Have you ever received counsel that changed the course of your life? If you have, that moment is forever sketched into your memory. My life-changing counsel came fifteen years ago from my pastor as a high school graduate preparing to leave home and begin college.
While discussing the challenges of transitioning into college, I told my pastor that I was glad one of the challenges was not finding a new church. I loved my church and was only going to be two hours away. My plan was to come home on the weekends and still be in the church I loved.
“Cary, as much as our church would love to have you here, it would benefit you more to be plugged into a church close to campus. Join a local church as you transition into college.”
I had no idea how powerful those words would be fifteen years later as I reflect on all the benefits that have come from being in a local church during my college years. Each time I read Paul’s words to speak the truth in love in Ephesians, my conversation with my pastor that day comes to mind (Ephesians 4:15). Though his statement hurt me initially, it was the most loving counsel he could have given me.
The benefits of church membership last a lifetime in any season of life. The benefits of church membership in college, however, are different in that they provide once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to impact those in a particular church that bring life-long joys to God’s people.
Join a Church for Your Sanctification
The items to be checked off of the to-do list are many as the new college year draws near. There is much to consider in registering for classes, selecting dorm room furniture, buying textbooks, etc. In the midst of all these tasks, have you considered how God wants to grow you in godliness with His people? Paul told Timothy that “bodily training is of some value, but godliness is of value in every way” (1 Timothy 4:8). The same could be said to the value of education in light of the eternal value of godliness.
One of the ways God will sanctify you in a church is by using people of all ages in your life. When the Bible speaks of God’s adopting love, it certainly reminds us of His great love for us in Christ (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6-7) but it also speaks to our being joined to His family. Being joined to a local church reminds us that his family is much larger than the college campus.
Join a Church to Disciple the Future College Student
One of the great blessings that comes from church membership during college is the opportunity to disciple future college students. Whether you are getting ready for your first or final year of college, you only live in the trenches of college life once. The challenges and temptations you experience can become overwhelming.
What would it look like if you shared with next year’s college student how God is conforming you more and more into the image of His Son amidst the struggles in college (Romans 8:29)? As John Piper notes, “As we are conformed to the image of Christ, He is made more and more the center of all things.” As Christ becomes the center of your life in college, your local church can become the means that God uses to transform next year’s college student as they prepare to enter the trenches of college life.
Join a Church for Your Future Joy
Campus ministries like Reformed University Fellowship or Baptist Collegiate Ministries are wonderful opportunities to live out your faith during college. One of the greatest benefits they offer is connecting college students so that they can sharpen each other in their pursuit of Jesus (Proverbs 27:17). While these ministries have great value on college campuses, they cannot provide the kind of lasting benefit that a church can in giving you opportunities to pour out your life for the cause of the gospel.
These causes for the gospel may include:
- Visiting widows and orphans in their affliction (James 1:27)
- Hospital visitation
- Leading Bible studies for high school retreats
- Praying with the dying
- Helping a family with foster children
As I reflect on my church during college, I am filled with joy as God used each of these ministries to help me see my own need for Christ as I saw others wholly dependent on Him. Even today, fifteen years later, many of the people I met from these ministries call or email me unexpectedly to encourage me or pray for me during a difficult season of life.
The purpose for any Christian to join a local church is that they might be more deeply satisfied in Christ within the community of faith. Since its inception, God has used the Church to reveal His purposes to the world. As you consider a church in college, God will draw near to you by His grace as He uses His people to deepen your joy in Him—a joy that will far surpass your four years in college.
 John Piper shared this quote in the Look at the Book episode “Conformed to the Image of Christ”, accessed at https://www.desiringgod.org/labs/conformed-to-the-image-of-christ.