Two students come together into my office and sit down. One comes from the Midwest, the other from the West Coast. Both grew up in large, non-denominational churches. “We notice that people really use the Old Testament around here,” they begin. “In chapel, in classes—it comes up a lot. Neither of us have really been exposed to the Old Testament, so we wanted to talk about that.”
Another student stops by to talk about challenges with her parents. “I’m the only Christian in my family,” she says. “They do not understand why I chose a Christian college and tear it down every time I talk with them.”
Chapel one morning is led by a senior from Afghanistan who tells us how her family was at the airport in Kabul along with thousands of others waiting to leave, and are now in a refugee camp praying to come to the U.S.
Calvin students come from all over the world and from many Christian backgrounds, bringing increasing diversity in biblical literacy, theological understanding, and denominational identity.
We have students who passionately love Jesus but don’t know much about the Bible. We have students who come from faith communities where they were taught that doubt was sin, so they are scared to ask their deepest questions about faith. We have others who come in with their guards up, having been warned that college is a place where people lose their faith, and they listen to their professors expecting to be offended. We have Korean missionary kids who grew up speaking Spanish, students from rural communities where everyone looked like them (whether in Nigeria or Montana), and students from global cities who find Grand Rapids quaint.
Calvin University is a picture of the global church, and a glimpse of what the church will become. Many students have grown up with plentiful options for church and worship, and a ripping electric guitar may not be the draw for them that older generations may think it is. They love good preaching and good music (don’t we all?), but as one student said, “I want more than a concert and a TED Talk.”
They long for the holy in worship, for diversity in musical styles and in the languages sung, and a sense that the people with whom they are worshiping really love the Lord and each other.
Students who spend the week in the predominantly white setting of Calvin may be eager to gather on Sundays with those who look like them, speak their language, or understand their culture. Because fewer students know the difference between Baptist, Wesleyan or Reformed, the denominational identity of a congregation matters less to them than the vibrancy of the worship, the engagement with the neighborhood, or the strength of the preaching.
But what really draws them in are relationships. Students are eager to learn more about how to follow Jesus, and would love mentors to help them— this is the most common request we receive in campus ministries. They want older, non-parental people in their lives who care for them.
The rising generations are curious about what it means to follow Jesus, and they are eager for us to show them. I can’t think of a better investment of our time.