Where to go to college? That’s a big question facing many teens today.
Our culture places huge importance on a college education, and the college years are often a time when many grow tremendously in their faith.
Choosing whether or not to attend college in the first place is a major decision to consider.
But if you’ve decided going to college is the wisest choice for you, many more hard decisions are ahead. How many schools to visit? Where to apply? And most importantly — where to attend?
We can get all the advice we want about the best academic programs for our majors (if you’re looking at music schools, check this out), the best dorms, the best distance from home, the best size, the best parties, the best location, the best transportation, the best food, and even the best campus ministries.
Youth get advice about whether to attend a Christian school or not and how to make sure there is a strong Christian community on campus.
We visit millions of schools before applying (or a least before deciding) and try to find the “right fit.” But what if we’re missing something significant in our considerations? What if our growth in Christ during the college years could be even more tremendous? And what if there’s something more important than our own personal growth?
I think we are, I think it can, and I think there is.
God has already appointed a place for our primary spiritual growth to take place: the local church.
Yes, a campus ministry is a part of the church of Christ (the people are the church!), but there is something unique about the expression of the body of Christ in a local church: a community of believers submitting together to the leadership of a shepherd or shepherds and gathering to worship, hear the Word of God preached, share the Lord’s supper, and fellowship.
Even a strong campus ministry should not be a replacement for the local church. If you make it one, you’ll be missing out on a lot!
For one, the intergenerational aspect of a local body can benefit you tremendously. Sure, we can learn from our peers, but older, wiser examples are also important. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:17-20:
“If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
We need the diversity.
But as I alluded to earlier, there’s much more than our own personal growth involved. When we accept the gift of God in Christ and submit our lives to his authority, we’re joining something much larger than ourselves. And it’s not mostly about us. It’s mostly about God.
One way to glorify Him with our lives is to join the visible church and mark ourselves as belonging to His people. As we hear repeatedly throughout the New Testament epistles, a distinct characteristic of members of the body of Christ is love (Romans 12:10, Hebrews 13:1, 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, 1 Peter 1:22-23, 1 Peter 3:8-9).
Getting plugged in with the local church will involve much more than attending a service Sunday morning.
If we are really seeking full integration into the body of Christ, involving both what we can receive and what we can offer, it seems that we should consider a church to attend when we’re deciding where to go to school.
It appears to me like we often think of ourselves as primarily college students who happen to be Christian (so we do the Christian college thing) instead of as primarily Christians who happen to be in college.
So often we choose a church as a second thought. We move to a new town because of a school or a job, and upon arriving, look for a decent church where we can grow and serve.
But what if that was the biggest priority? What if we chose where to go because of a church instead of chose a church because of where we went?
I strongly encourage you to visit churches, not just colleges, when considering where to attend. Let that be one of the deciding factors.
I realize it’s hard to visit more than one church in an area without being there for an extended period of time (unless they have services at different times). Make use of the resources available to find out about churches and visit the one(s) that look(s) most promising.
Christian colleges and campus groups might provide a list of churches in the area, and there’s always the internet. If you have personal connections, that’s even better! Ask your current pastor if he has any connections or recommendations.
When you have found a church, get plugged in! College is so busy that it’s easy to go to church on Sundays, slip in and out, and never get to know people — or just plain skip church to sleep in or do homework.
I encourage you to make the effort to really become a part of the local expression of the body of Christ. Talk to people. Meet families. Start serving. Accept lunch invitations. Join a home group!
You might be surprised, but I would actually encourage this even at the expense of being regularly involved in a campus ministry. Do both if you can! But make church a priority.
(I encourage you to read all of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 if you get a chance too!)
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