Back-to-school season is right around the corner. Many young Michigan Lutherans are off to college for the first time, leaving home for life on their own. Whatever school they may attend in the state, there will be a campus ministry or local congregation ready to welcome them as they start this new chapter of life.
It is a truism that we lose many young people during this time of transition. Some experiment with other Christian traditions; many experiment with not attending church at all. Sometimes fleshly or ideological temptations lead them away. Other times it’s more subtle or seemingly mysterious—not seeing value in church attendance, personality reasons, lack of connection, and the like.
Indeed, some young people know next to nothing about the Christian world outside of their local congregations. It is not uncommon for a college student to know that he is Lutheran, but unsure of which denomination. It is not uncommon for a young Lutheran to feel a little weird or intimidated attending a church other than the one in which he or she grew up.
Parents, grandparents, church workers, home pastors, campus pastors, and all types of congregations can each do their own thing in their own way to help bridge this gap. Some can “push,” others can “pull.” All can invite, welcome, equip, encourage, suggest, nudge, follow up, and reach out, listen, and pray.
The Michigan District makes it easy to connect a college-bound young person with a local church or ministry. With the help of the simple web form found at michigandistrict.org/campusconnect, it only takes a few moments to enter a student’s contact information. After clicking the “submit” button, a local LCMS congregation or campus ministry will receive his/her contact information and have an opportunity to connect with the young person.
The Students’ Experience
Congregations, lay people, pastors, and others can walk alongside college students in a variety of creative ways. Simple kindness means a lot. Students at Christ The King Lutheran Chapel on the campus of Central Michigan University appreciate the hospitality they receive from members of Zion Lutheran Church in Mount Pleasant. Regarding worship services with students and a diverse age-range of worshipers, one student said, “Christ the King has been extremely welcoming to me, and everyone has gone out of their way to introduce themselves and get to know me.”
Another student likewise valued warm welcomes from laity and pastors alike: “My experience at Christ the King has been welcoming, supportive, and engaging. I appreciate the Christ-centered, genuine staff and the friendly congregation.”
Something as simple as a welcome, a name remembered, a smile—these things mean a lot to a college student who may feel uneasy or awkward about setting foot into a brand-new sanctuary.
Although over an hour and a half away from Central Michigan University, the Evangelism Board from Trinity, Reese has provided college students with a home-cooked meal, as well as Christian fellowship, twice each year for the past several years. They let their CMU students know they will be on campus and invite them to attend a meal open to all students.
According to Pastor Daniel Burhop, “While our congregation has a handful of students that go to school at CMU, it’s wonderful to also connect with students from other congregations that attend the campus chapel and to give them not only a home-cooked meal, but to also sit and chat with them about life at school, struggles they are going through, and to give them a chance to talk to and get to know someone who isn’t between the ages of 18 and 22. From serving meals twice a year for about four years now, we’ve been able to get connected to these students and look forward to seeing them, along with the young men and women from our congregation.”
A Time of Spiritual Growth
College can and should be a time of spiritual growth for our young people. In the face of difficulty, we are not to hide in a cave like Elijah (1 Kings 19:9), but step out in light of the Lord’s call to do the work of His Kingdom (1 Kings 19:15–18). There are friendships to be made, opportunities to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord, and the amazing Good News to enjoy and share with others.
Jesus Christ is King of heaven and earth. He upholds the entire universe. All things were created through Him, all things exist because He upholds them, and all things flow back to Him and give Him glory. He made a beautiful, orderly, complex, mysterious world. For the Christian, the universe is not an accident or a mistake; it is neither cruel nor cold. Every area of study receives new meaning for the Christian. Every area of service, every station in life, indeed, every aspect of life looks different in light of Christ. Our Lutheran college students have a tremendous opportunity to thrive as they step out into God’s world.
Please pray for our college-bound young people. Help them get plugged into a congregation or campus ministry. Encourage them to learn more about their Lord as they learn about God’s world around them in class. Perhaps you can care for college students in some creative way, whatever your gifts, commitments, or circumstances. Together we can each play a part in keeping our young people connected to Christ and His church, so that even while in college they can grow up into Christ and share His love with others.
Photo by Elisa Schulz/Michigan District, LCMS