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.
Isaac Perry, Ministry & Leadership Major
When I transferred to BJU as a Sophomore Ministry and Leadership major in the Fall of 2020, I had just begun to take my spiritual walk with Christ seriously. I knew the university would offer me plenty of opportunities to get personal, hands-on experience in ministry. I was excited for all the possibilities. However, one opportunity came unexpectedly through my society. About half-way through my first semester at BJU, I found out about the Epsilon Zeta Chi (Z) missions team. Z missions team is an opportunity for our society to take a trip to a city in the United States, support the church there, and spread the gospel.
Since EZX is a fairly large society, anyone interested in going on the trip applies, describing their salvation testimony, desires for going on the trip, and goals for growth through the experience. Last year was my first opportunity to travel with the missions team; and by God’s grace, myself and eleven other men from EZX applied and were selected for the team. Our team of twelve was composed of many different majors—Business, Biology, Education, Bible, and more. In other words, it was not just the ministry majors going out and spreading the gospel. Tentmakers and preachers joined arm-in-arm to testify to the gospel of the grace of God, just as God intended for the body of Christ.
My first experience on the Z missions trip was different than normal. As I am sure many of you can relate to, COVID-19 threw many wrenches into the plans that we were making. The typical Z missions trip happens over spring break, but not this one! This trip was pushed back to the first week of summer break. To make matters more interesting, our pre-planned destination was San Francisco, CA, one of the most restricted cities in the US at that time. While our man-made plans were being frustrated, we trusted that God knew exactly what He was doing. We trusted that in spite of changing regulations, difficult airlines and changing ticket prices, and many doubts and wonders, God would do what was best. Unsure of whether or not we would actually be able to go on this trip, we began to focus our hearts, study San Francisco and its people, and fundraise and dig into the preparation for the trip.
Perhaps one of the more overlooked aspects of missions trips is the preparation. Everyone on the outside of this particular trip only sees the seven-to-eight days that are actually spent on the trip, but our entire second semester was taken up with reading, team-building, and weekly meetings. Even though we were sure to get the necessary prep work done, we made sure to have a great time doing it. Getting to know the guys on the team better, seeing their hearts flourish with love for the gospel and for people, and experiencing the unity that only the gospel can bring are all memories that will last for a lifetime.
During our prep, we discussed particular goals from the very beginning that we believed God desired for us to have. The primary purpose of Z missions trips is to provide a vision so that men’s hearts would be burdened for the gospel. We want to expose the guys in society to the vast and always-growing need of the gospel. What greater goal can anyone ever have! There are a few different ways that this primary goal is functionally carried out.
First, the trip is designed to encourage our men to partner with local churches in urban contexts after graduation. BJU is a great place to be, but eventually we will all graduate, and new students will move into our old rooms. Our lives will move on from here and hopefully into churches around the world where we, with other believers, will engage to spread the gospel. By God’s grace, this trip will help EZX men become comfortable with and passionate for partnering with their local body of believers.
Secondly, we desire to use our talents and abilities to serve local churches. There are many ways that we do this, and with each different destination, there are different approaches. Often times, we clean around the church facilities or work with our hands. We always encourage the local body of believers where we are serving in any way that we can, as well. Perhaps EZX’s favorite, though, is through songs and the ministry of the Word in Sunday School and sermons.
Thirdly, we always schedule times to sit down with the pastors of the church that we are supporting in order to hear their philosophy of ministry, especially how their church effectively ministers to their specific demographic. This happens in either a formal classroom setting or a casual conversation over dinner. Either way, we consider learning from experienced pastors and ministers of the gospel extremely important. They have soaked in the Scripture for years and have seen many different situations and circumstances. Their experience is invaluable.
Lastly, one of the unstated goals of the missions trip is to create a bond among similarly minded men for the gospel. When twelve guys spend weeks together preparing for a specific goal of sharing the gospel in a certain place to a particular people, a different kind of unity is formed—one that only the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring. The friendships I gained continue today, and the brotherhood that was deepened only grows stronger as we see the lasting effects of our efforts for Christ.
Eventually, the preparation ends, and it’s time to pack up and head out for a week. Finally getting to San Francisco was incredible. The missions trip as a whole felt like a fast blur of ten days. From relationship building with the homeless in the poorest quarter of the city, to street evangelism in small groups, to helping the church clean up around its facilities; we were busy each day we were there. We spent much time under the wise and shepherding hearts of Pastor David Innes and Pastor Dan Pelletier, learning how to spread the gospel and care for the needs of a broken city and broken people.
Early mornings and late nights led to long days filled with encouraging conversations, opportunities for growth, and divine appointments with those in need of the gospel. I was personally under the assumption that the city of San Francisco would be filled with atheists and God-haters. They are there, but not how I imagined them to be. Many people I spoke to believe in some god: Hindu Pluralists, Muslims, and more. Preparing for and having these conversations challenged me to deeply dig into the Scripture to find out just Who the God of the Bible truly is.
By God’s grace, we had many good gospel conversations, speaking to seekers and believers. More than once, through lines of conversational-inquiring about what people believe, we found that God’s Word is true, that He has built His church, and that the gates of Hell will not prevail over it. At the end of it all, this missions trip gave me a much deeper burden for the lost and hurting, and it changed the way that I view the suffering and searching soul. I know each of the men that embarked on this journey with me felt the same way by the transforming power of the grace of God.
This spring break, the Z missions team will be heading to Logan, Utah to support the new church plant Gospel Peace. While certain nuances of our goals may shift depending on the place we go to serve, our God is unchanging and our primary goal remains the same—providing an opportunity to gain a burden for the lost. Would you pray for us as we prepare our hearts and fundraise, and would you pray for the hearts of those divine appointments that God has called us to; especially for the LDS community that is prevalent in this area of the United States? Our desire is to glorify God through sharing the gospel and supporting Gospel Peace; and by God’s grace, we will do just that.
Daniel Hudson, Seminary Student
Every semester, BJU sends out ministry teams to various churches throughout the Southeast and other parts of the US. I think we’re all familiar with some of these teams, especially as we see some in chapel on a regular basis. As students go out on the weekends, they encourage churches and represent the university to prospective students.
But not all prospective students.
Last year, Julie Aguilar, a graduate student in the seminary pursuing a Master of Arts in Intercultural Studies, noticed that an important demographic wasn’t being reached by the mission teams: Hispanic churches. Almost 17% of the U.S. population identifies as Hispanic, and Hispanic churches are easy to find not far from BJU and throughout the Southeastern United States. And of course, most Hispanics speak Spanish. Therein lies maybe one of the reasons that Hispanic churches haven’t received too many BJU ministry teams in the past—all BJU ministry teams were operating in English.
Julie herself comes from a Hispanic church, so she knows the opportunity for serving and recruiting the University could have among Hispanic and bilingual ministries. Seeing an opportunity, she put together the first Hispanic ministry team fall 2021 that visited two churches in South Carolina. This semester the team has doubled into two teams and is hoping to visit more churches in the greater area. Last semester I had the privilege of leading the team made up of Zane Johnson, Macy MacArthur, Josh Fox, Keila Cueto, and Gabriela Gonzalez.
Now, I have to clarify—I’m not Hispanic, and I grew up speaking English. But the ministry team is really for anyone who’s interested, though you do need to be able to speak Spanish. Some of our members are Hispanics from the US, some are from other Latin American nations, and some have learned Hispanic culture by choice. I fall into the last category—Spanish was my minor during undergrad.
For me, I was attracted to the team because I loved the vision—I had been praying for more ministry opportunities with my Spanish, and I was excited for opportunities to serve and lead. For others, it’s a matter of giving back—investing in the kind of churches they come from. For all of us, it’s an opportunity to serve the Lord with what we have. On a typical Sunday, we get up early, drive to the church, serve in Sunday School and kids programs, sing special music, share testimonies and preach the morning message. It’s definitely a stretching and rewarding experience. After the service, we spend some time eating with the teens and telling them about BJU.
Sending ministry teams out lets BJU connect with potential students and shows them that we don’t overlook the Hispanic population in the United States. I personally think it’s a great way of communicating that we are all the body of Christ, even coming from various countries, ethnicities, and language groups. The team members get practical experience serving in various churches and learn how to adapt fast in real-life situations. In the end, our greatest goal is to glorify Jesus Christ and encourage the church.
So, what can you do? Well, a lot really. Please pray for us that God will provide opportunities for ministry and bless us in it. We need prayers for safe travels, preparation for teaching and preaching, and grace to encourage and serve each church. If you come from a Hispanic church or know of one that would appreciate a ministry team from BJU, contact Julie Aguilar and we’ll find a time to visit. And if you speak Spanish yourself, contact Julie about possible opportunities to serve with us in the future. We’re excited to see how our team could grow in the future.
Two big lessons stand out to me from all of this: 1) develop what you have and realize everything about you is intentional in God’s plan, and the Lord will use you in ways you maybe can’t see now. Maybe you’re taking Spanish, and honestly, it’s just a program requirement to you. Whether it’s that, or any other class or skill you’re learning, realize that God has you there for a reason, and He can use those things for His glory. Don’t lose any of the opportunities He gives you! 2) Pray for ministry opportunities and God will give them to you. I had prayed about opportunities for a while, and then God opened up this door in a way I wasn’t expecting at all. When we give ourselves to the Lord, He will use us.
God has put us in a particular context—Greenville, South Carolina. And that context has specific people in it. Let’s be salt and light right here. Sometimes, that requires a little creatividad.
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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.