Kyle Jensen, BJU Alumnus
I attended BJU from 2013 through 2018. While I was there, I worked in my residence hall as an RA, participated in a nursing home outreach, and was even the president of the Ministry Class (or whatever they call it these days). But there was a problem: I spent the first 3 years of my time in Greenville as a church hopper. Sure, I joined as an associate member whenever I landed at a church, but I was never really invested in that body of believers.
My goal in this brief article is to warn you away from making the same mistake I did, because the church is absolutely vital for your life as a college student.
Question: Is the church actually vital for my relationship with Christ?
Before we start discussing the ways the church is necessary for college students, we ought to pause and establish the fact that it is necessary. The Church is the centerpiece of God’s mission in the world today. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promised to build his church. When he ascended, he commanded his followers to join him in that mission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19–20, ESV). Notice how the main command of making disciples is to be carried out. These new disciples are to be baptized and taught. Baptism is inherently tied to the church as a sign of inclusion in the people of God; individuals do not baptize themselves. The teaching of Christ’s commands occurs at least when God’s people gather for the preaching of the Word of God. Therefore, if you’re going to be a follower of Jesus Christ who is actually doing what he intended his followers to do, then you’ve got to be integrally involved in the life of the local church.
With that as the backdrop, here are a three reasons why a deep connection to a local church is vital for a college student.
1. The Church is vital for your spiritual growth.
Ecclesiastes 4 reminds us that life lived alongside others is an inherently better and more successful life. In the New Testament, that kind of accountability and aid is found in the fellowship of the local church. This is accomplished positively as church members obey the “one another” commands. For example, members of the same local church have a unique ability to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24, ESV) that wouldn’t be possible between believers who never see one another. This may also be accomplished in a more negative sense in the process of church discipline. No one likes to think that they might need the discipline of the church body at some point, but remember: the point of church discipline at all stages is restoration (Matt 18:15). God never intended for you to grow spiritually or fight sin or be restored to fellowship on your own. He intends for you to do so with the encouragement and discipline of your fellow church members.
Along these lines, there’s a crucial element of church life that is generally undervalued by our culture: old people. You won’t see them trending on Twitter or getting lots of screen time in praise and worship music videos, but I can tell you from experience: we need older believers (Proverbs 20:29). They have lived through things that we can’t even imagine, and they maintained their faith. They have persevered. They have boundless wells of wisdom. They know that the ways that look right when you’re in your 20s don’t always keep well into your 40s.
As a college student, you need the church for the sake of your spiritual growth.
2. The Church is vital for your doctrinal faithfulness.
Paul calls the church the pillar and support of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). The church is the sphere in which God intends for his Word to be taught and explained well. The regular preaching and teaching ministries of a local church keep the believers grounded on God’s Word and unphased by falsehood. The shaping of your beliefs, therefore, is not best accomplished in your dorm room. It’s best accomplished in conversations with your pastors and those who teach in your church. It’s best accomplished when you have the iron-sharpening-iron effect of other members in your church who can call out areas where you may not even realize you’re deviating from God’s Word.
As a college student, you need the church to help you shore up your doctrinal foundation and maintain faithfulness to God’s Word.
3. The Church needs you.
The two previous ideas have been presented as ways that you need the church, and they also ring true for your fellow church members. This means that you, as a church member, are essential for the spiritual growth and doctrinal faithfulness of the other members of your church. Your church needs you to be invested. God has equipped each member of the body with gifts and abilities to use in service to the body (1 Corinthians 12:4–11). If you choose to coast through your college years without a deep relationship with a local church, you’re not only depriving yourself of blessing—you’re also withholding your unique, God-given gifts from the church.
As a college student, don’t forget that the sovereign God of all has put you exactly where he wants you to be for the sake of building his church.
Back to my story. When I was church-hopping, I can honestly say that I grew spiritually, but it wasn’t particularly robust growth. A radical change, however, took place when I landed with some friends in a local church about 1 hour north of Greenville. I had a pastor who invested in us and allowed us to minister to the kids, teens, and young adults of the church. I even became a full member there. And I grew immensely. My doctrinal beliefs, which were scattered and man-centered, became God-centered and biblically faithful. People confronted me about my sin with love and faithfulness. God did a powerful work in me over the almost two years that I was there before I moved to Michigan (where I still am).
And honestly, I believe it was at least in part because I was finally invested in a local church.
If you’re looking to get more involved in your local church, let me remind you of one thing. The church is a people—not a program. Church involvement, therefore, looks primarily like involvement in people. Start by getting to know the older members of your church. Introduce yourself. Maybe even invite them to lunch (gasp)! Don’t look at having your name on a rotation for ushering or childcare as sufficient. Invest yourself in people and let them invest in you. Finally, let me encourage you to talk to your pastors. I’m sure they would love to help you get connected to the people in your church. It will take work, but it will be eternally rewarding.
Bruce from Bila Tserkva, Ukraine
Ah, but those times when we can meet together are comforting, refreshing, and wonderful! We are reassured and fortified from God’s Word. We rejoice in opportunities to fellowship and to express that joy in affectionate and exuberant greetings. We jubilantly sing songs of praise to the God who is our Rock, our Fortress, our Shelter from the storm, our Shield . . .! We observe the return of some who have wandered away and perhaps been disciplined from the flock. We see unbelievers attending and have been excited to see folks respond to the Gospel and find unassailable and eternal peace and joy in Christ!
Believers are helping to convey those who flee to Ukraine’s borders. We have been feeding and housing folks who stop for a night in transit. Mostly, these are believers, but we have been aiding unbelievers too, as you should expect. We move funds (as well as we can) to those who are displaced into other locations. We take provisions to folks who are shut-ins; one of my students carries such tasks throughout the week. Another student has driven multitudes to western areas and borders. Another, displaced with his young family to the Carpathian mountains, is filling a temporary ministry as a youth leader in a Baptist church there. We all wonder when we may return to our former ministries; it is a constant request to God.
Surely my personal feelings and meditations (such as the following) are not unique. Maybe 2 weeks ago, when Ukraine’s refugees were then estimated at over 2 million, I remembered Luke’s report in Acts 8:4. The early church’s activities had been centered in Jerusalem but persecution after Stephen’s martyrdom thrust them out from Jerusalem and they went everywhere, preaching the Word. Ukraine has been the best evangelized of all the former Soviet republics. As such, and as the largest country in Europe (apart from Russia), Ukraine likely has more believers than any country in Europe. Isn’t it likely that God’s plan for these refugees – the ones who are genuinely His – is that they be His messengers of the Gospel to the spiritually cold countries of Western Europe? It must be so; I plead with you to pray that the eyes and hearts of every one of those believers would recognize their opportunity and responsibility and would be up-and-active! Just imagine, if even 1% of the now more than 3 million refugees are true believers, it would mean that over 30,000 potential missionaries have been “let loose” upon those nations! Doesn’t that stir something in your heart?
I’ve been curious from the start of this violence that any fears I’ve had were experienced before the invasion. Once underway, an inexplicable peace and calm has guarded my heart, almost without interruption. And when that peace and sense of security is jeopardized, I run back to the Scriptures for the sweetness of God’s comforts. The Psalms have assumed a new life for me. I read cries for help and attestations of faith that echo the very cries and convictions of my own heart! My heart cries, “O God, how I thank you! You must have written this passage for me; for us who would hide ourselves under your loving and mighty wing today!” I read so many of these psalms . . . I melt into tears of wonder and joy! God’s Word is for me—for us! He knows where we are and what we are experiencing and feeling; He cares! He won’t leave us nor forsake us!
Though I have prayed often for His protection and for further opportunities to serve Him in this life, I fully realize that it may not be in His plan that I re-emerge, alive. As a child of God and as His servant, it isn’t of primary importance that I live. What is of primary and compelling importance is that God be glorified! Paul has said it . . . “by life or by death.”
If God arranges that the Ukrainian forces continue to stymie and push back the aggressor, the shout from we who belong to Him will not be (as we hear around us even now), “Slava Ukraini!” (that is, “Glory to Ukraine”). Rather, let it be, “Slava Christu” . . . “Slava Bogu” (that is, “Glory to Christ” . . . “Glory to God”)!
I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart,
and will glorify Your name forever.
(Psalm 86:12 – NASB)
Bruce from Bila Tserkva, Ukraine
The world as we have known it has been significantly altered for believers in Ukraine! It would be accurate to say that it has been turned “upside-down.” But, even if all else be reduced to chaos and calamity, a firm foundation endures for us in the character and promises of our God!
Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the world witnessed an enormous buildup of troops and military hardware on our borders. The world watched with an unsettled, curious fascination; we watched with uneasiness and apprehension. However, what I heard from most Ukrainians was denial that the invasion would ever take place. The oft-repeated “theory” was that this was a different kind of war, one of mere words and intimidation.
When the invasion began, it apparently took many by surprise. I had been slowly, gradually accumulating some staple foods and water in the event of such an invasion. I had purchased for a pastor-friend a 7-kilowatt electrical generator. Thus, if we would be besieged and denied natural gas, electricity, and water, the generator would allow us to pump water from a well in a nearby village or to power electrical heaters. To my surprise, it seemed that my Ukrainian acquaintances were making no similar preparations.
At the outset, we began to hear the sporadic wail of sirens both day and night. We made provision to take cover, if necessary, in a rough and inhospitable root cellar under a corner of my house. “We” includes 6 others who moved from their apartments closer to the city’s center, supposing that my home afforded a better possibility of safety. There were a few times that we resorted to that cellar when sirens sounded, but soon began to wait until we heard explosions seemingly close enough to alarm us. One time, it was an enormous “boom” that turned out to be a bomb within a 20-minute walk, powerful enough to destroy 30 homes. The bomb missed its probable target, a military hospital about 500 meters from where it landed.
We have often heard explosions, sometimes violent enough to cause the house to tremble. Only 2 or 3 fell within the city. Recently, we have climbed in the darkness to my attic in order to listen to explosions and see flashes and areas of glowing light in the distance. Sometimes the lights were apparently rockets, or perhaps anti-aircraft fire. Those attacks were about 50 miles distant; it is difficult for us to judge distances in these attacks, or to get accurate information as they occur.
One day, Russian subversives dressed as civilians were arrested nearby. They had been seen attempting to plant missile-guiding devices on a hospital around the corner from my house.
Soon after the invasion began, stores began to be closed and secured. Many folks are now without work and incomes. Far fewer pedestrians and vehicles are seen on the streets. Instead, we see an increasing number of armed soldiers. We see barricades of sandbags, logs, concrete, and tank traps in and on the outskirts of our city. The checkpoints at city entrances are increasingly fortified. Soldiers have dug trenches alongside the roads and have made underground rooms in which to take a few hours of rest.
Families are separated, as multitudes of mostly women and children are now displaced into western parts of Ukraine or to other parts of Europe. But, what of life there? They have no way to earn an income, and they are among strangers (even if hospitable and caring strangers). Many sense that they are already wearing out their welcome, and they are longing to return home. They yearn to be reunited with their loved ones and friends, and to return to the life from which they have been so suddenly and rudely dispatched. They long for home and for peace!
God has been answering the prayers of many; He has been shielding us from the violent brutality that far less fortunate people have been experiencing in cities such as Kharkiv, Kyiv, Mariupol, and Chernihiv. Here it seems that we live with at least a sub-conscious tension, never knowing what is coming, what will happen next, or when it may be our turn to experience the fury of that disoriented, humiliated, and thus vengeful enemy.
We conduct services: prayer meetings throughout the week, youth meetings, and Sunday worship. Sunday evening services haven’t been possible due to the evening curfew. In some churches, believers who have remained are critical toward those who have fled; the unity of believers is threatened. Fewer attend when a church meets, as many have left the area and some who remain are fearful of venturing out.
To be continued...
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.