It’s that time of year when lots of students head off to University and a big concern for Christian students is whether or not they’ll survive with their faith intact. I’ve seen a few suggestions about how to make sure you get through University and these tend to include things like joining the Christian Union, telling others quickly that you are a believer, making sure that you set aside one day in seven to rest and commit to working hard for the other seven. These are generally good bits of advice. I’ve also seen encouragement to read your Bible and pray every day and even to ensure that you attend church twice on a Sunday.
I want to pick up on three of those bits of advice.
- Join the Christian Union
- Attend Church twice on a Sunday
- Read your Bible and pray every day.
These are three things that will work well and be helpful for some but they are not things that the Bible tells you to do. Now, that may be obvious for the first two but perhaps less so for the second. We’ve had it drilled into us that we should “read your Bible, pray every day, if you want to grow.” However, God never commanded that we must read our Bible’s every day. It’s not written anywhere. We are encouraged to mediate on God’s Word, we are told to teach our children and grandchildren God’s ways but we are not told to read it.
You see, there are many people in the world who would struggle to read Scripture every day. Some will have little literacy at all and others even if functionally literate will find reading hard work. The good news is that the Bible was designed with that in mind. Much of it is written so that it can be read aloud to others. Mark’s Gospel for example seems set up so someone could listen to it in a single sitting. Our priority is to allow Christ’s word to indwell and shape us. That’s why the emphasis is on meditation. It’s about taking time to consider and reflect on what God says.
Now, some might argue that students are guaranteed to be highly literate and enjoy reading but that is not always the case. Maths, Engineering and Science students may not enjoy or spending time looking at lots of text or find it easy. Other students may find that their ability to concentrate on additional reading is harder because of the intense textual studying they are doing for their degree.
So, if you enjoy reading and find it helpful, then go for it. Read your Bible and read lots of it. However, for those who are struggling, there are other ways in which you can make sure you are meditating on God’s Word.
It is perhaps a little bit more obvious that Christian Unions are not found in the Bible. However, it has been considered good advice that you should join the Christian Union for many years. The reality is that Christian Unions will vary from campus to campus. Some may prove very helpful. Others less so. Some will provide a good way for students to work together across denominational boundaries to do evangelism, some will not. It may even vary from year to year. So, I think it’s worth having a look at the Christian Union but not at the expense of a local church and not under compulsion. If it doesn’t work for you then don’t feel guilty about it.
What about attending twice on a Sunday? I was surprised to see that circulating around. You see many churches today will only have one gathering each week or if there are multiple services, then they tend to be repeats to enable more people to come along. However, there was a period in church history when it was the norm for most people to attend morning and evening services. Some churches still do this and sometimes it is those in University contexts that find they are best able to sustain a morning and evening service. Now, there can be great benefits in getting along to an additional gathering and if you have time and energy for it then make the most of it. You may find that it gives you more opportunities to sing praise, more contact time for fellowship and friendship and another opportunity to listen as God’s word is proclaimed. Some churches use their evening meeting to do something slightly different. That might include an interactive format and chance to delve a little deeper into Scripture as we tended to use our Sunday Night Church in Bearwood. Others may set aside extended time for prayer, praise and testimony or to look at topical and doctrinal teaching.
However, there is nothing to say that you need to do this. Indeed, it may not always be the best way to commit to being part of a church family. Some churches may not have an evening service but they encourage the church family to spend a bit more time together when they do gather. The old evening service format assumed a maximum service time of 1 hour. Often church services today can be significantly over 90 minutes. Additionally, traditional habit of leaving straight after the meeting have been replaced with extended coffee and fellowship time, eating together, hospitality in one another’s homes and Sunday afternoon outreach.
I also think that there’s a risk that we can see church as being about pumping as much information/knowledge into people as possible. A two service Sunday may do that but the risk is that all we do is take in knowledge without taking time to digest spiritual food and then to draw on its resources in life. The result is that we end up with spiritual indigestion. So, attending two services may be good for some in some circumstances but not all and at all times.
Now, all of this advice is, I believe, given as that, good advice with good intent. It should be heard along the lines of “I found this helpful when I was at uni and I know others did too.” However, it can sound like a set of detailed commands and instructions. The risk then is that we get crushed under a load of legalism. We want to avoid doing that to our students.
So, I would limit advice to two really important instructions.
- Make sure you are sticking close to Christ and keep a close watch on your heart. What really matters is the state of your relationship with him. Make sure you’ve grasped the Gospel, mentally and emotionally. Don’t head off to University without truly knowing Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.
- Get stuck into a local church where Christ is loved and you are loved. Don’t just attend – however many services are on offer. Rather think about what it means to be properly part of the church family. How can you get involved in the life of the church? How can you develop your gifts? What does it mean for you to be accountable to the leaders of the church? How can you be blessed and be a blessing?
Do these two things and everything else will often follow on.
 Some churches may talk about this in terms of church membership – but don’t worry so much about the names and formality as what it is behind this.