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.
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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.