The Restoration Project is a young church. This is true of the length of time our community has gathered together (2.5 years), and it is also true of our average age. A large number of our congregants and members are college students. And their youth is noticeable, not only in the seats, but in our worship service, where they regularly participate as readers, singers, and musicians, in our kids ministry, where they volunteer their time and talent; they are at the doors greeting people, giving announcements, serving communion, and from time to time, they even step up to the pulpit to preach. In the past, this has elicited a recurring line of question from visitors – “Is this a college ministry?” “Do I belong here?” “Is anyone older than me going to show up?!”
In some ways, we were intentional in trying to reach high school and college students. I teach high school Bible at a local Christian school, and many of my students do not attend church. They are discontent, unheard, or just uninterested. They are often unsure and filled with doubt. They have questions, good ones, ones that the Church should entertain, but, for the most part, doesn’t, or worse, won’t. They call BS on memorized answers. They want something real, something authentic and relational and transformative. They want the good news of the Gospel to be, well, good.
I would imagine that most of us have read the recent surveys showing a decline in Americans’ religious affiliation, and we could each probably attest (to some degree) the truth of this research in our own context. When it came time to plant TRP, we felt it too. And as a result, we had these students in mind, not because we had a method that would draw them in, not because we had any answer other than Christ and him crucified and raised. No, I think our interest in the student population was largely due to the fact that we didn’t feel too different from them. We also wanted something real, something authentic and relational, something transformative.
The fact that students actually showed up, however, had little to do with us. In fact, it was sort of an accident.
Over the course of our ministry, TRP has met in three different locations, all of which have been less than a mile away from Salisbury University, a growing state school located on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We started as a house church, in the living room of a family that has partnered with us from the very beginning. It just so happened that they lived close to the college. It wasn’t strategic. They offered and we gladly accepted. Some of my former students, who had begun attending SU, attended. Then they started to invite their roommates, folks on their dorm floor, students from Cru or the myriad of other campus ministries, their atheist friends, their families. One time, someone came with a Jeep full of people, most of whom she didn’t know.
The students’ passion and enthusiasm was infectious. It still is. We have found them to be an incredibly talented bunch of artists, athletes, musicians, poets, thinkers, readers, writers, cooks, crafters, candle-makers, sign-painters. We have learned that the priesthood of all believers is not age specific. These students are the Church, and I can attest that without their willingness (and courage and obedience), we wouldn’t be who we are.
This has been clear to me on numerous occasions: when Hannah – a 19 year old student – preached on Paul’s rhetorical strategy in 1 Corinthians 13, or when Tessa – a 24 year old student – wrote and performed a beautiful and poignant song about resurrection for our Easter service, or when Kassidy – a 21 year old student – volunteered to organize a time of fellowship after our service each week, or when Tim – a 19 year old student – composed a poem to introduce a teaching a few weeks ago.
I could go on.
What has been even more exciting than the students’ involvement in “ministry,” however, is their passion for the lost and broken, those on the margins and the outskirts, those to whom Jesus is saying, “Follow me,” but those in the Church are not. Despite their age and, in many cases, the newness of their faith, many of these students are learning and growing and then building beautiful, gospel-centered relationships with the people around them.
It is true, we wouldn’t be who we are without them.
And in some ways, neither would the Church.
Here’s the point, for the church starter or the seasoned pastor. Age ain’t nothing but a number. So celebrate the gifts of your community, whether they be young or old. Learn from each other. Invest, disciple, and teach each other. And, as leaders, allow the people that God has placed in your ministry to flourish. It could change everything.
by Josh James, Pastor at The Restoration Project in Salisbury, Maryland