As a student, you have faced a changing cultural climate in higher education. New apartment-style residence halls create an isolating venue that inhibits social interaction. Student loan debt and a difficult job market make it less financially viable to embark out into the world completely on your own after graduation. Students are spending more and more time in college changing majors, adding minors, taking time off, etc. So this life season, when students used to be truly discovering who they are, is spent raising more questions than answers. A space that is meant to unwrap what you will do with the rest of your life is now a space to prepare for a consistent flood of life changes. The sage words of my old high school chemistry teacher still ring in my ears, “I’ve had this job for 30 years, your generation simply won’t experience that. You’ll be lucky to hold a job for more than one or two years at a time.”
As you are faced with a transition out of college, carrying these heavy burdens, where can you look for comfort and guidance? Let me offer you some practical functions of the church that comforted me during the most nomadic seasons of my life.
Church as a home base
I was in a unique situation leaving college. Not only was I wadding through what life post-graduation meant, I was also still dealing with the recent death of my father. This changed the entire dynamic of my family. In addition to financial concerns, it made sense for me to move back home and live with my mom for her as well as my emotional support. For better or for worse, I was home for the foreseeable future. I decided if I was going to be here, I was going to attend worship service every Sunday and find out what it is like to be committed to a home church. I did it, and started reading my Bible. I began forming relationships with the pastor and other church members. I was establishing stability and strength during a season where constant change made that rare.
Having any form of consistency was beneficial, but creating it through a loving body of Christ that was always willing to serve me was transformational. And not just for me. My mom started noticing that I had a happiness and wholeness that she was struggling to find through her season of grief. She soon started coming with me to church and found that same strength and consistency through a community of her own. She also found her savior and accepted Jesus into her heart.
Church as a mirror
This stability and consistency I found in church also provided space for me to put some more flesh on my self-identity. Being with other believers and being disciplined with my study of scripture brought me closer to God and gave me a better picture of God as creator. I still had questions after college about who I was and what I was supposed to be doing with my life, and while I didn’t find many specific answers (you can spend your whole life looking for those) I did find a deeper understanding of the ways God created and gifted me. My new found lack of school work post graduation freed me up to study scripture, the nature of God, and myself. The church encouraged me to be faithful in that journey.
Church as a social network
Isolation is not just socially and emotionally harmful; it can also be vocationally harmful. One thing I learned about college students while in my communication major (one that relies heavily on relationship building) is that the majority of us are bad at networking. We are bad at forming supportive, beneficial relationships. While in graduate school my church and campus fellowship not only supplied the consistency and self discovery I mentioned before, but it supplied contacts in the ministry and communication fields that led to internships and eventually my current job.
God designed us to be in community, and that community can be a blessing to us and, ultimately, can be a blessing to the nations. The church is filled with believers in all walks of life and all areas of vocation. Just imagine the area of creation God is sending you out into! God created the church to bring flourishing to our lives. So as you “pass the peace” this Sunday, don’t be afraid to receive it as well.