WHAT IS THE CHURCH
Many college students and college ministry staff say they love Jesus but hate the church. But Jesus did leave us an organization, the local church.
Matthew 16:18-19 is the key passage on the church. Christ says He will build an assembly of His forgiven people and that He will give its leaders authority.
Three things distinguish a church:
1. The Bible must be preached. If this was the only criteria then a college ministry could call itself a church, but there are other Biblical requirements.
2. The sacraments, baptism and the communion must be done. Baptism ideally occurs once. Communion is repeated. We need to SEE the word preached through water, bread and wine. If only preaching made a church, then any Bible study could be a church. Baptism shows who is let into the fellowship of the church as a member that is now accountable to the elders. The Lord’s Supper is given to those members in right standing with the church.
3. Church discipline must be practiced. The church’s willingness to potentially put someone out of membership is a key of this practice. Discipline is the process of putting some people who continue in sin out of the church to show they aren’t truly part of the church. (John 2:19) They can come to church, but can’t take communion. The goal is that the individual stuck in sin will see their sin, admit it, repent and be forgiven.
YOU NEED THE CHURCH
The Bible assumes church membership. Matthew 18:15 and 1 Corinthians 5 both discuss the possibility of being put out of church fellowship. This assumes that there is such a thing as local church membership because the one being put out of fellowship can be released from those privileges.
Two main reasons:
1. Solid Teaching
It is best to have a man of God with unique gifts of the Spirit to teach His people the depths of the Bible. It is a safeguard against all false teachings. (Ephesians 4:11-14)
You need the Sacraments. These are the visible, spiritual sermons where your soul is spiritually blessed and fed in a special way. (1 Corinthians 11:20-34)
You need real fellowship from peers and mentors who will encourage and rebuke you.
You need spiritual authority to look after your soul and come after you if you persevere in sin. It is a comfort to have this safety net if you ever go astray. Pastors and elders in the church are appointed to do this with a level of spiritual authority directly entrusted to them.
THE CHURCH NEEDS YOU
Don’t be selfish in your search for a church. You have something to offer. (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14) Spiritual gifts are given to all Christians to build up the body of Christ.
CHOOSING A CHURCH
1. Take a few months to visit churches. Ask trusted Christians where you should visit. Go to as many churches as you can. Visit Sunday morning and night, Sunday school, Wednesday night, etc.
Here’s what to look for:
A. What does the church believe? How well do they teach the truth? Is the Bible the final authority?
Do they believe ...
…in one true God, existing in three persons?
…all mankind are born dead in their sins?
…Jesus is fully God and fully man and the only way to salvation?
…salvation is by grace alone through faith alone?
Are you being fed spiritually by upfront preaching, Sunday school and Bible studies? Is the teaching changing your life?
B. Do the elders lead the church according to the Bible, practice church discipline and take the Sacraments seriously? This won’t seem to matter until a crisis comes, but then it will matter supremely. Some churches have no clear way to make decisions, so when there are controversies, it can destroy the church.
C. Is there a place to get fellowship and accountability?
D. Is there a place for you to be involved and serve and minister, even if it is small?
E. Is there a commitment to evangelism and discipleship?
F. If all those five things are truly in place, you can choose the final distinguishing factors of the best church for you. You may decide the style of the worship service is the next deciding factor. The point is that if you find two churches who really have all the first five things listed above, then you can decide what the final distinguishing quality will be based on your preferences and stage of life. But if those secondary things become most important, you are not making a Biblically based decision.
G. In all of the above you should be thinking of not only what would minister to you, but also what would best minister to the college students you are ministering to. Hopefully many of the students you lead on the campus will end up attending church with you as well.
2. When you think you find the best church, meet with the pastor and ask questions about theology and church government, elders and discipline.
3. See if you can find a Sunday school class or small group that you can connect with and get real, life changing fellowship.
4. Go through the church’s membership class if they have one.
5. Ideally, you should’ve joined a church within 6 months of reading this article if you are a Christian. Quit church hopping and shopping and prayerfully commit to one. This is a sin many students commit, but some college ministers can be guilty of as well.
SUPPLEMENTING THE CHURCH
Find the best church you can and make the most of it. You expect the church to do all they can to minister to you and thus you should do all you can to make yourself available and soft hearted to be ministered to. A mature believer can often worship with terrible music whereas an immature believer cannot. Because the mature believer is so hungry for God and forgiving of people’s weakness that they can meditate on the deep truth of the hymn and thereby worship and experience God. This is an important perspective to teach those students under your care as well.
1. If you aren’t getting fed enough by the preaching, get some good preaching podcasts by Tim Keller or John Piper.
2. If you can’t find accountability or mentoring, get it from someone outside the church.
If you are a college minister, you should do all you can to be actively involved in a local church and encourage your students to do the same.