When you come to college, you don’t have to do what you’ve always done. At first glance it’s exciting, but then the reality of it is daunting. I’d always been invested in my church, but it wasn’t until I came to a new place and became invested in one on my own that I realized why. I’d always been a Christian, but it wasn’t until I joined Reformed University Fellowship that I understood why.
Of the infinite things I am thankful for from my parents, being raised in a Christian home is top of the list. I went to church every Sunday; there was no, “I don’t feel like it”, or “I just want to sleep in”. I went to church Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening, and various events throughout the year. I went to church camps in the summer. Most of the people around me did too. Being a Christian in the South is expected, almost to the point of watering down what it actually means to be a Christian. Because everyone does it, no one has to explain why. I knew that finding a Christian community in Knoxville wouldn’t be hard since we’re still in the Bible Belt.
With me talking about so much of my life being familiar, it seems logical that this saga will follow that I joined a community that was unfamiliar, but that’s not quite what happened. I already knew some people in RUF, some from my older sister and some from my high school. They sang some songs I already knew. I’d read the Bible before, been in a small group before, and been to wholesome dances where everyone freaks out over the Cupid Shuffle. So frankly, it feels fraudulent to frame my story as one of complete and utter transformation, but one of the many things I’ve learned from my RUF and Redeemer Church communities is that God works in the ordinary just as much as He does in the dramatic.
RUF has taught me that Christianity is about God’s unrelenting, perfect, all-encompassing, redeeming love. That there is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from it. That there is absolutely nothing we have done or will do to earn it. RUF has shown me how much modern culture can influence the way we interpret the Bible. RUF has encouraged me to doubt Christianity because doubt reveals a deep desire to understand rather than blindly follow. Do you know how unbelievably freeing it is to bring your doubts to someone you love about something you love? That is how I feel with the RUF staff. Doubt can be debilitating, but when you can process it with a confidant, you can rest in what you know to be true to strengthen you in what you can’t understand. I learned of the tricky battle between loving and trusting in myself while also loving and trusting wholeheartedly in the Lord. I found comfort in knowing that it will ultimately be God to bring people to Christ. Witnessing is one big alley-oop—we set God up by loving others through our actions and words, and God slams curiosity and comfort in their hearts.
If you grew up going to church like me, or if you’ve never stepped foot in a church, I encourage you to join one. I’m a fan of my church, Redeemer Church. I hear many people say, “God will still love me even if I don’t go to church!”, and they’re right. But attending church isn’t about meeting a quota to be in good favor with the Lord. Church is about yourself. It keeps you in check. God doesn’t change, but I do. I need to go to church to remind myself of that. Your actions cement your values, so if you’re physically walking into a building with the intent of worshipping and learning and congregating, it fills your soul with holy goodness. I just feel good after church: happier, excited, loved, content. Attending church reminds me that pursuing God and pursuing others will beautify my life more than I can on my own.
An important disclaimer to make here is that I’ve also learned the importance of self-care in college. Not just bubble baths, eating chocolate self-care, but asking for help and simultaneously making my own decisions on how to live a healthy and purposeful life. The importance of saying “no”, and the beauty of going all-in when I say “yes”.
It also provides the opportunity to be mentored and mentor yourself. I joined a women’s small group last fall. Everyone in the small group was either married or engaged, all in different stages of life; I’d recently gone through my first break up after a yearlong relationship. Not only was I the only single woman, but I was also freshly single and wounded from the pain of walking away from a relationship that was special to me. From this time, I learned that singleness is not a waiting room for a relationship, but a special time to focus on my personal relationship with the Lord. I also serve in the nursery, and there is something simply therapeutic to spending time with babies and toddlers. It’s easy to constantly be around 18-22-year-olds when in college, so a church reminds of you of the world at large.
At a leadership team meeting for RUF recently, we discussed ways we could make our community and events more inviting, welcoming, and comforting. A friend of mine reminded all of us that we aren’t selling people RUF; we are trying to show them the deep love Our Father has for all of us. If they can see and experience and know that through RUF, then that is wonderful. If they can see and experience and know that through conversations at weird times and in weird places, then that is wonderful. We are imperfect people part of an imperfect campus ministry trying to learn how to love God, love others, and love the University of Tennessee. The goal is to reach students for Christ, not to get more people wearing RUF t-shirts.
Here is the one piece of advice I have to someone starting college, or who is feeling lost in the midst of your college career: find your Christian community. I would love for it to be RUF, but it doesn’t have to be. Don’t let college be the time that you take a break from being a Christian just because it feels unfamiliar. God is present and at work everywhere. Finding a campus ministry will enhance your life beyond college. It will reveal emotions, capabilities, and flaws you didn’t realize you had. It will challenge you and make you uncomfortable. It will encourage you to remember that your identity rests in a Savior who created you, sacrificed for you and loves you unconditionally.
Here’s more info about UTK RUF:
Here is more info about Redeemer: