Saturday, 27 September 2014

How should students consider their involvement in a church while away from home studying?

We at Sheffield Presbyterian Church have students at both Universities in Sheffield and so as a minister I get regular updates of student life on campus. It is amazing how many professing Christian churches can all compete with one another, each offering their "wares" and then promoting themselves as to why they are best suited to meet the needs of students. I wonder how many students are instructed by their parents or their home churches as to what to look for in a church and what their attitude should be to church attendance. Here are a few pointers.

For Students

1. Remember that Jesus said "I will build my church ..." (Matthew 16:18), therefore your involvement in a church while studying should be serious minded and not to be seen for your own convenience.

2. The Bible teaches how we should shape our work lives. The Fourth of the Ten Commandments explicitly instructs all people to "Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8-11). The Christian Sabbath is the first day of the week which is Sunday. This is a day for worship, for Christian fellowship and for rest from your work, such as essay writing, revising and time in the library. The Lord knows that our minds need mental refreshment, but more than that we are commanded to worship the Triune God. Therefore, excusing yourself that you cannot wake up in the morning is obviously an inadequate excuse for only attending the evening service of worship in the local church you commit to.

3. When considering a church, do not look for excitement or simply for a church where lots of other students necessarily go. Two crucial aspects to look for are the church's commitment to preaching sound doctrine, and a biblical and reverent approach to worship. All too often students look for the church with the biggest band which sing the coolest songs, but if that is our measuring rod, we really must "open our Bibles" and ask ourselves, "is that what Jesus instructed the church to do to make disciples?". There is the ever-present danger that worldliness enters the church and worldliness will not produce godliness.

For Churches with Students

1. It is good to be aware of the social needs of students who are away from home, ones who are perhaps away from home for the first time, but churches should not orient their programmes around student activities only. Students should be integrated into the normal life of the church and not treated with some special status.

2. Seek to encourage students to be involved in the Christian Union on campus and to play a positive role, while exhorting them to remember that their studies should not suffer with an unbalanced lifestyle.

3. Encourage students to get integrated with regular families and not only to congregate with fellow students at church.

I think that my own views as a minister are sometimes counter-cultural and out of step with the wider church, but we must think seriously about these matters, when as reformed churches we have a high view about the church. Paul wrote to the young Christians at Thessalonica: "but test everything; hold fast what is good" (5:21).

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