Sep 10, 2018
The Power of Community
Darrick Smith reminds us that community is one of the most powerful aspects in all of college ministry. Are you leading your ministry to embrace students looking for belonging?
What is it that every college student on your campus is looking for? There deepest desire? The thing that they long for? That deep-down craving in their hearts? The thing that often drives their decisions?
It was the summer of 2002 when we packed up my dad’s white F150 with all of my stuff for college. I was headed to North Carolina Central University. I didn’t spend many days away from my family so I was very nervous and anxious about being on my own for four years. I was deeply concerned about making new friends. What will people think about me? Will I fit in? What if no one likes me? What if people think I’m weird?
Classes began and I immediately begin to notice how people dressed. How they talked. What they valued. What they defined as fun and what motivated them. Slowly I began to adapt. I began to dress like those that I wanted to fit in with. I began to talk like them. I began to develop similar values as they did. And if that didn’t work out, then I’d just adapt again. I would develop a new set of values and motivations. Whatever it took to belong, that’s what I did. I found myself constantly switching friend groups. I found myself joining different organizations just to belong. Constantly fighting to fit it, wanting people to like me. Seeking to pledge a fraternity just so that I could have someone to call a brother. From one friend group to the next friend group.
Empty! Lost! Frustrated! Lonely!
I found myself exhausted. Exhausted from daily having to put on a mask to be someone that I wasn’t. Exhausted from wearing multiple masks a day just so I could belong. Deep within me was a desire to be in a community with people who accepted me the way I was. I wanted a place where I could just breathe and be the real me. A place where I didn’t have to cover up my weaknesses. A place where my flaws, imperfections, and insecurities would be accepted. I wanted to belong. I wanted authentic community. I wanted a family. And I wanted this as a student from those on my campus.
This too is true of every student on every college campus across the world. They want to belong. The students that you are meeting and connecting with, they want to belong. They want a family.
And they can…
So, in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5 NIV)
College ministries have something other organizations on campus don’t—the ability to create gospel-centered community—a place where believers can come together and find strength, love, hope, accountability, and correction. A place where shame can be swallowed up by the grace that others extend. A place where needs are met. A place where loneliness can be quenched because you have a brother or sister by your side. A place where the people of God can thrive as they seek to follow Jesus and spur others on towards maturity in Christ (Colossians 1:28). A place to belong.
Scripture reveals to us that God’s desire from the beginning of time was to create a family (Genesis 1:28). A community where everyone belonged. They belonged to Him and to one another. It pleased the Father to create mankind to exist in fellowship with him and to others. It is a gift from God, purchased by Jesus, and fueled by the Holy Spirit. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book, Life Together, “The fellowship of other brethren is a gift of grace. It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.” Through Christ believers have a place to belong. And not only a place to belong for the sake of just belonging, but a place to belong with a mission. God doesn’t invite us into community to merely co-exist, but rather, to live out the truths of His word together.
Almost every organization on a college campus has a mission. The people who seek to belong in that organization are seeking to carry out its mission while they belong. Collegiate ministries and churches have a great opportunity to create space for students to belong, on mission. An opportunity to create community that reminds students of the good news of the gospel and what it means for their lives.
As you seek to reach college students this year, remember that you have a great opportunity to invite students to belong. You have an opportunity to paint a picture of what it means to be a follower of Jesus—to belong to a family that seeks to obey Christ and follow his mission for the glory of God.