Here’s a question that students sometimes ponder on the Sunday before finals: Why does The Master’s University require students to participate in two church functions every week?
And here’s another one: Why do so many TMU students press beyond that standard by becoming serving members of nearby churches while they’re here?
If you ask Campus Pastor Harry Walls, it’s because faithfulness in the local church lies at the heart of the school’s goal for students, who are encouraged to become members and active servants in a local body while they’re here. This gives them opportunities to bless fellow believers, be blessed in return, and practice the foundational elements of Christian obedience that they’ll pursue the rest of their lives.
“As Christians, we can’t accomplish our mission without being involved in a local church,” Walls says. “And we want students to develop that habit now. We don’t want them treating chapel or dorm Bible studies as substitutes. We want them in a church.”
And as Walls and others at TMU often repeat, TMU does not count as a church.
“We are a ministry to the church, composed of the church, but we are not the church,” Walls says.
So, what happens in the local church that can’t be replaced by the rich biblical education and discipleship students experience at TMU? Walls offers this list.
“First of all, churches have biblical authority,” Walls says. “They have elders. The local church has authority and responsibility to shepherd in a way that I don’t as TMU’s campus pastor. The church also provides body life — that includes the ordinances, accountability, and covenant commitment. The richest level of body life is only available through the local church. And then there’s the integration of older and younger generations that happens in local churches.”
Jeff Noe, teaching pastor at Oak Hill Bible Church, says that intergenerational discipleship is one of his church’s priorities with students.
“We want TMU students to mix with other church members of all ages — but particularly those in their late 20s and early 30s, those who are one step ahead of them generationally — to engage in discipleship relationships with those older than them,” Noe says. “Overall, we want students to commit to church membership while they’re in school, to learn what it means to be deeply engaged in a healthy church family during their school years.”
And here’s another thing: A student who isn’t attending a local church can’t serve in a local church. And faithful service is one of the essential aspects of Christian life that TMU spurs its students toward.
“We want students to be involved. We want them to be faithful and active in a church, both in receiving and giving,” Walls says.
Walls points out that “we have an unusually rich community of faithful, Bible-teaching churches” in and around Santa Clarita. In order to help students plug in, TMU works to build relationships with these churches and provide opportunities for students to connect with them.
For example, every year the University has a week focused on promoting local church involvement, culminating in a church fair. At this event, students are able to meet and talk with representatives of many of the churches in the area.
Additionally, certain Student Life events — such as “Life on Life,” where female students meet in the homes of women with connections to TMU for fellowship — have been reconfigured to emphasize the local church. In all of this, one of the greatest blessings is that TMU students are willing and eager to commit to churches while they’re here.
Local pastors say TMU students are involved in everything from street evangelism to setting up chairs. Students sing on the stage on Sunday mornings, care for babies in the nursery, and help plan church events.
Examples abound of TMU students serving faithfully, but here’s just one. Naomi Stephenson, a junior studying teacher education, is a member at Placerita Bible Church. On a given Sunday morning, you might find her singing on the worship team, serving coffee in the foyer, or watching kids in the third-through-sixth-grade classroom.
When asked why she sets time aside to serve in the midst of a busy college schedule, Stephenson says: “It’s not something, as Christians, that we ‘make time for.’ Service at PBC is something that everything else in my schedule fits around. Because even though I’m a full-time student and I have jobs, there’s no excuse to not serve Christ. Church service is always a given. It’s a form of worship, and if I see worship as a hassle, then it’s not my schedule’s problem; it’s my heart’s problem.”
This enthusiasm for service is characteristic of TMU students, according to David Hegg (’77), senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church.
“They bring great energy!” Hegg says. “It’s great for us older folks to see a younger generation honoring Christ, honoring us, and champing at the bit to not ‘go to church’ but to actually ‘be the church.’”
Mark Spansel (’93), discipleship pastor at Crossroads Community Church, has seen the same thing from students.
“Crossroads loves our TMU students,” Spansel says. “They bring a joy and commitment to serving in the local church that is refreshing and contagious.”
Some churches even have specific ministries aimed at TMU students, above and beyond their college groups. For example, Placerita Bible Church runs an “Adopt a Student” ministry, where families are matched with TMU students in order to open up their homes for meals and fellowship — or even as a place to do laundry. Crossroads has sponsored a number of international students through its “Touch Eternity Now” ministry, bringing them out to live with families from the church and study at TMU.
Jay Lennington, associate pastor of children’s and junior high ministry at Grace Community Church, has seen the mutual relationship between students and the church play out over the past decade.
“We trust in the biblical education they’re receiving at TMU and want to provide the right opportunity for them to put it into practice,” says Lenington. “It’s a tremendous blessing to see them grow in their usefulness to the Lord as they become the young men and women that Christ intends them to be.”
In other words, TMU students and numerous churches close to the school are faithfully serving each other. And in the process, the University’s students progress in their journey, as Walls puts it, of becoming “independent, convinced-the-Bible-says-so followers of Christ.”
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