Written by Kathryn Toombs
It is Sunday morning.
You are sitting in church, and the sermon has just ended. The pastor is closing in prayer, and even as you try to focus, your thoughts wander. You have already started to think about what you are going to do for lunch, what you have to do that day and what your schedule holds for the next week. Before you know it, the prayer has ended and you are gathering your things to leave, even though you mentally walked out the door 10 minutes ago.
As you exit the building, your eye catches the pamphlets and fliers tacked on bulletin boards announcing ministry and life group opportunities. You half-heartedly glance at them, reassuring yourself that at some point, when life slows down and you have more time, you will get involved. For now, you are going to church regularly, and that is enough.
We find a church that we love, and decide to stick with it. We go to church every Sunday morning, check it off our to-do list, and leave without a second glance.
Being part of a church far exceeds sitting in the sanctuary every Sunday morning. In order to obey God’s calling in 1 Corinthians 12:12 and become one body in Christ, we need to do more than just show up on Sunday mornings. Investing in a church body is our responsibility as believers, and a practice that is often overlooked. If we are truly seeking to glorify the Lord in all we do, we need to get involved with a church, get to know the people and look for opportunities to minister. We need to be unafraid to take a leap of faith, and plunge into our local community of believers.
A church-going habit
According to a recent poll conducted by The Point magazine, 78 percent of the 100 Biola students surveyed attend the same church regularly. Of this group, only 43 percent volunteer with their church outside of Sunday mornings. As encouraging as it is to note the high percentage who consistently attend the same church, as believers, we are called to not only commit to a church body, but to invest in one as well. Lisa Igram, associate dean of spiritual development at Biola, urges students that now is the time to invest.
“I think it’s important for college students in particular to develop the habit now of being a part of a church community,” says Igram. “This community is only going to last four or five years, and if we don’t get into that habit now, it’s going to be all the harder when this community has fallen away to stick with what [Scripture] is commending us to – to not give up meeting together.”
In order to actively invest in a church community, we need to first rid ourselves of the consumer mentality that has infiltrated our culture. Our entire society is built around the worship of self, and the idea that everything in our lives should cater to our exact needs. If something does not fit perfectly, we move on. This tendency is heightened in young adults, and is a habit that we bring to every area of our lives, including church attendance. Although Igram acknowledges that a period of church exploration is important for students, she says that it is important to move past this phase and settle into a single community.
“I think that even though many students won’t stay in the area, building that muscle of committing to a place and sticking to it is incredibly important,” says Igram. “Sticking to a community that you have chosen to belong to, even if they’re not catering to your specific need in that specific moment, is vital for spiritual growth.”
Church is not about me
Our culture has led us to believe that the world revolves around our individual needs and casts a negative light on self-sacrifice and serving others. It is true, we are all looking for a church that ministers to us specifically. However, we must keep in mind that there is no perfect church. Maddie Gettings, a junior Bible major and active member at Rancho Santa Maria Church, agrees that part of being a believer and a member of a church body is learning to persevere alongside your fellow believers through both difficult and joyous times.
“Church is babysitting for new parents who are tearing their hair out because they haven’t had a date in a year,” says Gettings. “Church is weeping alongside your brothers and sisters at both a wedding and a funeral in the same weekend. Church is using what you’re learning at Biola to disciple children and students.”
Encouragingly, some students are doing exactly that. Arielle Leonard, a 2013 graduate and the current recruiting assistant for the apologetics program at Biola, is an active part of West Lakewood Church, and has been for the past five years.
Although Leonard did not immediately seek involvement in her church, as she started meeting more people and attending a young adult group, she gradually began to warm up to the idea of ministry. Leonard started to volunteer more in the church during the week and got involved with the worship team. The more she became involved, the more she began to see the importance of investing in a church, and the amount of spiritual growth that could be found in what some would see as the mundane.
Gettings is also a passionate believer in the power of the church community, and the importance of investing in the body of Christ as a college student.
“Church is working out your sanctification in a small group that has both elderly couples and toddlers running around with no pants on,” says Gettings. “A church is multi-generational and multi-cultural. Your church is your family. You just don’t get to experience that if all you know is your Biola community.”
Greg Stump, associate pastor at Redeemer Church, is of the same mind. He agrees that while campus community is important, it lacks the multi-generational interaction and leadership critical for spiritual growth and healthy relationships. The church body provides the invaluable growing and maturing opportunities to be both mentored by those who are wiser, and to disciple those who are younger.
Serving involves sacrifice
Although serving the church is immeasurably rewarding, students freely admit that committing time to volunteer is inevitably a sacrifice. Ben Crandall, a junior Biblical Studies major, notes that many times it can be time-consuming, tiring, and emotionally draining. Leonard and Gettings both concede that time they could have spent studying they have sacrificed to serve their church. Gettings adds, however, that although it may be a sacrifice, it is a worthy one.
“Yes, maybe I could get a little more sleep,” says Gettings. “Maybe I would get a little better of a grade and have a little more free time on my hands. But I believe that God is more glorified in my faithful service to his church than in the hours I could otherwise waste on Buzzfeed.”
Serving in the church body is not just a good way to put your Christian education into practice. The benefit of your investment in a church community extends far beyond you personally. By choosing to invest in a local church, you are being used by the Lord far more than you know.
Service that makes a difference
As college students, we often forget the influence we can have on a community. Alan Frow, senior pastor at Southlands Church, urges students to be more aware of the ways in which the church relies on college students. According to Frow, Biola students have made Southlands come alive in new ways, bringing renewed passion and a heart for justice.
“We need you,” says Frow. “We need your passion and different questions and theological thoughtfulness. I went back to seminary partially because of the Biola community. Biola students bring a love for people groups outside of the U.S. and a real sense of social consciousness.”
The beauty of serving is that there is no limit to the impact you can have. One day of volunteering, one conversation, one hug or one smile can have a tremendous ripple effect.
This does not mean that we should feel guilty or ashamed for not already being involved in our local churches.
This is meant to affirm us on the great journey we are undertaking as believers. Each day, we are learning to be true disciples of Christ, realizing new ways to serve, glorify and love him more. Now is the perfect opportunity for us to go out and use those skills.
Let’s get involved and stop treating church like a Sunday morning show, becoming givers rather than consumers. By witnessing life outside of campus, may we remember that the world extends far beyond the Biola community. As we pour out Christ’s love, may we witness the incredible ripple effect that can be created. Let’s be willing to sacrifice that extra hour of sleep, for we serve a kingdom that is not of this world and are working toward rewards greater than anything we could ever imagine.