Here’s what I see very often in students that come out of church youth group ministries:
(Thankfully, many youth groups in today’s local churches are increasingly breaking this perception, but more often than not, I still experience as a college pastor that I have to do a lot of deprogramming of students from this mindset.)
These young men and women grew up in the church and have been taught their entire lives that the center of Christian life is the local church. This is what they have been taught: God’s purpose for them as Christians is to be witnesses for Christ in the world, to share the love and grace of Jesus to those around them in order to create opportunities to those in the world to accept Jesus as their savior from the world, assuring them of their place in heaven one day. This world is evil, full of temptation and sinful behavior. This world is passing away; what is eternal is the great and wonderful promise of heaven in the future. In the meantime, God calls each person who receives salvation from this world into the local church, where they will hear the preaching of the Word of God and His message of salvation, where they will gather to worship God, and where they will serve the purposes of Christ’s church – to be the beacon of light in a dark and evil world.
Then there comes this rub: When someone hits 17 years of age, a Junior or Senior in High School, they start to get a competing message from their parents. It sounds like this: We must find a good college for you to attend. You must prepare for a career that will be both fulfilling and will provide a good income for you and your future family. If you want all that the American Dream offers, you must get into the right school and pursue the right career. And, oh, by the way: the more money you make the more you will be able to give to the church and to missionaries. That’s the good news of pursuing your degree! Don’t forget God in this!
But also, there is bad news: Those professors at college are out to steal your faith away. When you are away at college, you must protect yourself from the world – you must get involved in a campus ministry and/or a local church. Don’t let that nasty University teach you the ways of the world. Remember to have your quiet time each day. And ask for opportunities to witness to those on you dorm floor. After you read your Bible in your dorm room, be sure to leave it open on your desk as a testimony for your roommates. Perhaps you will be able to invite some of them into your campus ministry or your church, and save them, as well, from the fallenness of the University.
So I meet students that see their Christian mission while at college to create a Youth-Group-type-of-ministry on campus, something cool that will provide opportunities for them to worship and learn the Bible. Something that will serve as both a shelter from the evil university in which they find themselves, and a place to invite those who are living in the evil world of the university so that they can be saved from this institution of the evil world.
And then I show up in their lives, and we start to talk. I ask them to contemplate a new paradigm. What if the goal of Christianity is not simply to escape the evil of this world (especially that which they teach us here at this university) and to get to heaven when we die? What if the purpose of the church and of Christian fellowship is more than just being a shelter from the evil world, or a place to worship and Bible study, or the mediating place where people can come and meet God so that they too can go to heaven one day?
What if we shake up this notion that the world is a dark and evil place and the church and heaven is the bright and glorious place? What if God loves his creation, so much so that he cares about all that we do, including our studies in college and our careers after we graduate? What if God is more interested in the redemption of all things on earth rather than our escape from all things on earth?
What if the purpose of Christian fellowship and church is to be the united body of Christ, doing what he has always been doing: making all things new? What if he wants us to love Him so much that we intentionally place all things under his Lordship, including our major at college? What if God wants us to glorify him in our career, to see our work as full-time Christian ministry? What if we rid ourselves of the notion that the only Christian ministry happens in the confines of what we have experienced as “church?”
What if God is calling us to see ourselves as participating with Him in bringing redemption to the very sphere of influence in our career that he will be placing us, bringing God’s Kingdom to bear on that?