Getting back to the “Journey Through The Faith” series, I will be sharing several reflections from my college faith experience before moving on to post-college years.
One of the more mature decisions an eighteen year old could make is to be part of the faith community you served in. Credit the leading of the Spirit, because for some reason I had this idea in my head to learn how to participate in the same faith community I would serve in, which not all of my friends were doing. See, at Cairn University, you are required to do Christian service, and a lot of people would help out at youth group or Awana at one church and then go to church at another place. It was like a smorgasbord—or consumerism. Either way you look at it, I had decided that whatever church I started serving at I would actually attend, even if I didn’t always agree with everything.
This is how I became a Baptist. By default.
I felt called to First Baptist Church of Newtown, which has since changed it’s name to something so vague I can’t remember what it is. But back when I knew it, it was First Baptist. Here it was, an old church in a town best known for its founding by William Penn (of Penn-sylvania!) and the town Signs was filmed in. It also, importantly, had a Starbucks, something that, being from rural Maryland, I had only heard of, but never seen before.
The high school youth group at First Baptist was one very similar to the one I grew up in: skits, games, teaching then small group time to talk things over with a leader. It was a fun place to serve, and I enjoyed the missions trip up to Canada and the camping retreats the group went on. For the most part, the students were adjusting well and would turn out alright.
I never thought I would be part of a Baptist church, but it was where I felt called to serve, so I started attending. The church itself was, well, boring. Other classmates of mine at Cairn said the sermons were watered down and seeker sensitive, but I was used to a non-expository sermon from back in my Lutheran days, so I actually liked the stories. There just wasn’t a ton of substance to the worship hour. It was an obligation—a literal one, as Cairn made you go to church.
Incidentally, the boredom with church led me to fall in love with serving more. I was attending a Christian college and taking Bible classes like crazy. There were so many great Christians guys to talk through things with, to disciple and to be disciple by, that not getting much out of church at that point of my life was fine. I was learning to give of my time, and one of the best experiences I had was helping to lead children’s worship at First Baptist with my friend Tyler. We rocked it every morning, and we whipped those kids into a mash-pit froth of jumping and singing before sending them off to Sunday School energized and crazed. And serving with teenagers in Sunday School was an experience in struggle and joy. I could never be a youth pastor on that roller coast of So-and-so will-be-a-great-student-leader to Oh-wait-they-are-partying-and-lying to Oh-Joy!-they-are-getting-their-life-back-on-track. I learned a lot by taking the long journey of faith with some students, but it is wearing (you should hug the youth pastor the next time you bump into him or her. Or buy some coffee. I think he or she needs it).
Learning to serve would be an integral part of my faith journey, because I would be spending a whole lot of time serving in the years to come. But back then, at that stage of my faith journey, I was just a college student learning to navigate the ways of being a real adult in a church—not a consumer, not a complainer, not a demander, but just a person who is part of a community. It would be a worthy lesson.