The beginning of the fall semester is always a fun time at our house. It's a season when everything holds a component of something fresh and exciting, from the T-shirts Ashley gets for free from campus (to replace the ones I wore out during the previous year), to the hours-old leftover pizza she brings in from hall programs celebrating the start of the year. We may have to cut the crust with an acetylene torch, but hey - it's free. And it means I don't have to cook. So. Win-win.
We reside in the land where college football rules all. The Southeastern Conference. The SEC. Since the beginning of the fall athletic season coincides with the beginning of the academic year, students take this opportunity to demonstratively set their fashion tone for the year by showing forth their spirit and pride. From the placement of stickers and decals on vehicles to the wearing of shirts and hats adorned with logos and names, legions of energetic, frenzied, and passionate 18-to-20-something year olds take to the residence halls, academic buildings, and city to serve as a witness and walking billboard...
...for their church.
"And on the third down, he rose again."
Having spent more than half of my life living in towns where August means extended traffic delays and seeing aluminum beer cans pop up in yards overnight like so many recyclable mushrooms, I'm used to the fun, kinetic mania, and genuine joy to be found in what a new beginning represents. Fresh academic (re)starts, reconnecting with friends they haven't seen all summer, and meeting new faces and learning new perspectives about life from that new kid in the residence hall.
Restaurants, bars, shopping centers - pretty much every establishment you can name that lies within the city limits and is within walking distance of the football stadium will come up with a sports-related theme to start the academic year off, showing fully where their loyalties lie.
And so will the churches. Because as the Bible teaches us, clearly the Son of God came to serve...the home team.
First United Marketing Church
It always makes me laugh a little when churches use the start of the school year as a launch pad for a series or new teaching lesson. I get that the influx of new first-year and transfer students into a community is a great opportunity to reach out to them - both from a legitimate concern for their spiritual well-being and development, as well as a chance to "hook" them into their respective fellowships. Far too many people find that without the rhythm and cadence of "Sunday morning - Wednesday night - plus small group" for Spiritual growth that was monitored both by their parents and peers, once they enter the promised land of college, they begin to cease attending any kind of function that doesn't come with free food and/or cute people attending.
I've been a part of too many churches where the leadership tries to brand their fellowship as something it's not - namely, a place for college students. Because while they want to students to attend (Nothing looks good to the Conference like an influx of fresh and young faces! And they're photogenic!) they want to do so on their terms. At their times. In their place. And they want their church's sanctuary to be THE place of sanctuary for them.
Oh, those campus ministries are okay in their own right, but let's not forsake the assembling together of one another...here.
It's Bigger on the Inside
I have been fortunate to be a part of some killer small groups in the past - in Athens, Miami, and even back in Mississippi. And it was the friendship, the camaraderie, the love felt between us all that held us together. Moreso than the church as a whole ever did.
One could argue the small groups could not function without the larger church, or vice-versa. But one thing was for sure: we didn't have bumper stickers for our small group. We lived a life that spoke more than hoping that if we wore a shirt for our church, someone might ask us about it.
We marketed love to each other. And to compete strangers. We didn't try to proselytize for our team. We let our lives speak more than our stats ever could.
And in many ways, it made those seasons never end.