Why Christian College Students Need a Church (Not Just a Campus Ministry)


It’s August, which means that all across the country, thousands of incoming freshmen are waving goodbye to hometowns and leaving for college. This includes many Christians, for whom a move to a new city means a move away from the familiarity of their home church. For many, campus ministries will step in to naturally fill the void.

A campus ministry can be unmatched in helping students connect with other likeminded believers, especially in an ideologically hostile academic or social setting. A good one will help equip Christian students to defend the faith, serve the poor, and be held accountable to each other.

A good campus ministry is a gift from God. But it is no church.

Flesh and Bones 

The reason many students identify primarily with a campus ministry rather than with a church isn’t because of any flaw in most campus ministry organizations. It’s because, too often, we evangelicals have a deficient view of the church. We assume it’s any gathering of people who believe in Jesus and who do churchly things. Many Christians assume the church exists simply to help us learn more about Christ and pool our resources for missions.

If that’s all a church is, a campus ministry can do all those things, and more.

But the Scriptures tell us the church is much more than that.

In the Bible, a local church—with all its ridiculous flaws—is an unveiling of the mystery of the universe (Eph. 3:6). She is in a one-flesh union with Jesus such that, as in a marriage, everything that belongs to him belongs to her (Eph. 5:22–33). A congregation, in covenant with one another as an assembly of Christ’s people, is a colony of the coming global reign of Christ (Eph. 1:22–23), a preview of what his kingdom will look like in the end (1 Cor. 6:1–8). Where there is a covenant among believers—a disciplined community of faith—the Spirit of Jesus is present among them, just as God was present among the people of Israel in the temple of old (Matt. 18:15–20).

When the church judges a repentant sinner to be a genuine believer, the congregation is speaking with the authority of Jesus when they plunge him beneath the waters (Matt. 28:18–19). When the church judges an unrepentant sinner to be persistent in his rebellion, it’s with the authority of Jesus that the congregation pronounces him to be a stranger to the people of God (1 Cor. 5:4–5; Matt 18:15–20). When we gather for worship as a congregation in covenant with one another, we’re not simply fueling our individual quiet times with praise choruses. We’re actually ascending to the heavenly places together, standing before Christ and all of his angels on Mount Zion (Heb. 12:18–29).

The Scriptures reveal to us what we would never discern on our own. The church—not an ideal congregation but the real one you go to every week, with the lady who smacks her gum and the man with the pitiful combover hair and the 1970s-era audio system and the kids banging Tonka trucks on the back of the pew in front of you—is the flesh and bones of Jesus. It’s his body, he tells us—inseparable from him as your heart and lungs and kidneys and fingers are from you (Eph. 5:29–30; 1 Cor. 12:12–31).

Saying “I love Jesus but not the church” is as irrational as saying to your best friend, “I like you—I just can’t stand being around you.” Your attitude toward the church reveals your attitude toward Jesus.

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SOURCE: The Gospel Coalition
Russell Moore