Is there heavy pressure to be involved in the Christian community at Bethel without equal emphasis on one’s personal spiritual development?
By Maddie Christy
The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Clarion, its staff or the institution. If you would like to submit a response or an opinion piece of your own, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I shared lunch with a prospective student this week, the question was posed, “So, do you feel like people here really take their faith seriously, or is it just kind of another activity they do?” I found myself with the opportunity to attempt to put into words the spiritual experience of Bethel students.
The answer I could offer that I felt held the most truth was, “Yes and no.”
Let me explain.
On any given day I could survey the general population of students at Bethel about what organized spiritual activities they had been involved in throughout the week and I would receive a rather impressive answer by most standards. But at the same time, the list of events may or may not be telling of the state of the personal spiritual lives of students.
You see, with the multitude of opportunities available to Bethel students, I think you would receive a long list of events and groups that people are part of. Be it Vespers, Chapel, Mighty Men, Rooted, Shift, Campus Outreach, Student Min, D-Groups, CityFront and so on – we can make an impressive list of all the faith-focused events where we spend our time during the week. And this is a good thing for a Christian university. Participation in organized faith-focused gatherings is highly advertised and encouraged, not to mention well-attended. Fostering Christian community and fellowship is something Bethel does well.
But this heavy community focus, and the pressure some students may feel to be involved, can raise questions.
Are we just racking up a handful of “spiritually-focused” events throughout the week in order to check the box on our to-do list that says, “Be intentional about my faith this week”?
Are these activities at the expense of quiet personal time with the Lord and growing individually in relationship with Him?
Are our relationships with the Lord lacking fullness and satisfaction because we don’t prioritize investing time and energy in individual spiritual disciplines?
The answers for some of us might be yes.
In answering the question of the prospective student, I had to question what the underlying goal was in Bethel’s collective faith life and where time for individual growth fits.
If we took another survey of the general population of students, this time asking about ways they had spent time or energy investing in their personal relationship with the Lord in the last week, many students might struggle to provide an honest answer. Their lists may be short.
To the degree that this is true, this presents a dilemma.
The growth and development of the individual spiritual lives of students at Bethel needs to be emphasized, just as much if not more so than the emphasis on the communal faith life of the larger Bethel community. Without a firm individual faith foundation, what will there be to bring to the community table? How great will this community we rave about really be, if it is composed of spiritually starving souls? How fruitful will one hour together really be if no single part of the whole has anything to bring to the gathering?
At Bethel we have so many ways to engage with others spiritually, but these spaces cannot be relied on as our only source for spiritual growth. While these events and gatherings often spur us to greater growth, let’s not lean on them for our spiritual health and vibrancy of relationship with the Lord. Let’s not forgo opportunities to invest intentionally in our own spiritual walk. Moving forward let’s invest more heavily and intentionally in spaces for personal growth.
We could all benefit from pursuing deeper relationship with the Lord and a stronger faith foundation.
Even more so than this, as a body of students at a Christian university and as part of the body of Christ, we need to be wholeheartedly committed to our personal growth for the betterment of the whole.
Let’s make it a priority to set aside or schedule in time for this, even if that means scaling away community events and group programing.
Our community of faith at Bethel will truly flourish in new and beautiful ways when we are intentionally choosing to engage in our personal spiritual development.