Dear college student, go to church.
I don’t mean join a campus ministry. While campus ministries are a wonderful opportunity to grow in community with other believers at a similar stage of life, they do not replace attending a church. I don’t mean talk to Christian friends and family back home. Relationships with other believers are wonderful, but they do not replace attending a church. I don’t mean watch more sermons or listen to more Christian podcasts. Learning more about God is an excellent pursuit, but it does not replace going to church. I mean join a local body of believers in weekly worship. Whether or not you’re part of a campus ministry, keeping up with your church back home, watching sermons online, or listening to hymns, you need to go to church.
Participation in the church is not a legalistic obligation: God isn’t keeping records of your church attendance. Instead, the church is a gift from God. Believers are meant to encourage one another, meet together regularly, and stir one another up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). Scripture could not be clearer: We are not to neglect to meet together (Hebrews 10:25).
Nor is participation in the church a social obligation. We’re told that the early believers continually devoted themselves to fellowship (Acts 2:42). Fellowship isn’t Christianese for two believers hanging out: the Greek word translated here as “fellowship” literally means “partnership.” When we are in fellowship with other believers, we shoulder their burdens (Galatians 6:2). Elsewhere in Scripture, we’re told that believers are to pray with one another and confess their sins to one another (James 5:16), build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), and live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16). See the pattern? One another. Believers are meant to live in relationship with one another as well as with God.
Right now, you might be saying, “Well, I get all of that at my campus ministry. Isn’t that good enough?” First of all, I sincerely hope you do! I hope you and your fellow college students are building one another up and praying with each other, and I hope that blesses you and encourages you as it brings glory to God. But a campus ministry is not a church. The body of Christ isn’t made up only of 18- to 22-year-olds juggling midterms, internships, papers, and presentations. The body of Christ includes those people, of course, but it also includes grandparents, high school students, young moms, orphans, widowers, and toddlers. In his epistles, Paul writes to children and parents (Ephesians 6:1-4) as well as wives and husbands (Ephesians 5:22-33). Titus 2 is perhaps the best example of this: in the span of six verses, Paul addresses older men, older women, young women, and young men!
Not only is the church made up of people of different ages, it’s also made up of people of different backgrounds. Church isn’t only made up of people pursuing their bachelor’s degrees. It includes people with PhDs, GEDs, eighth-grade educations, and postdocs. It contains people who grew up ten minutes away and people from another country. It consists of people who were raised as Christians, people who believed in college, and people who came to faith at the age of forty-five. In short, the church is made up of people with different spiritual gifts, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, races, and ethnicities, all made into one body in Christ: “We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16).
Dear college student, God intended for you to worship him alongside people from all different backgrounds, of different ages, at different seasons in life. He intended for you to be under the leadership of pastors, to be accountable to other believers, and to serve as part of a larger body. He intended for you to have fellowship with people who may be totally different from you. And the church’s diversity is far from the only reason to participate. Unlike the church, campus ministries cannot administer sacraments, nor do they have the same kind of authority when it comes to arbitrating disagreements or even confronting unrepentant members. When you participate in the church, you submit yourself to its leadership, allowing yourself to be shepherded as you grow in your faith alongside your fellow heirs of God (Romans 8:17).
Dear college student, go to church. I promise you, it is worth far more than any lazy Sunday morning. As a member of a local church, I have learned hospitality and humility. I have learned what it means to partner with other believers. I have been nourished, week in and week out, by the preaching of the Word. And I know that these blessings are made possible by the sacrifice of Christ, our great and faithful High Priest (Hebrews 10:19-25). The Old and New Testaments represent the church as the bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7, Matthew 9:15, Isaiah 62:5). What a beautiful calling to be a part of!