Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Unity and Community After College

Here is an article that I (Bethany) wrote recently for an online magazine - The Brew. Thought you all might enjoy reading it!

Unity and Community After College

“One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team. The first requisite is life, always.” - A.W. Tozer

There have been seasons of my life when I have been extremely blessed by unity and community with fellow believers, one of which was while attending a Christian college. Most students were required to live on campus and a tight-knit body of believers naturally formed. It was a place where students were challenged by their peers, both spiritually and intellectually, and where community members learned to share life (and possessions) with each other. It was also a place where I developed close, vulnerable, unified relationships with friends and mentors that led to significant and life-changing spiritual growth.

Now that I am a few years out of school, I have in some ways lost the sense of Christian unity I had in college. As a single young adult, it has been easy to become disconnected from those around me. I have the “freedom” to make decisions for though this may keep me from experiencing the unity and community that God wants for me. He calls and us to do life together by living as “one in heart and mind” (Acts 4:32). What does this look like? How do I change my life in order to recover the unity I experienced in college? Three ways that my college environment facilitated unity can also be used to seek it in life after college.

First is mentorship. In college, great mentors abound: professors, counselors and staff that have years of life experience and are eager to share their wisdom. I took this for granted as a student and didn’t realize until post-graduation what a gift it was to have so many wise, godly men and women around. When I still was a junior, I took on the role of resident assistant, where I was sometimes at a loss of how to best encourage and support girls. I made it through because of the mentorship I found in the senior staff members of my dorm. I went to them when I didn’t know what to say or how to act. I went to them when my uncle died and I felt like I couldn’t play the role anymore. I went to them when I was lost and they pointed me to the Truth.

Not only have I experienced the blessings of mentorship, but Scripture also endorses it and offers countless examples of what this relationship looks like. For example: Mordecai mentored Esther; Jesus himself mentored the twelve apostles; and Paul mentored Timothy, who in turn helped train Epaphras.

Today, I meet once a week with a woman from church who is at least 20 years my senior. She has helped me navigate the waters of job struggles, roommate challenges, and preparation for marriage. Her life experience and mature faith have been a great support to me.

An entire article could be written about these benefits but, suffice it to say, we should all find a mentor and stick with it. Ask the Lord to guide you and provide as you seek out an older, wiser Christian adult in your community or church. Doing so will open the door for God to provide guidance and accountability in a new way in your life and put you on the road to unity with God and fellow believers.

Another way to find unity is through accountability in prayer. Living in close proximity to 30 other Christian women in college, accountability came easier then than it does today. For instance, when two of the four girls in my freshman quad revealed they had or were struggling with eating disorders, the four of us were able to come together in prayer and ask God for wisdom and freedom from that struggle. This gave us access and permission to hold each other accountable–to make sure the girls were eating and to ask them tough, pointed questions. We were united and connected to each other as it is describes in Hebrews 10:24: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

I still want to live like this, but I must intentionally seek out relationships characterized by accountability, prayer and a willingness to call me out on my sin. Since college, I have found these relationships through a women’s young adult Bible study. Each evening we meet, we study the Word and then break up into smaller groups for prayer. The women in my group have become some of my closest friends because of our mutual sharing, vulnerability and communal prayer. I can “air my dirty laundry,” knowing they will correct but not judge.

The final way is through sharing. I am thankful that I was a part of a college community that valued sharing time and money with others. It was this environment that challenged me to take a bold step my junior year and apply to Youth Hostel Ministries (YHM). I spent the following summer working and evangelizing in a Christian youth hostel in Amsterdam and the experience changed my life. I am now moving toward becoming a full-time missionary in Europe because of it. Experiences like YHM, which allowed me to serve alongside my fellow classmates, united us in “heart and mind” and helped us form close bonds.

If I am truly seeking unity, I must learn to share. This means being willing to share my time with those in my community, my resources with people in need, and my life with whomever God places in my path. For me, sharing has meant continuing to work through challenges in my relationship with my roommate and figuring out how to share space with someone who functions differently than me. It has meant sharing the responsibility of leading Bible study discussions at my small group and sharing my time with a local crisis pregnancy clinic as a counselor. I have become more united with my close friends and church community as I have shared and served in these ways.

All of these methods are very counter-cultural. The world tells us to be independent, to hide our needs and insecurities, and to accumulate wealth and possessions for our own use. But God wants us to live differently. And where will we be if we intentionally seek these things? We will be united with believers in our immediate community, the global body of Christ, and most importantly, with God Himself.