Want to Survive College? Join a Church. – Shelby Abbott

“Do you want to be a person who’s walking with God in 50 years? Then walk with him today.”

That’s what I say each summer to the group of college students who come to the mission project I lead in Ocean City, Maryland. And here’s how I follow up: “Your lifeline for walking with God today is community. Wherever you are, find and commit to a local body of believers.”

I always urge young people—and I’m urging all college students now—to be committed members of a local church. Why? Because it’s what Christ desires for us and requires from us (e.g., John 17:20–26). And because life is going to smack you in the face and you need people to help you endure and recover from the blows. Yes, hardships will come. Trauma may bombard you. Doubts may surface. But if you’re part of a community of believers with whom you’re vulnerable, self-sacrificing, and accountable, you won’t face hardship, trauma, or doubt in isolation.

I always urge young people—and I’m urging all college students now—to be committed members of a local church.

Strength in Numbers

Watch any nature show and you’ll learn predators set their sights on prey who aren’t part of the pack. It’s far easier to attack when the prey lacks protection or help. We can learn from this example. There’s a great deal of safety in godly community, providing those who struggle and doubt with guidance, counsel, empathy, and grace.

As you navigate your relationship with God, doubting well and coping with your problems require a great deal of intentionality. Many of us have a hopeful longing for God’s peace when we wrestle, but peace doesn’t mean the absence of challenge. The roads to unbelief can be clearly marked in college, so be deliberate about where you’re walking. Temptations to stray will be prevalent in every life stage—including now.

We are, by definition, blind to our blind spots. God helps us fill in the gaps through other people. We need church community in order to have our blinders removed, grow amid trials, and remain focused on Jesus.

The Bible tells us the story of a man—perhaps about your age—who was struggling on his own, although he didn’t know it. Apollos loved Jesus, loved the Bible, and had plenty of gifts. He was smart, well-liked, and confident. But he needed more than that. He needed the church.

Priscilla and Aquilla helped sharpen his understanding of Jesus (Acts 18:26). Christian brothers encouraged Apollos and instructed the disciples to welcome him when he wished to cross to Achaia (Acts 18:27). He was greatly useful to other believers in the church as it was going forward, and ultimately, Christ was glorified because Apollos had been helped by the church.

Apollos knew Jesus, but he didn’t know the whole story. The believers in the church were God’s tool to help him to see the whole truth about who Jesus is and what he does. It all happened in the context of the early church—community.

Speaking of seeing, Hebrews 12:2 summons us to fix our eyes on Jesus. If our eyes are fixed on something, our attention never moves from it. Much like Peter walking on the water in Matthew 14, we must remain focused. As long as the disciple looked at Jesus, he remained above the waves. The moment he became distracted, though, he started to sink. His gaze had wandered away from Christ. The winds and waves of trial can be intimidatingly powerful in school. Continue looking to Jesus for comfort, power, and peace in the context of community, even as the storms rage around you.

Real People, Right People

It’s always important to be reminded you can’t battle your struggles and doubts as an island—at least not with any sustained success. Despite what our individualistic culture may push, Christianity isn’t a solo sport. Yet in a world where people block out others with AirPods and custom-order everything from the privacy of their apartment, thick community can seem impossible. But I promise you it’s worth pursuing—especially when you’re going through hardships or doubts.

We are, by definition, blind to our blind spots. God helps us fill in the gaps through other people.

I also know it can feel like you’re in community simply because you’re surrounded by people all the time in the college environment. But real relationships require depth in a way that proximity alone won’t accomplish. Likewise, don’t assume that because you’re well connected via text and social media, you’re living in authentic community. Real Christian camaraderie happens in the context of face-to-face interaction. We don’t really know someone if we only know them through the curated veneer of posts and texts.

Sure, we can begin to understand people by seeing what they’re up to on Instagram Stories or TikTok, but it’s only part of the picture. You were created for something much deeper. The real you is the real you, and you shouldn’t want people only to experience your airbrushed avatar. When you struggle or doubt, do it alongside real human beings who love Jesus.

And when people do eventually see through the shine of your edited self, change and growth can happen. As my friend Keri puts it, “Social media shouldn’t be a substitute for relationships but a springboard for relationships.”

And because there’s no substitute for the real thing, find a church, commit to its people, and walk with them in good times and bad. And don’t be surprised when your affections for Jesus grow.

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