Dear Class of 2016,
Congratulations on reaching this achievement! If I had to bet — I DO live in Las Vegas 😉 — you have already filled out applications and planning for the next “step” in life. By this time you probably know where you’re going to college, if military is an option, or work. None of those decisions are wrong and I trust the Lord is at work in you.
Since you have time before the next phase, I would like to encourage you to consider one commonly neglected factor in the “next step.” What church will you attend? This is an important decision, especially if moving out of town. Now, I realize the counter-cultural nature to this question, but I believe God wants us to consider this question. It seems most people move first — basing the decision on career advancement, financial, social, or some other economic variable. In fact, the story is common. “I got a scholarship to so-&-so school that will set me up in my career.” “What about church?” “When I move there I will find a good church.” This scenario is so common, it seems foolish to challenge it.
But when it comes to moving, God says your relationship with Him and His church are the most important variables. First, consider our goal. Is the goal to make the most money possible? Do we honor the Lord better if we attend an Ivy League college? Is social ranking important? Future job opportunities? After all, “If you don’t go to a good college you won’t get a good job!” Soooo common, it’s still ingrained in me from the culture. It’s a competitive world Johnny, make sure you have the best you possibly can to edge out competition. Our culture boils it down to this, “Get into a good college equals successful equals financial stability (equals I no longer have to provide for my kids :)).
Let us ask the Lord what He thinks about our future stability. Does Jesus have an answer? Jesus says, “Do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or drink, nor your body to what you will put on. Is life not more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matt 6:25).
Is it fair to think he would say, “Do not worry about Ivy League, as to status and prestige”? Why Jesus? Isn’t working good? Isn’t stability good?
Jesus tells us, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all [food, clothing, shelter –the essentials kit] will be added to you (Matt 6:33). For your heavenly Father knows what you need (Matt 6:32). Jesus commands us to seek Him first. Our first consideration needs to be, “Lord does this honor you?” Though culturally normal, we get this command out of order if we place future finances and stability ahead of the Lord’s will. A believer’s goal is to honor the Lord (1 Cor. 10:31). After all, does the Lord need Harvard to provide for us?
So what is God’s will? “How does this relate to the church? Going to Harvard doesn’t mean I lose my salvation.” True, it doesn’t. But I do know this, God wants believers in a biblical church where we can serve, follow Him, and grow in Christlikeness. Think about it. God called believers out of darkness into His kingdom. He saved us from the wrath to come, destining us for eternal life with Him. He made us His children and left us on earth to glorify Him through our actions. He equips believers with a gift to serve in the local church (read Eph 4:7-16; now reread it). He calls us to be involved in the church, serving, loving, encouraging, and maturing into Christ-likeness (google the one another’s).
In fact, church is not something we do, it’s a relationship we have. “Each of us has been gifted.” Christ gifts us, Our Savior, the Head of the church gifts us (Eph 4:7). Then the leaders of our church equip us for the work of ministry (Eph 4:12). You may be moving on to the next step in life, but you are still required to do the work of ministry in the local church. We never pause from this work. It is a life-time work requiring faithfulness. Who do we minister too? The local church God places us in. Yes, you can minister to your friends, but we are accountable to minister to our church. Use your single, college life, to cultivate and learn how to minister to God’s people!
Therefore, if God calls us into the church to serve, we need to make sure we honor Him with our responsibilities. Before you go to Yale, have you checked out churches? I do not mean, “I found it on the internet.” No, have you listened to some sermons? Checked out doctrinal statement? Called the church? Had pastors and other shepherds evaluate the church? Did you take a campus visit? You should. Guess where your first stop should be? Yes! The church. Request your pastoral staff investigate the church too. What if we’re considering a move and there is no church? Answer, if there is no biblical, Christ exalting church, then God is not calling you there!
What?!? That seems a little too extreme. Maybe, but God cares about you so much, He knows you NEED the church. College is four years. Honoring the Lord is eternal. Four years with no encouragement leaves us vulnerable to the most dangerous weapon, our heart. God knows we need the church, “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13). This is a command. We are to encourage believers every day. More specifically, we are to encourage our church family in their walk with Christ. Why? Because sin is deceitful. My heart is deceitful! “The heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick, Who can cure it?” (Jer 17:9). My heart is dangerous. Left alone I will justify my sin, excuse away obedience, and ultimately entrench myself in self-made religion. My faithfulness to the Lord requires my church family.
“Well, I’m going into the military and they have chaplains.” Listen, I know Americans honor those who serve the country. I am thankful people serve this great country. I am thankful for our freedoms and the men and women who sacrificed their lives. But I also know not every chaplain in this world is biblical or should be in ministry (yes, there are some GREAT chaplains). A military career requires moving at the government’s command and deployment. The government does not have similar biblical convictions about who should be a chaplain and where a base is located. It would be great if the government said, “We can’t have a base there due to the lack of a biblical church.” Also, the government does not ensure quality biblical chaplains at every base. In other words, there are going to come times when the spiritually wise thing to do will require neglect because the government owns you. What is more important? The respect from fellow Americans or to honor the Lord? Please weigh this option well. Where does the Lord want you to faithfully employ your duties? It’s more important to have “faithful servant of the Lord” attached to our name than “General” or “Harvard graduate”?
I pray the Lord’s blessing upon your future. I pray you will serve the Lord well and honor Him in every way. I pray this letter encourages you and helps provide direction. I envy your youth and opportunities to learn how to serve Him. I envy the opportunity to live out biblical convictions at such a young age — something I squandered. I pray you grow to be more like Christ, longing all the more to see Him as the end draws near or His imminent return.