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.
Ransom Love, Associate Pastor at Journey Church (Asheboro, NC)
My name is Ransom Love and I currently serve as the associate pastor at Journey Church in Asheboro, NC. I graduated from Bob Jones in 2013 with a degree in youth ministries. Two weeks after graduating from Bob Jones, I married Hannah Thompson, and three weeks after our wedding we transitioned into a youth pastor role at Parks Crossroads Christian Church in Ramseur, NC. I served as the youth pastor for nearly six years before transitioning to the senior pastor role where I served for nearly three years. After resigning as pastor of Parks Crossroads, God led me to Journey Church in Asheboro, NC where I am currently serving. My primary responsibilities are leading the young adults and outreach ministries. God has blessed Hannah and me with three beautiful children – Camden (seven years old), Ava (four years old) and Rhett (two years old).
God prepared me and led me to where I am today through many adversities that I am continually thankful for. Adversity comes in so many different forms - financial, relational, physical, mental, emotional, etc. and God has taught Hannah and me through adversity to depend deeply on Him and to be ever mindful of how desperate we are for Him.
When Hannah and I began to serve in full-time ministry, it was a surreal feeling. I could not believe that I was able to make my living teaching people about Jesus and preaching His word. I loved being in ministry! Three weeks into serving as youth pastor, we were having VBS. One night during the week, a young man named Chad came to the church completely strung out on drugs. I was made aware of the situation and came outside to speak with him. As we talked, he explained to me that he heard voices telling him to kill people. As our conversation continued, he explained to me that the voices wanted him to punch me in the face! Although I gained a lot of valuable training from Bob Jones University, I unfortunately never took any classes on how to exorcise demons or respond to people making threats to kill in a church full of kids! That was a new one for me. God graciously protected everyone in that situation. An officer who attended our church at the time was able to come in quietly and he tactfully convinced Chad to ride with him to a facility to receive help. I was heartbroken to learn a few months later that Chad had committed suicide. That entire experience took me from what I knew all of my life growing up in a Christian home, attending a Christian school, and attending BJU to a deeper realization that people are hurting and need healing that they will only find in Jesus. I needed to go deeper than just knowing. I needed to do more than just teach Bible stories to teenagers. I needed to engage life with them in order to point them to Jesus. Discipleship is all about relationship that connects to the heart. God began shaping me through that experience to seek heart connection above exciting programs.
About nine months after Hannah and I were married, Hannah’s mother, Jan, who was battling cancer, had taken a drastic turn for the worse. Hannah had been back home with her family for a couple of days and called to tell me that I needed to come quickly because her mother was not going to live much longer. My two-hour drive to Rocky Mount was the longest two hours of my life. Jan had been like a second mother to me. The very day I met her, she made me feel like I was a part of her family. She made everyone feel like part of her family. She was such a dear lady and a dear friend. I sat beside her bed as she took her last breath, and the pain of that moment stung so deeply. Walking through the death of a dear loved-one will measure your faith in Jesus like nothing else. It produces hard, vulnerable, raw emotion that will either lead you closer to Jesus or further trapped in bitterness. The months following were hard, to say the least. Hannah and I had to wrestle with deep spiritual struggles that we didn’t even know existed until we were taken down that path.
Over time, I began to find myself very discouraged in youth ministry. The ministry wasn’t really growing—we were not seeing people getting saved or even excited about spiritual things. At this point in my life I really began questioning my calling. Hannah and I began seeking God in prayer for direction, and after about three months, God called our pastor to a different ministry and led me to become lead pastor of Parks Crossroads. I was scared. I was not sure I was ready to be a lead pastor because I always viewed myself as a “two guy.” My thought was that I could play the support roles well, but to be the leader? Again, I was scared. Funerals scared me. Weddings scared me. I was so nervous the first time I led communion. It was a train wreck of clanging and banging metal dishes. I even got snagged on the table cloth at one point and nearly pulled all of the elements off the table! On my very first Sunday as lead pastor, following the message, the first person that spoke to me was a lady in tears that told me her husband left her the night before. Three weeks later, a dear friend of ours lost her husband and asked me to officiate the funeral. I had never felt so alone in my life! Hannah was always right by my side supporting me, and many people were a comfort and counsel to me through the difficulties; but I was still overwhelmed by a feeling of loneliness. God quickly brought me to a place where I realized how desperately I needed Him. But He also taught me in those moments that He was enough. He lovingly broke me down to places of great weakness in order to build me His way.
The next three years as pastor of Parks Crossroads was an incredible mix of joys, trials, and growth. It was a joy to minister to the loving and generous people at Parks Crossroads. They took such good care of my family. It was a joy to preach the Word every Sunday. Spending deep hours in prayer and study was feeding my soul like never before. I quickly found that even though funerals were heavy and certainly never fun, there was a joy of going deeper with families and forming stronger bonds with them as we walked through difficult pathways together. As more trials surfaced, prayer became a priority in our church. I learned quickly that a church that prays is a threat to the enemy. When threatened, the enemy fights harder. But the enemy has no weapon that can overcome the Holy Spirit. In the midst of our war against darkness, some internal friction came to the surface over some traditions that were being challenged. Some were ready to move forward with our vision to worship God, build relationships and point people to Jesus, while others desired to hold fast to traditions that were keeping us from fully going after that vision. There was nothing sinful in nature about the traditions of the church, but what began to become apparent at the leadership level was a difference in vision. God began to show me that our traditions were becoming strongholds that were holding us back, and as the traditions were challenged, there was pushback. If there is not unified vision among leadership, there will inevitably be division in the organization. Therefore, God made it clear to me that it was time for me to move. I did not want to create unnecessary strife in God’s church; but I also could not stay confined to a ministry that was pulling in a different direction than God had convicted me to lead. I love Parks Crossroads Christian Church, and the people remain dear friends of mine. God led me through those challenges to grow me and deepen my faith in His leading.
Through these difficult days of transition, God led my family to Journey Church where I have served since October 2021. I have found great joy in the leadership roles God has allowed me to serve, and I am confident that He will continue to lead me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. I have also learned that the paths of righteousness always find route through the valley of the shadow of death; but when I remain close to Jesus, I find my life in perfect peace. When I follow Jesus, I am always right where I am supposed to be. I would not trade the adversities He has allowed me to experience for anything, because in my weakness, He shows Himself strong.
Drew Williquette, Children's Pastor at First Baptist Church (Glen Este, OH)
I look back at the last few months in awe of where God has taken us.
It was just a few months ago that I was a senior at Bob Jones University. I was working on finishing a degree in Bible and trying to prepare for whatever was after college.
On top of that, I was planning to get married, serving in a local church and in a student leadership position on campus. I was completely overwhelmed but excited at the same time. I knew I would be walking across the graduation stage soon and taking the next step into the future. What I knew then but didn’t always see was that God was preparing me through everything I was doing at BJU for what I’m doing today.
Every major experience I was involved in during my time at BJU—whether it was society sports, leadership positions on campus, dorm relationships, or church involvement—were all crucial in shaping me to do everything that I do now.
So, what do I do now and how do those experiences shaped me?
Simply put, the mindset which was formed while attending BJU has shaped my ministry perspective in so many ways. The emphasis that was put on hard work, perseverance, and most importantly a careful understanding of what the Bible says and how to live it out are things that I learned the most clearly during my time at Bob Jones that I’ll take with me forever.
I learned these and these taught me. I understood these because they were taught to me in classrooms, and I understood these because they were ingrained to me through experiences during my four years of college. Although it was extremely difficult at times, I wouldn’t trade any of it.
Today I have the privilege of serving as children’s pastor at First Baptist Church of Glen Este, Ohio. It has been an incredible journey of God’s grace in bringing my wife and I here and giving us an opportunity to serve parents and 3 to 12-year-old kids. We spend most of our days now planning activities for kids, prepping Sunday school or junior church lessons, holding meetings with our children’s ministry workers, and communicating the direction of our children’s ministry to parents.
Again, it is all the Lord’s working through those situations so glory to Him, but I can’t help but be very thankful for my time in school and how God used every situation to shape my life and prepare me for my calling into full-time ministry.
My challenge to you—freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and even seniors—is to never give up. We should always be growing, always be learning and looking for ways to improve for the glory of God and to be used by Him in whatever way possible. Never give up! Persevere through the difficult times in college because there will be blessings down the road, but also remember that we’ll never “arrive” until we get to heaven.
Just because I have had the opportunity to go through college and now get to serve God in full-time ministry at a local church does not mean I have arrived. It just means I need to work even more to learn and grow in this position that God has given to me. He has given this position to me as a steward for His glory and learn how to better serve Him and others.
What a privilege!
One thing that drives me is to remember that whatever I do and whatever happens, I must do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31 says “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God”. It is this verse that drives me in ministry, and it should drive every Christian as they seek to find and do the will of God for their lives—as they seek to do what God has specifically given them to do.
Drew Williquette is the children’s pastor at First Baptist Church of Glen Este, Ohio. He has served in this capacity since June of 2019. He and his wife Jenna love serving the parents and children at First Baptist. You can read about their children’s ministry through the blog “Kids Korner” at http://fbcge.org/kids-korner/.
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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.