My college years were some of the most spiritually formative years of my life.
College was where I first gave my life to Jesus, first felt called to ministry and learned so much about what it means to love and serve God and others. It’s where I attended my first Bible study, went on my first mission trip and first shared my testimony publicly.
I was heavily involved in my campus ministry, surrounded myself with Godly friends and mentors and worshiped God with my brothers and sisters in Christ on a regular basis.
But for most of my college years, there was an important part of following Jesus that was missing. I remained unconnected to a local church.
I would go to church almost every Sunday, but I bounced around from church to church, depending on where my friends wanted to go.
It wasn’t until my senior year, when I interned at a church, that I realized what I had been missing for three years: a connection to the local body.
I fully support campus ministries. It was because of campus ministries that I came to know Jesus as my Lord and Savior. There is immense eternal value in being a part of a community of fellow college students who love and serve Jesus.
But being a part of a church body can enrich a college student’s spiritual life in so many ways.
Here are just a few ways being connected to a local church in my college years helped me grow in my relationship with Christ and others.
Before connecting to a church, I had no relationships with people from different generations than my own.
By being a part of a local church, I was able to meet people who were in different stages of life than I was. I was able to spend time with them, learn from them and grow with them.
While it’s comforting and encouraging to have relationships with people who are the same age and in the same life stage, I firmly believe that God does powerful ministry in multigenerational relationships.
I have gained so much wisdom, joy and perspective in getting outside my generational comfort zone, and connecting to a local church gave me a great platform to do that.
Some of the most impactful relationships I have are with people who are 10, 20, even 50 years older than I am. Still more are with people 10 or 20 years younger than I am.
If there’s one thing most all college students have in common, it’s knowing the struggle of being a “broke college kid.”
Though I worked many part-time jobs in college, I was almost always on a “Ramen noodles for dinner” budget. Filling up my gas tank all the way was a luxury. Shopping at Goodwill became an art form.
However, being a part of a local church in college taught me the eternal value of tithing—giving the first 10% of my income back to God through my church body.
Scripture says that everything on this earth belongs to God, and everything we have is given to us by Him. In the Old Testament, specifically in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, God instructs His people to give back to Him a portion of the income He has given them.
In the New Testament, Jesus and his disciples reinforce this truth. Giving back to God a portion of what He has already given is an act of trust in Him.
No matter how small my paycheck was, God was, and still is, always able to do more with my 90% than I could do with my 100%.
Living generously is not excluded to tithing 10% of your income to church; it’s a lifestyle of seeing your finances as tools to further God’s Kingdom. But tithing to your local church is a great place to start.
Acts 2 speaks of the local church this way: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (Acts 2:44-45).
Partaking in communion
While there are many campus ministries that conduct worship services and offer communion, I didn’t have an opportunity to take communion outside of church. While I took communion when it was offered when I went to church, there was something very special to me about being able to take communion with people I considered to be my church family.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul explains the purpose of the gift of communion or The Lord’s Supper.
“For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
When my church’s pastor would talk about why we take communion, I would look around the room at everyone else participating with me. They weren’t strangers, but people who lived life alongside me. And getting to remember my commitment to Jesus by taking communion alongside them also reminded me of the commitment I made to love and serve them as my church family.
Serving in the church
When I finally connected to a local church body, the first thing I did was find a place to serve.
I served in the preschool ministry, and it was such a sweet blessing.
I got to tell little ones how much God loves them. I saw the Holy Spirit at work, even in children who couldn’t read or write their names. They taught me so much about obedience, forgiveness, joy and imagination.
I was also able to build relationships with parents and provide a space for them to go to a church service, free from distractions.
Though I only served one semester, God used that time to teach and equip me for future service in other ministries, including the ones in which I am involved today.
I can confidently say I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for God’s work in the local church and my participation in it.
I encourage anyone in college or considering college away from home to connect to a local church and see just how much God can do.
Bailey Foxworth is assistant editor of The Southeast Outlook.