Note: This seemed like a very relevant post for Reformation Day!

by John Tuttle

Cup Of Coffee And ReadingWith the start of another school year, every church in a college town looks again at how it can touch the tech-savvy, fun-seeking, fast-living students who come swarming back to campus. More multimedia in the services? More hanging out in the residence halls? More pizza? What will get their interest?

Our church sits directly across the avenue from Northern Michigan University, with a student body of 9,000. Over the past few years, students and twenty-somethings have actually become the majority of our congregation. This has happened not because we have chosen to entertain them per se, but because we have called them to an intensity of commitment to God, including his nature and his plans for human life. In other words, hardcore doctrine.

The bedrock of this is a 275-page manual I developed–a catechism, if you will–entitled “Foundational Truth.” I stumbled into this project by accident a few years back when I set out to edit an existing doctrinal statement and tinker with its layout. I started adding Scriptural support for the various points, expanding the section subheads, making applications to contemporary life, and inserting self-examination questions. It took me well over a year–and that was just the first draft!

The manual has six main sections:

God (37 pages)
Bible (20 pages)
Humanity (117 pages)
Jesus Christ (35 pages)
Holy Spirit (16 pages)
Church (34 pages)
This has become the core curriculum for our discipleship groups. It is expected reading for anyone in the church’s leadership. A number of individuals choose to work through it on their own as well.

Too Dull?

Now I know what you’re thinking: Wouldn’t college kids be bored to death with this stuff? Don’t they require something more contemporary, more high-voltage?

Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:

The teaching of purpose, meaning and destiny is extremely important to an aimless generation. Most of our young searchers are wrestling with growing-up issues. They’ve been given very little direction for living. With gaming and television for babysitters, many kids have been brought up feeling as if they were little more than complications to some adult’s self-centered life. When they find an adult who will love and care for them, it is extremely appealing. (That’s one reason why our post-service meals are critical to what we do. They express love and open the door to hearts that want to believe someone cares.)

Today’s kids think differently than perhaps you and I did when we were college students. I remember how I wrestled intensely with creation and evolution. That’s not as important an issue to those I minister to now. Why? They have been trained in relativism. Inconsistencies are allowed as issues to ponder but not bother their daily life. (Their science consciousness comes out in different ways. Try using Styrofoam cups, and see how many react to the potential pollution!)

Our group, for all their sexual experience, is desperately trying to figure out love, marriage and family. We present a very traditional, biblical approach to these topics. At first I thought this would irritate them. But there is a thirst for truth and the stability it brings. Just like Jesus promised, the Spirit has a way of affirming in hearts the validity of his message.

The workings of the Holy Spirit are accepted and practiced among students today in ways that far exceed the understanding I had growing up. These young adults have watched (albeit negatively) the supernatural in video form for years. They do not wrestle with the reality of the supernatural, for they know it is real. As a result, prophecy and healing are easily accepted in our group, even commonplace. An amazing number of newcomers report Spirit encounters, such as the feeling of hot liquid being poured over them from head to toe. We then have to fill in the blanks on who Jesus actually is.

What about sin? Do we dare talk about gambling and gaming, anorexia and cutting, pornography and masturbation? In the back of my mind, naturally, is always the fear of what others will say or how they will respond. But we have to be more occupied with pleasing God than man.

We have worked with gays, lesbians and cross-dressers. And I have learned that sexuality, spoken of in plain terms, is a fitting topic for those who have tried everything. When I lift up marriage and purity as God’s best, they nod knowingly.

Of course, I try to present the truth of doctrine in terms they will understand. There’s no point in preserving old language for its own sake. I am not looking to develop elitists but young men and women who can clearly present the essentials of the faith to their generation. On a similar note, we put more energy into knowing the voice of God with Scripture as the guide than we do in learning chapter-and-verse for quick retrieval. That’s what computers are for, right?

Christ is our hope. The old answers still work, but the presentation has changed. Core doctrine, however, is relevant to all generations, because it is God’s truth. We have only a few years to impact the college students who come our way. We must make good use of the time we’re given.

To acquire a copy of the author’s “Foundational Truth” manual, write: Pastor John Tuttle, Water’s Edge Church, 1228 Presque Isle Ave., Marquette, MI 49855. A donation to the church to cover cost of printing and mailing would be appreciated.

John Tuttle is the Sr. Pastor at Water’s Edge Church in Marquette, MI.


One thought on “Doctrine for College Students?

  1. What a great article, Pastor John. We’ve seen the fruit of your hard work in a church crowded with young adults… well done!

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