Losing My Religion: Why College Students Must Plug into a Local Church
Young adulthood is a time spent on the move. Moving from home, moving to college, moving for a first job, moving to get married – it’s often a succession of adjusting to new places. That displacement can uproot a person from the foundation of the church. It becomes all too easy to deprioritize finding a local church body in the busyness of so many changes.
After graduating high school in the fall of 2011, I left my hometown of Lebanon, Tennessee and moved to Knoxville where I attended the University of Tennessee. I had grown up in church my entire life and called myself a believer. Yet, I distanced myself from church once at college and surrounded myself with people who did not seek Christ but rather lived the typical college lifestyle. This resulted in me living in rebellion to God for the next several years before the Lord grabbed ahold of my heart and led me back to Him. I can only imagine how my college years would have gone differently if I had plugged into a local church and found a biblical community. In this article, I want to help other young adults and college students see the dangers of isolating themselves, particularly when going off to college and removing themselves from the local church.
We know that the church described in Scripture does not refer to a building, but the people and family of God. The church can refer to one of two elements: the people of God throughout all time, and local churches or assemblies. We see the establishment of local churches in the New Testament, and many of Paul’s letters were directed at particular church bodies. There are certain aspects and commands in Scripture that we cannot possibly fulfill outside the context of a local church body. When we are saved, we are saved into the family of God and into the community of believers. We’re not adopted by God only to distance ourselves from His family.
Here are three reasons why it’s imperative to join a local church during college:
1. You can’t follow the commands of Scripture apart from the church.
There are three marks of the church that we see laid out in Scripture: the preaching and hearing of the Word of God, the administration of the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and church discipline or correction. We absolutely cannot fulfill these commands if we do not take part in church at all. And I would even say we cannot fulfill these commands if we are choosing to simply watch online. Sitting under the preaching of God’s Word by those whom God has equipped to pastor is vital to our spiritual life and growth. Partaking in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper are edifying to the body of believers and are to be done in the presence of others. Correction and accountability in the life of the Christian cannot possibly happen in isolation. We need others to help stir us up and encourage us to stand firm in the faith while also obeying the commands of Christ.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another 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.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
2. You need to be discipled and sharpened by others.
We need corporate worship. We need personal communion with God. But we also need a community where we can study the Word together, pray together, bear one another's burdens, and give spiritual guidance so we can “stir up one another to love and good works.” I can’t count the number of people in my life who have poured into me and helped me grow in my faith over the past 7 years. This typically happens in one-on-one discipleship or in the context of a community group. Discipleship and community are critical in not falling away from the faith in college. Find someone mature in the faith to pour into you, join a community group within your church, and don’t give opportunity for the flesh by being in isolation.
I’ve learned over the years that we become like the people we surround ourselves with. I’ve also heard it said that you are the average of your 5 closest friends. College is a time where the pressure of fitting in will be at an all-time high and you will also be bombarded with different worldviews and ideologies that will challenge your beliefs. So, I ask you: Who are you surrounding yourself with? Who are you becoming like? Don’t neglect biblical community as I did in college, because the consequences are dire.
3. You’re meant to build up the body of Christ.
Everyone has a role in the body of Christ. Serving, leading, teaching, and discipling is not reserved for pastors and “super-Christians.” The body of Christ is made up of different members and each has been given different gifts and passions to be used for the building up of the church. Far too many people think far too little of their role in the body of Christ. As Paul describes so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 12, each member is important, and each member is needed. If one member suffers, the entire body suffers (1 Cor. 12:26). So, I encourage you to build up the body you're in. Find a place to serve. Pour into the younger generation. Don’t withhold your gifts from the body of Christ.
Belonging to the body of Christ is important and if we are serious about our faith we will desire to be connected to His body. Distancing yourself from the church while in college is dangerous and has consequences that I have seen play out firsthand. Live out the commands of Christ and stand firm in your faith by joining a local church, connecting with a biblical community. Seek out others who desire to grow in Christlikeness and sharpen one another. Find a church that is serious about the Word of God, and where you will grow in your knowledge of Him. Invite others to join you in this journey as you build up the church through the gifts that you’ve been given - no matter where you’re planted.
Hunter is the Director of Young Adults Ministry at The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He is married to Cheyenne and has one child, Lofton.
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