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John Calvin puts forward a very simple reason why love is the greatest gift: “Because faith and hope are our own: love is diffused among others.” In other words, faith and hope benefit the possessor, but love always benefits another. In John 13:34–35 Jesus says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love always requires an “other” as an object; love cannot remain within itself, and that is part of what makes love the greatest gift.
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Greek life, intramural sports, and midterms. The daily rhythms of attending (or skipping) classes, sipping a hazelnut latte in the library, dressing up for yet another sorority event. The late-night trips for greasy tacos, the multiple campus-ministry Bible studies, and the Saturdays packed with college football. During the four years of college, life seems to be about you. Do what you want, when you want, with whomever you want.

And if the weekday schedule isn’t spontaneous enough, Sunday mornings can be more self-directed than the cafeteria’s salad bar: Attend any church in the area for any service with any group of friends.

My college church involvement prioritized low commitment with high comfort, and I’m not the only Christian with this experience. This semester, many students will likewise attend various churches (or skip worship altogether).

Sunday mornings can be more self-directed than the cafeteria’s salad bar: Attend any church in the area for any service with any group of friends.

But even though college can feel like it’s all about you, and this attitude can shape our church attendance, Scripture compels college students to be meaningful members of a local church.

Let’s consider a few gospel-drenched exhortations for both college students and churches.

College Students, Submit to (and Serve) a Local Church

Seek out a Bible-believing, gospel-proclaiming church and become a committed member. After all, you likely have faithfully pledged yourself to multiple honor societies, intramural teams, and social clubs. So why wouldn’t you faithfully commit as a meaningful member of the local church?

Christians are called to a disciplined life (1 Tim. 4:7–10). Just as you pursue academic disciplines culminating in a scholarship-worthy GPA, you should pursue disciplines that fuel growth in godliness. One such discipline is membership in the local church. The shepherding and teaching of its godly elders will have a greater impact on your wellbeing than anything in your college classroom.

Once you have found a church, don’t just occasionally attend; sacrificially serve. Hold babies, greet visitors, tithe monthly, serve wherever needed.

Church, Love (and Serve) College Students

Christians are called to discipleship. Consider what discipleship of college students within your church looks like. Do you have someone on staff thinking about college students? Do you invite college students to join multi-generational small groups? Do you have a college ministry or church outreach?

Or maybe you see a row of sleepy-yet-caffeinated college students in service. If so, introduce yourself, invite them to join you for lunch, and look for their group next Sunday morning.

Many students feel like outsiders, especially when a church doesn’t have a strong college ministry. So intentionally pursue those students in your midst. And while many of them attend one or more campus ministries, don’t leave discipleship up to these ministries. They can’t replace the local church.

Your investment in college students matters. Many students find themselves entangled in sin and engrossed in the world. Seek their good through intentional ministry. And as you serve them, seek opportunities to call these students to serve others. 

Maybe a group of students can serve with the youth group or accompany the singing in worship. Perhaps they can help stack chairs after service or assist with the lighting and sound. Invite them to join you as you serve. Remember, you’re an example of and an encouragement to gospel faithfulness for the college students in your midst.

All of Us, Pursue Faithfulness

As you confidently don your school colors this Saturday, remember you’re clothed in Christ, called to faithfulness. The gospel compels us to surrender, to lay down preferences and comforts for the sake of the Kingdom. And while the college cafeteria’s salad bar or your social media feed beg for self-focused consumption, the local church instead beckons your faithful commitment. Where the world shouts self, the Word summons self-denial. It is this gospel that calls all believers to meaningful membership in the local church.

Your identity and purpose for the kingdom matter more than any college degree, social club, or work deadline. Our identity wraps itself up in our affections. Our greatest loves and desires shape how we define our identity. So while we might be cheering for a game-day victory, we must remember the greatest banner we carry—the gospel.

And where college allegiances create competition, the gospel compels us to walk in unity: to link arms with our brothers and sisters for kingdom faithfulness. Whether you’re a college freshman or annual alumni donor, the call to submit to and serve the local church remains consistent. The church is simply incomplete when the people of Christ aren’t committed to one another.

Think of the beauty of a flourishing church: a college student passing out bulletins next to a retired firefighter and the timely ministry of a elder’s wife to a group of sorority ladies before service. The local church is a window into the glory of the future church – the pure and committed worship of all believers from every background, ethnicity, and college. May our churches reflect this future kingdom.

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