Student Roundtable on the Local Church
On Childhood and Church
KEVIN | I didn’t really grow up in a strong, theological church that embodied the calling that God gave us in Scripture, so coming to Covenant and seeing how Christ and culture work together, and how as Christians we’re called to be in the world and all the implications of that has really been a new world to me. Getting involved and not just going to church every Sunday has been encouraging and convicting and a struggle to actually embody that.
MEGAN | My parents were missionaries, so my dad was gone about a third of the year working with house churches in China during an extremely restrictive time. When I came to the States, I transitioned from that atmosphere to attending a mega church; it was definitely a shock. Yet it was interesting to me to see the different ways in which people worship. It always strikes me how people, when they’re committed to their faith, seek out the local church, whether it’s got 70 members or 22,000.
There’s something about the gospel that’s infectious, that brings people together. While it can sometimes get obscured in the bright lights, amplifiers and flashy clothes of our culture, at the heart of it, the gospel is what draws people together in the local church. We’re all broken people, and we are journeying together towards Christ. Sometimes we get it wrong, but we learn to love as Christ loves us by experiencing and partaking in His love for His church. It’s been an interesting journey for me, to see so many sides of the American church.
JAMES | It’s so funny, the contrast with what Megan said, but basically through my middle school years up to high school I wasn’t going to church. A close family friend invited me to go back to church to be involved in the youth group my freshman year of high school. I thought, oh, they have a lot of things to offer me so I’ll go, but it didn’t really click—the importance of this community—until I was actually in college.
CHRIS | I am one of eight sons, and when the seventh had cancer, my mom wanted to be with him at the hospital, and my dad had to provide for the family, so we went to different houses to play video games or whatever. Different church families basically watched us, and cooked meals, and so on. That’s something that stands in contrast to the world. I’ve experienced a family that is united by the blood of Christ, not by genetic blood. I saw the importance of what people are depriving themselves of by not being in the church, not being a part of the body.
ESTHER | My dad was a pastor, and it was a really small community, like 300 people in our town, so there were not a lot of churches around. Then when I came to Covenant it was really overwhelming to see that there were literally hundreds of churches I could choose to go to. I spent a little bit of time visiting different churches, and I went to North Shore Fellowship a couple of times, but I wasn’t immediately drawn to it.
It took taking the time to invest in the church to see the qualities that it had. I think that sometimes you expect to find this church that’s perfect for you right off the bat, sometimes the way we are with relationships. It wasn’t that way for me, but once I got to know people and was intentional about investing in the church and getting to know the pastors, it was encouraging and such a blessing to me.
On the Church Body
MEGAN | I go to a Guatemalan immigrant church at the base of the mountain, and it’s definitely been a growing experience for me. I’ve been able to start an ESL program with the church, and it’s been incredible to see that not only am I pouring out into their lives, but they’re pouring out into mine, even as I serve them.
It’s been eye-opening for me to recognize that this is what the body of Christ should look like: all of us coming together and using what we have to build one another up—not only spiritually, but mentally and emotionally. It’s really beautiful to see the community of God working in that way.
JAMES | I think that before I came to Covenant, I saw the church relationship as one thing or another; either the church needed me, or I needed the church. But as I’ve been at Covenant I’ve realized that, like Megan said, it’s both. You’re a crucial part of the church, pouring into those around you, but also they’re very much pouring into you. So working in church youth group, students are able to pour into you, encourage you and bless your life beyond what you can comprehend.
ESTHER | Here at school, I’m around people who are in the same stage of life as I am. Then, when I’m in church and I’m serving, I am around people from all stages, and it can only be beneficial to be surrounded by people that are different from me, but with whom I have this one common bond that is uniting us in Jesus.
KEVIN | I would say the local church, from a biblical perspective, is to be in the world but not of the world, being the body of Christ, reaching out and influencing the culture around it. Taking that step outside of your comfort zone, you really get to experience Christ in a new way. I think part of that is being involved in a local church, a good, biblical, gospel-centered community, where you are making disciples and being the body of Christ to the world.
CHRIS | Working off that, it’s the primary means of God’s redemptive plan and the unfolding of it, so it’s infinitely important, in that sense. The church is what God has specifically chosen to bring forth His kingdom and His people. When Chaplain Messner was here he talked about that all the time. In the classroom you’re praying and you can take Bible classes and you have Christian community but the church service is an in-depth spiritual feast for your soul—the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and prayers.
On Church Membership
JAMES | As I’ve been involved in the church I’m in now, it’s been really cool to see that things really do take time, especially with humans, fallen people. There really does take an investment there to build a relationship and feel a sense of community. As I get older I want to keep that in mind. It’s so important to be invested and really firmly planted with those people there. Really committing to a church and not just hopping church to church is important.
KEVIN | New City will be the first church that I actually join and actually get involved with, so it’s just going to be about offering myself and opening up, and I’m expecting that to be so different from where I grew up.
MEGAN | I’ve been a member at my church for about a year now, and to me being a member is about commitment. You are agreeing to keep yourself accountable to a body of believers. As I’ve learned in the past year, there’s a lot of power in that. I’ve witnessed a lot of church discipline since becoming a member. The pastor’s really honest with the congregation about it, publicly announcing when a member is being disciplined and mentioning them by name in prayer. When people are brought back into the church, they come to the front and everyone welcomes them back. It is quite powerful to see.
I’ve learned much about what it means to be part of a body of believers. You not only have a responsibility to learn what your spiritual gifts are and use those for service within the church, but you must also allow yourself to be served. That can be hard sometimes. You have to humble yourself and allow others to come around you when you need them to. But that is how the body of Christ works; that is where the beauty lies.
CHRIS | When I was looking for a local church I took the criteria of looking at the church’s mission, and seeing if it preaches the Word and the gospel faithfully. It really does come down to a sense of commitment, because you will find flaws in the church. You can find things to complain about, but we live in a broken, sinful world, and any church you go to is going to have a set of problems. I think that’s something I had to wrestle with for the first time experientially while in college, and it’s a good thing to wrestle with that.
At the end of the day it really comes down to this: are you going to be committed to Christ’s bride, the church? How that manifests itself, as Megan said, looks like being served by the church and also serving. If the church is part of what’s eternal and lasting, then I think it should be of some importance in our lives, because everything else is fading away. What does that say about what we care about if the church is not a part of our time?
I want to be a part of what God has specifically ordained to be His means of bringing His kingdom. Getting to know the body and sharing life with the body has been a tremendous blessing. It is a gift from God.