On Choosing a Church in College: PK Version

I distinctly remember my first Sunday morning in college. I was 15 hours away from home, far from my family and from the church that my dad planted and pastored for most of my life. I was a PK (pastor’s kid), and for the first time in my life, I had to choose where I was going to go to church. Suddenly, I realized that I hadn’t ever actually stopped to think about why I went to church or what kind of church I should attend. I simply went where my dad was pastoring. I found myself paralyzed by the choices and a little over my head with the decision.

Ministering on a college campus has revealed that I wasn’t the only pastor’s kid to feel this way. While seeing the church from the perspective of a PK is a beautiful and complicated thing, sometimes we assume that transitioning to a new church is second nature just because that’s the world we grew up in. But often, it’s harder than we think. You’re not alone, and it’s okay. Here are some thoughts about going to church in college as a PK.

Seven Things to Consider as You Look for a Church Home

First, go. It’s not uncommon to start reviewing values you grew up with when you leave home. It’s also normal for PKs to feel a sense of freedom from the proverbial fishbowl when they go away for college. It’s tempting to want to sleep in or skip church for a while. After all, you probably never had those options growing up. But, let me encourage you to make going to church a priority. Don’t skip just because you can and feel like it. It will be harder to get back into the rhythm later. If you must bask in a newfound freedom, sit in the back row.

Second, don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel “known” right away…

No Throwaway Seasons

In an age of public sharing, we see people lament life’s transitions. Moms post pictures of the moving boxes or the progression of their baby bumps with coordinated letter boards. They write about the sadness of the empty womb or express their struggle as they wait for a child’s diagnosis. We’re getting used to embracing the awkward and painful transitions of life by locking arms and coming alongside one another in the journey.

There is some good in this trend. Acknowledging and validating the messy seasons of life assures us we’re not alone. This gives us a sigh of relief. After all, Jesus wept with the hurting, cautious not to gloss over the hardship of struggle, pain, and death. But we have to wonder if positive affirmations and prompts to “look ahead” extend our gaze far enough for real hope.

I can relate to hard seasons of transition when our family size changes. When we had four kids three and under, one being a newborn, the days were incredibly long. One morning before church, my husband left early, leaving me at home with everyone else. I was determined to make food for a potluck we were attending after church. In a couple of hours, I needed to nurse, shower, change everyone’s clothes, and make a meal. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. When we finally made it to the potluck, I was so tired and frazzled, I misstepped and dropped the meal before placing it on the table. Seeing the dish shatter into hundreds of shards of glass on the concrete was an embarrassing representation of my heart during our transition to a new normal. I was a big, hot mess going a hundred directions, unsure of my usefulness in such a pitiful state…

Purposeful Pondering

There are a number of days and seasons throughout the year when I intentionally open my figurative chest of memories, select the appropriate box and carefully remove the lid so I can inspect the contents. Sometimes the momentous events that trigger my reflections were joyfully anticipated, like the births of my daughters and grandchildren. But others, like the sudden death of my husband, came without warning and brought deep sorrow and bewilderment. Irrespective of the emotions associated with the initial event, I choose to remember. Because time offers perspective. And anniversaries provide opportunities to reflect on God’s goodness.

One January morning eight years ago, I awoke to my first day of unemployment in over three decades. Although not completely unexpected, the news the day before that I was no longer needed because my job was being eliminated left me numb and disoriented. I recognized those feelings, milder versions of the shock I felt after my husband’s unexpected death.

Unlike the previous afternoon when the slate sky matched the tenor of the windowless conference room where I received my termination notice, the morning was drenched in brilliant sunlight. In spite of my surreal circumstances, I held onto hope every bit as bright as the sunshine streaming through my windows. In fact, I posted the following status on Facebook:

“30+ years of continuous employment came to a halt yesterday when my job was eliminated. God obviously has something else for me to do. I can’t wait to see what it is! J”

Even though I was uncertain how being unemployed would affect my life, I rested in the certainty that my life was exactly where it had been before I lost my job – secure in the hands of the One who declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:9-10), who has a plan for good and not harm (Jeremiah 29:11). The previous day’s events did not surprise Him or catch Him off-guard.

I reminded myself of another windowless room where I and my elementary-aged daughters were told the unthinkable – that our beloved husband and father had succumbed to a fatal heart attack – and I recalled God’s provision across the 13 ½-intervening years.

I Want More Beauty

These past few years have been hard on our family. I see the Lord at work, and while this is an anchor of hope, I’d be lying if I said this head knowledge always translates to my heart. I struggle to believe He’s near while everything in me feels abandoned. We are a family of deep intense feelers, and we all process our feelings in different ways. My husband and I feel remarkably underqualified in communicating our own feelings in healthy ways, while at the same time trying to figure out how to teach our children to do the same. In moments of desperation, I ask God why so much has to exhaust us relationally, and why He allows marriage and parenting—even with all of the joys—to be so painful. Sometimes I even wonder if it’s worth it to keep my heart in the fight.

A Necessary Cutting

A few years ago, my father-in-law, a retired forester, cut our azalea bushes down almost to the main stem. It saddened me to agree to it because they were so green and full. Or at least I thought they were. Cutting them seemed counterintuitive, but I learned soon enough that outside appearances don’t always reveal what’s truly below the surface.

Even though I was afraid cutting them back would do irreparable damage, I agreed, trusting his expertise. When he was finished, I saw the true state of the health of our bushes. What was left was nothing but dry, brittle sticks. I wondered, “What if we’ve cut away all the beauty and all we’ll ever have now is dead twigs? At least there were flowers on the outside!”He then showed me the evidence of life inside the branches and explained that since all the foliage on the outside had been cut away, the bush can now get the light it needs to grow.

Prayer and Partnerships: A Profile of Covenant College

Editor’s Note: From its inception, the women in the PCA have loved on and supported the denomination in practical ways. One way has been through the annual women’s ministry love gift. This year, the women’s ministry of the PCA is praying for and partnering with the different agencies and committees of the denomination regionally. Throughout the year, we will highlight the committees and agencies to learn more about what they do and how we can pray for them.

I recently interviewed Derek Halvorson, president of Covenant College.

Christina: Can you share a bit of the history of Covenant College? How did it come to be the PCA’s college?

Derek: Covenant College was founded in 1955 in Pasadena, California. (There is a longer story about its founding that I won’t tell now.) In 1956, the college moved to St. Louis and took up residence on the same campus as the newly established Covenant Theological Seminary (so the college is the “older sister” institution). In 1964, the college moved to Lookout Mountain. (Again, there is a longer story about the move.)  The college came into the PCA as a part of the 1982 Joining and Receiving between the PCA and the RPCES. It’s because of that older tie to the RPCES that the college has always drawn students from places—like Seattle/Tacoma, Colorado, Philadelphia, Delaware, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.—that are outside of the PCA’s historic areas of concentration in the South.

Christina: What is the college experience like at Covenant? What makes it unique for students who attend?…