Rev. Larsen: I am speaking today with my grandson, Timothy Larsen, who is a student at the University of Iowa. Tim was with us a year ago, and we had very favorable response from people. I would like to visit some more with him.
Tim, what does a typical college student think of the church?
Tim: Based on what I have seen, the typical college student does not go to church. The reason is he views it as an empty religious exercise and fails to find any significance for it in his life.
It seems to me that this is a reflection of the church. The church today lacks authority, and it is a reflection of poor teaching and preaching of the truth.
Rev. Larsen: You are currently attending a church that is not a part of the denomination in which you were raised. Tell me about your church, how you found your way there, and what causes you to return each Sunday.
Tim: Throughout my life I have learned that what sets a great church apart is the way in which it treats the Word of God. That is the reason I began attending this church, and why I return each week. It is an Evangelical Free church. I was raised in a Lutheran church. However, the trend in the Lutheran church is to move away from the authority of God’s Word, which has consistently been accepted as truth for two thousand years; it is watering down the Gospel.
Because I was aware of that fact when I went to college, I no longer wanted to be a part of it. So I began attending a church where the truth is communicated with authority, and people leave worship with no doubt about the Gospel and the role Christ is to play in their life.
I have learned a church is not worthwhile unless it is willing to treat the truth as the truth, and communicate it as effectively and unapologetically as possible.
Rev. Larsen: Tell me, Tim, what is the primary mental obstacle to a college student regarding faith?
Tim: For many college students, it is the first time they have lived away from their parents. They are not really accountable to anybody, and therefore have to face their own independence and make their own decisions. That is the theme in part during the college years. Many begin to believe the mentality: what is true for me may not be true for someone, so I will not be too dogmatic in what I say is true.
I believe this is a major obstacle for the college student regarding the Church and the Christian faith. Christianity claims to have authoritative answers on these questions: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where will I spend eternity? This causes some to shy away from Christianity and view it as intolerant.
Rev. Larsen: I have had the privilege of living near the campus of a university, and I have always found it a challenge to preach there.
What difference can a strong Christian body (the Church) make in the life of a college student?
I think many college students are looking for certainty. Things we experience on a university campus shatter many of our foundations. Many belief systems are present that claim to have the answers. There is so much complexity, people wonder what they can know for sure.
Tim: That is where the church can step in. College kids are wandering about, questioning their purpose. If the church can step in with the truth spoken in love, it can make a big difference in a college student who wants to know what is truth. Deep down, college students do not want phoniness, political correctness, generic answers to questions. They want to know what is true. The church, if it can just be honest and unashamed of the truth, can make a big difference in the life of that student.
Rev. Larsen: Do you think some college students, when faced with the truth every Sunday, will turn their backs and go their own way? Will we lose some that way?
Tim: Yes, we will definitely lose some, and others will not know what to think of it all. However, although you may lose some, and you may not move a confused person out of his indecision, the only way to make true, authentic believers is by presenting the truth. That is the way for people to feel a stronger sense of their place in the world, and the significance of their life. They need honest answers to tough questions.
Rev. Larsen: If I am hearing you correctly, you are saying the churches that are using the popularity appeal to get students to church are making a terrible mistake.
Tim: The politically correct (or soft) approach will work in the short term. It can probably get people to come out, enjoy themselves, and meet new people. However, in the end, I firmly believe people will see through the phoniness.
That is not true for everybody; some would shy away. Still, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that churches wanting to make a real difference in the lives of kids are the ones that do not shy away from providing tough answers to tough questions.
Jesus worked very much the same way in the New Testament. He did not shy away from anybody, but always came back with an answer, given in love. That is the spirit of love, and it reaches out and touches the hearts of people, young and old alike.
Rev. Larsen:What are college kids, deep down, really looking for?
Tim: Experts often talk about generational traits. They say my generation, (people in their late teens and twenties) lacks purpose and hope. We are wandering aimlessly about without a purpose. We lack a mission and a strong sense of ourselves.
If this is indeed the case, then what a college kid really needs, deep down inside, whether he or she knows it or not, are answers. The answers that really make a difference in a person’s life – regarding eternity – have to come from the Christian faith.
It is so easy to wonder about our purpose – why we are here. If the church would step in and authoritatively explain the answers to questions dealing with purpose, people’s lives would be changed.
Rev. Larsen: I used to tell my confirmation students that we had a lot in common. Young people have the whole world in front of them. Yet, they are pretty much self-centered. When a person reaches their 60s, the world is behind them, and they begin to think about how they will spend their last years and eternity. Then, again, we become self-centered.
Tim, are college students too self-centered to consider faith?
Tim: We have to divide the question into two categories: the short-run and the long-run. In the short-run, yes, there is a lot of selfishness from people my age, just as there is from any generation. They believe life is about them, with no purpose beyond that. There is a god-shaped vacuum only God can fill.
In the end, however, even the most selfish people, in their hearts, know there has to be more to life than their own happiness. They may just not be able to put their finger on what it is. Something within even the most selfish of us is crying out.
So, I do not believe that even college students are too selfish to consider faith. Even people, who on the surface seem self-centered to the greatest degree, have the same longings as the rest of us.
Rev. Lasen: Down deep in your heart, what do you feel should be the church’s message to the college student?
Tim: The message to the college student needs to be a set of truths, which may be difficult for people to accept. It is tough from one standpoint, but simple from another, for it all starts with God. These truths are that God created us in His image. However, since time of the fall in the Garden of Eden, we have all been born with a sinful nature. It is not just that we do bad things from the time we were born. God, being perfect, cannot exist side-by-side with evil and sin in our world. There must be a bridge between us and God. That bridge, as God provided for us, is Christ. Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead. If we will just accept that message and believe and trust it in faith, we will spend eternity with God in Heaven.
That is as simple as it gets: God created us; we are sinners; Christ provided a sacrifice for us – Himself. If we will just accept that in faith, we will be saved and will spend eternity in heaven.
That is the pure Gospel, there is no question about that. It is also the message that needs to be proclaimed, no matter what age we are. It is a privilege to proclaim this Gospel.
Rev. Larsen: Are any of your close friends considering the ministry?
Tim: I do not know how many of my friends are considering serving as a pastor. However, I do have several close friends who, in a deeper sense, are already in the ministry. They are striving to serve God in their lives already, no matter which career they choose. They view their life as “being in the ministry” by bringing
glory to God.
Rev. Larsen: In your opinion what will the Church of tomorrow be like in light of the people of your age today?
Tim: I would divide it into two separate churches: those churches whose mission is to proclaim the truth, and those who are not. It will depend a great deal upon who is in what church and the revival (or awakening) in that church.
It seems to me that the Church is going in two separate directions. You have the church that is not speaking the truth as effectively as they can. They teach a watered-down, compromised message. They are shying away from teaching Christ as the only way, and difficult truths such as, even a loving God would allow people to go to hell.
However, other churches are proclaiming the biblical truth. They are on a mission to communicate the Gospel as effectively as they can. This group can make more of a difference in people’s lives and in eternity. I would much rather be in this type of church.
Rev. Larsen: Thank you, Tim, for this time that you have spent with us. Our prayers go with you and your friends. We believe that God will use you in a mighty way.