at JMU in November 2012, right after my honeymoon. Kyle and I got married in late October 2012.

Why did you join the staff?

I had several job offers graduating college, one of them being Cru. I considered my strengths and the things I enjoyed most. During college, leading a small group and discipling women was my favorite thing to do. A job that allowed me to do that full time seemed like a really fun job! I love developing Christian leaders and seeing students grow in their faith!

What is your favorite thing about being on staff with Cru?

I love the mission and seeing God change the lives of college students. I love seeing students learn how to share their faith, allowing their friends and classmates to come to know Jesus. I love answering students questions about God, life, and what their purpose in life is.

Where did you go to college? What did you initially study in college?

Radford University, I was a student there for five years getting a double degree in Accounting and Business Finance.

Were you involved in Cru as a student? If so, for how long and how did you get involved?

I got kind of involved my Fall semester Freshman year, by joining a small group. But I didn’t take it seriously until Spring my freshman year when an upperclassmen asked me to join their Servant Team.


Meet the 2018 Servant Team!

The Servant Team provides students with the opportunity to utilize their passions to serve God and the JMU community. In January, Cru staff chose the new Servant Team for the 2018 Spring/Fall semesters. Within Servant Team there are six sub teams led by students.  According to Robert VanGee, the servant team director, the vision this year is, “to grow and maintain a healthy, effective, and spirit-led leadership team by equipping individual leaders and the Servant Team as a group both spiritually and practically.”

Meet the leaders:

Top: Jake Austin- Community Team, Robert Vangee- Servant Team Director
Left to right: Haley Conner- Conferences Team, Cassie Raymo- Outreach Team, Adriana Nicely- Prayer Team
Bottom: Gabby Santiago- Community Team, Allison Gooden- Communications Team, Peyton Moore- Productions Team


This post was written by the JMU Cru Media Team- a group of students dedicated to sharing the love of Christ through media on JMU’s campus.

Joe Slater and JMU Cru

Joe Slater recently shared with me about his experience as a student involved in JMU Cru. If you haven’t been following our little series, we have been talking to former students and Cru staff who were a part of this ministry over the years.

First off, I need to tell you about Joe. Before I moved to Harrisonburg, at least three different people told me that I absolutely MUST meet Joe Slater. Man, were they right. More than most of the people I met in the community, Joe made an effort to get to know me, pray for me, and encourage me in my ministry. This is particularly remarkable to me, because Joe is the campus pastor for Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) at JMU. RUF is a fantastic ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) that seeks to “help students fall deeper in love with Jesus and develop a lifelong faith.” This demonstrates something I really appreciate about Joe. He has chosen to see other campus ministries as friends and allies rather than competitors. Learn more about Joe and his awesome ministry here.

Long (really long), before Joe was working with RUF, he was a student at JMU and involved with Cru. In fact, I was born while Joe was a student at JMU (1985-88). Somehow, this reality has not stopped certain students from responding with shock when they discover that Joe and I are not the same age (cough cough… Nate Szarmach).

The biggest difference between JMU Cru then and now is that there were no staff on campus back then. Instead, a couple of Cru staff named Bill and Linda White would drive over the mountain from UVA to meet weekly with the student leaders. Besides these weekly check-ins, the students ran everything.

I asked Joe what the highlight of his time involved with Cru was: “High points for me were just being with a community that genuinely loved each other and took seriously their walk with Jesus. I was at a fork in the road with my faith at the time. Was I going to play games with Jesus and my faith or was I going to surrender everything to follow Him? God, in His kind mercy, used Cru and the people of Cru to push me to follow Him.”

I also asked Joe about some of the challenges he and the ministry faced during his time: “We had the usual challenges of staying focused on mission, of balancing school with serving our campus, and trying to daily maintain a walk with Jesus. I think we also had the challenge of young and immature leadership. We had 21 and 22 year olds leading the movement. God was extraordinarily kind to keep us out of some serious weeds despite our immaturity. I also think we very much undervalued and underemphasized the importance of the local church. Maybe some more mature leadership would have helped us correct that.”

Joe, what was the most life changing moment of your time with Cru? “I was standing at the door (of our weekly meeting) to greet newcomers and in walked this beautiful transfer student who would become my wife! Isn’t God good??!!”

Indeed he is Joe.
Contributed by Jerry Riendeau

Shelby Abbott and JMU Cru

Welcome to part two of our series on the history of Cru at JMU. In this post we have the privilege of hearing about the experience of Shelby Abbott who was on staff with Cru at JMU from 2000 until 2007.

If you have any connection to Cru, Shelby doesn’t really need an introduction; he is the definition of a “cru-lebrity”. When I was a freshman at Virginia Tech way back in 2005, I knew Shelby as the loveable and hysterical emcee of the two biggest conferences I went to that year: Cru Winter Conference and Big Break. Twelve years later, he is still faithfully playing both of those roles. Shelby is the author of Jacked, I am a Tool, and I’m Awkward, You’re Awkward. Shelby currently works for Cru’s publishing arm, Cru Press. You can find Shelby’s Blog, as well as more information about his books here.

I asked Shelby how God was using Cru to reach the campus of JMU during his time. Here was his reply:

God did a lot in those years at JMU. There were a lot of specific strategies that both staff and students came up with to reach the campus—some good, and some not-so-good. We did an “I agree with Russ” campaign, which worked out really well, and what the students called a “door holding ministry” where we positioned ourselves around buildings on campus and held open doors for people…which was not so effective. People shared the gospel a lot in those days, and many people were trusting Christ on campus.

Ok, so if you’re not super familiar with both Cru and JMU, a couple of things won’t make sense. First of all, the “I agree with” campaign was a big deal back in the day. This was an evangelistic outreach where you would flood a campus with the slogan “I agree with… (fill in the blank of a particular student. For this example, we will say Russ)”. You’d put up posters, put an add in the school newspaper, and most importantly, wear t-shirts. Lots and lots of t-shirts. Everyone’s t-shirts would say “I agree with Russ”, except for one t-shirt which would say “I am Russ.” Then, at the end of the campaign, there would be a big event in which Russ would share the Gospel. The other thing you need to know is that students at JMU pride themselves on holding doors. I know… you just have to accept it.

Next I asked Shelby how God was using JMU Cru to reach the nations. Here is his reply:

We sent a lot of students overseas, both for summer missions and for Stints. I led a team of all JMU students and staff to Central Asia for a summer mission. There were 4 staff (myself included) and 14 JMU students. There was a lot of momentum for reaching the world in that time.

Eighteen JMU representatives on a single international summer mission? Incredible! But what was Cru’s weekly large group meeting like? After all, that is the face of the movement. Shelby’s response to this question was so unbelievable that I am still having trouble believing his answer. Shelby says that when he arrived there were about 75 students attending the meeting in 2000. By 2005, there were over 700. That is nearly a growth of 10 fold in just five years. During this time, God blessed the movement with incredibly talented speakers, band members, and emcees. All of this together created an environment where people were attracted to the community and heard the Gospel proclaimed boldly.

Ok, one last thing you need to know about Shelby’s time at JMU. His Bible study guys started the White House. The White House is a “Cru House” where 12 JMU Cru men live in semi-peace every year. The White House is still going strong today and remains a center of JMU Cru social life.


Contributed by Jerry Riendeau