To the Church Hopping College Student

Get over yourself.

It’s true this congregation is small and elderly. That doesn’t mean they are blind. We see your expressions of disgust. Your body language radiates contempt. You shuffle in late and rush out immediately afterwards. You roll your eyes at the liturgy. Smirk at the greeter.

I would say maybe you are uncomfortable, but the truth is you are downright rude. Don’t you think we have ears? We hear your nails clack against the screen as you text during service. Your whispered mockery carries to the pews around you. Yes, we stand and sit and stand again. Yes, we have an altar and stain glass windows. Yes, there is actual wine used in communion. What did you expect visiting a traditional Lutheran church?

Perhaps you are visiting for a class.  If that is the case, all the more shame on you. How can you take other denominations seriously if you do nothing but look for differences? You alienate your own family and in doing so cause more pain to this sweet, loving congregation than you know.

Do you feel more comfortable, surrounding yourself with your friends and barely speaking to anyone else? You come in packs. I understand it might feel awkward showing up alone. There is security in likeminded friends but also complacency. You circle in on yourselves like a wagon train afraid of attack. These older Christians may wear hearing aids and take a few minutes to stand up, but the truth is they have more wisdom and life experience to offer than a whole room full of college students.

We heard you grumbling about filling out the Guest Card. Something about spam in your inbox and receiving enough e-mails already. The truth is the older gentleman who asked you to do that will take those cards and pray over them all week. By Wednesday you will get a card in the mail, not an impersonal thanks, but a hand-written note of gratitude that you came. The lady sitting behind you will text you on Friday and ask how your week went. The pastor’s wife will make sure you know when the next fellowship meal is, and she’ll probably send you home with food. The whole congregation will remember your name and greet you with joy the next time you come.

If you come back.

Few do, much to their loss.

I know it is hard to be a college student away from home and without a church. Congregations rarely treat you like an actual member. They expect you to move on and you either get ignored or become a short term project. So you seek a new church, one “meeting your needs.” And when that one fails to do it, yet another. Especially here in the South, you have limitless choices. That cycle leads to burnout. By your senior year, I guarantee you will think the church is overrated. Out of touch. Unconnected with your faith.

I’m not saying my church is the answer to your problems. All I know is that it was the answer to mine. You barge in, full of arrogance and self-supposed superiority, and you miss the earnest sweetness of this Body. You miss the power of gathering together and repeating the Confession and Absolution, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostle’s Creed. You miss the beauty of these old hymns. You miss the wisdom of the sermon. Today the pastor preached on believing the fullness of God’s promises. It spoke to me, but did you even hear it? We all heard your phone. Could you hear our love?

Because this congregation does love you. It is not just because you are young.  It is not because you are a new face. They love you because you stepped through those doors. It is something I still cannot fully grasp. It refreshes my soul every time I come Sunday morning. I wish you could experience it.

But you rushed, you eye-rolled, and finally you rejected. What you didn’t see was the wistful glances sent your way as you hurried to your car. You missed the questions directed at Rina and me, the only two college students who remained. “Do you know them? Couldn’t they stay for lunch? Will they be back?”

I don’t know if my words will reach you. I pray they do. I hope you will enter that next congregation more respectfully, that you will listen and befriend those around you. I pray God will lead you to a place you will grow. If you go to church for warm fuzzies and an emotional high, your faith will falter. I know because mine did. A good church body keeps you grounded. Fellowship, communal reading of God’s word, prayer with other believers, and submission to one another develop a stronger Christian walk. In our individualistic culture, I challenge you to recognize that the church was not designed for your personal pleasure or pure edification. It is give and take. It’s a family and in some ways all the clichés about family apply. Family can be embarrassing, confusing, and painful. Yet in the end, no one is more committed to you. We need fellow believers in all our messiness and pain because together we grow. Together we encourage, admonish, strengthen, and testify to God’s faithfulness in our lives every single day. Faith doesn’t take place in a vacuum.

Find a church and instead of thinking about what you can get, find ways you can give. It starts, though, with grace and understanding. I do encourage you to get over yourself. Set aside your pride. Turn off your phone. Listen, really listen, to those around you. I hope you can hear the love they are trying to send your way. This family wants to embrace you. Please, let them bless you.

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One response to “To the Church Hopping College Student

  • Jamie Carter

    I would have preferred a less confrontational tone, mostly because it tempts me to respond in kind and I know that I can’t pull that off, so I’ll stick with honestly.

    I would have loved to have a permanent church. But I don’t know hymns and no church will teach me. I cannot read music. I don’t know how to sing either.

    I would have loved to have a permanent church. But I don’t like it when elders ask why I’m not married and don’t have kids … it’s for he same reason why elders aren’t dead yet, one cannot speed up the natural course of life.

    I would have loved to have a permanent church. But I don’t understand why ‘men and women are equal’ but ‘men lead’ and ‘women follow or cleans kitchens or watch kids’. Sounds like ‘equal but separate’ only with gender being the bias as opposed to race.

    I would have loved to have a permanent church. But I know nothing of liturgy. I’ve never been to such a thing and I don’t know what to do, how to do it, or why I ought to do it.

    I would have loved to have a permanent church. But there’s not a lot of variety out here – just Southern Baptists and ‘other’. Been there, done that, I am not going back.

    I would have loved to have a permanent church. But I’m not welcome. I don’t have the right clothes or the right Bible or the right whatever it is that’s so important.

    So I go from church to church looking for a home that I’ve never found. These houses of God give me the cold shoulder and disapproving glares far more frequently than acceptance and warmth. I’m not even a college student, but I feel more like a tumbleweed being blown from one place to another, always looking, never settling, never allowed to rest. The problem isn’t me as much as it’s always been each and every church. The problem was the church that were blatant hypocrites, the church that declared that we were heretics, the church that confuses ‘love’ with judgmental declarations and follows everything that isn’t the example of Jesus.

    Lots of us have really good reasons for the issues we have with the various churches we’ve been to. Keep in mind that for the younger youth they had been separated from ‘adult’ church from the time they were in kindergarten until they graduated high school. They might not have been taught the hows and the whys – especially in other churches like mine that played basketball more than they bothered to open the Bible.

    Scripture says to make the most of every opportunity. You had a college age student show up at church – that NEVER happens at mine (they all know better than to come because they already know what it will be like.) Sure, they didn’t do it perfectly, but from their perspective, neither did you. You could have asked if they had seen liturgy before instead of assuming that they knew it because you know it. You could have asked if they were comfortable with hymns instead of assuming they know them because you know them. You could have asked if they’ve found their college classes challenging and enjoyable or if they were using that Bible app on their phone to look up scripture or if they were looking forward to summer vacation. Perhaps we are not the only ones that need to get over ourselves.

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