Part of a series of articles, entitled 20 Years a Christian, recalling some of the important lessons I have learned in nearly two decades as a believer in Jesus.
I told you last week that I became a Christian in the summer of 1994, just before the beginning of my senior year in high school; and that, even before that, my parents had brought me regularly to church, even from the womb. But it wasn’t until my sophomore year in college that I really began to understand the importance of all those “one another” passages in the New Testament; the importance of Christians doing ‘life together’ as Bonhoeffer put it.
It was during that second year of college that I moved permanently away from home for the first time. And so I could no longer just default to my parents’ church, and to the routine that I had always known. I now had to find a church for myself, and to seek out Christian friends of my own volition. And when I got to campus, I remembered a man in my home church, who had gone to the same university as I was now attending … and how he had said to me some years before: ‘When you get to college, go to the Baptist Student Union (BSU). It will really be a blessing. In fact, I wish that’s what I had done when I was in school.’ Good advice (as is often the case when an older Christian is willing to admit what they wish they’d done differently)!
So there I sat in my dorm room that first weekend, with the BSU already in the back of my mind. And then, in the first few days, a young man knocked on my dorm room door, passing out fliers for the upcoming BSU picnic! And so I was in. I couldn’t make the picnic, but determined to go the following week to a worship and teaching gathering on a Tuesday night.
When I arrived, there was a table set up where you could sign up to be in a small group Bible study. To this day, I am not sure why I was so ready to sign up that first night … but I put pen to paper to say I was interested. I don’t know what I expected a college Bible study to be, but I certainly got more than I bargained for (and in a good way)! The next week a very large and intimidating-looking man (the ministry’s director) walked up to me at the weekly meeting, asked me if I was Kurt Strassner, handed me a sheet of paper with a couple of Bible verses written on it, and said: ‘We meet in my office at such and such a time each week. Have these passages memorized for next week’s meeting.’ Well, he was about six-foot-three and shaven completely bald like a drill sergeant … so what was I to do? I showed up at his office with the verses memorized at just the appointed time!
That first semester I met with him and a couple of other students week by week – reading and memorizing the Bible, learning how to pray, and so on. Soon I was involved in a weekly prayer meeting, too (where I met Tobey!). I got to participate in a mission trip the following spring. And very quickly Christian friendships began forming that impacted nearly every day of my life. We worshipped, prayed, studied, and just hung out … together. We were not a local church, of course … but I began in those BSU days to get a taste for the kind of Christian community that the church was created to be: people doing life – both the obviously spiritual and also the daily and mundane – together! And I’ve had a taste for it ever since.
God never intended for us to do this Christianity thing on our own (see Acts 2.41-47!). Nor did He create the church to be simply a once-a-week meeting place where people sit next to one another in the pews. He made us, also, to sit across from one another – at tables, in discussion circles, in living rooms, and so on. We were made to do ‘life together’! And I thank God, all these years later, for how the Baptist Student Union gave me my first taste of what I would ever after long for (and hope to foster) in the local church – real Christian community.