Our college years are transitional in lots of ways. In many cases, we’re still developing a worldview, still deciding what to believe about theological topics like predestination and free will, still discovering our callings, and still deciding where to live after we graduate. All of this can make a commitment to a local church feel a little premature. “I’m only here a few years, and then I’m moving on. What’s the use?” Good question. What are you missing out on when you’re not a member of a local church during your college years?
Reflecting the Committed Nature of God’s Love
When God loves, he commits. This is one reason why He chose marriage to illustrate Christ’s relationship with his church (Ephesians 5). What if I had said to my wife, “Honey, why do we have to have a wedding and get married? Our love doesn’t need a formal commitment!” God’s love commits. He is a covenant-making, covenant-keeping God. He gathers us together into local churches so we can express that same kind of committed love for each other. This committed love testifies to the world that we’re Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34–35).
In fact, if we say we’re committed to Jesus, then we must commit to His body, the church, because Jesus identifies Himself with the church. When Paul was persecuting the church, the Risen Christ didn’t come and ask him why he was persecuting the church. He asked, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4) When the church is persecuted, Jesus takes it personally. Committing to Jesus entails committing to His visible body—even in college.
Qualified Oversight of Your Soul
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” Those are leaders of local churches. The Bible assumes we all need godly church leaders to watch over us. Isn’t that especially true in college—getting our first taste of freedom, encountering new ideas? But how is it fair for church leaders to give God an account for your soul if you never let them know you want them to watch over you? The way you do that is by joining the church.
Now, of course, you probably have lots of friends in your campus ministry who care about you and who might confront you and try to keep you on the straight and narrow. Moreover, not all churches are equally healthy, so join wisely. But the biblical authority of qualified church elders, and their special accountability to God for those under their charge (1 Peter 5:3), gives them biblical warrant and heavenly motivation to care for the particular sheep in their flock. I didn’t seek that out in college, and it stunted my growth in spiritual maturity.
Opportunity for Growth in Spiritual Maturity
Making disciples of others, and growing to maturity as disciples ourselves, happens in local churches, because the Great Commission is designed to take place in the context of local churches. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them . . . ” Baptism is not merely a Christian ordinance. It’s a local church ordinance, like the Lord’s Supper.
And we’re baptized not simply into Christ individually, but into His body, corporately (1 Corinthians 12:13). What is true of our membership in Christ’s invisible body (the universal church) should be concretized and applied in our membership in his visible body, the local church. And once we’re baptized, we’re taught to obey all that Jesus commanded us (Matthew 28:19). That happens best in the committed context of a church family. Children become adults in concrete families with specific parents and siblings, not just as part of the universal human race. And the local church is a concrete family with spiritual fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. It’s where we grow to Christian maturity in the experience of family life together in the household of faith (1 Timothy 3:15).
Encouragement from Other Believers
Hebrews 10:24–25 says, “Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” When does all this stirring up and encouragement happen? When we meet together for church on the Lord’s Day! And we should meet together all the more as Christ’s return approaches. Student, now’s the time to learn how to be a church maximalist.
Paul tells the local church in Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). If you’re a Christian, then you’re a hand, an arm, a foot. But hands only function when attached to wrists. Arms only function when attached to shoulders. A hand or arm unattached to a particular body is not just useless. It’s grotesque. Peter’s temple metaphor suggests something similar: “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house . . . ” (1 Peter 2:5). Christian college student, you are a living stone.
Your purpose is not simply to lay on the construction site. You’ll only trip people there. Your purpose is to be cemented into a wall with other living stones to become part of a local, spiritual house where God inhabits the praises of his people. Local church membership is like the mortar that sticks you into a real temple wall, where you can proclaim Christ’s excellencies in committed love with other Christians (1 Peter 2:9), even if only for four years.
Relating as an Adult to Other Adults in a Local Congregation
If you’re a Christian student, then you will soon graduate, and the campus ministry will no longer be for you. But the church will always be for you. Campus ministry is good; but it’s not the normal context for the Christian life. The Bible gives that role to the local church. Christian college student, you are an adult. Now is the time to practice relating as an adult, to other adults, in a local church, because that’s where the Bible expects you to live your Christian life. And that’s how we grow—by learning from those who are further along than us.
Know and be known in the church, and not just with other students. When I was in college, I had (maybe) one friendship with someone who was not between 18 and 25. I’m now 44. Three of my dearest friends in our church are in their late-fifties and mid-sixties, another in his mid 40’s, and another is in his late 20’s. I could go on. One of the reasons God gathers us into inter-generational churches is to show the world that sharing Christ’s love transcends our personal differences and unites us even if we have nothing but Christ in common.
The church has authority to discipline its members in a way that your campus ministry does not (1 Corinthians 5:1-11). In that way, your membership in a church provides a far more authentic and real form of accountability than what your campus chapter of Cru or any other ministry can provide. The first step toward drifting from Christ is drifting from the local church as His family (Hebrews 10:24–25).
College students crave a home-cooked meal! And joining a local church doesn’t just mean you’re committing to care for them. It means they’re committing to care for you—like family.
Are you missing out?