Receiving Students into an Assembly
A Maunder, Cardiff
Leaving the fellowship of one's home assembly and going away to pursue one's education, can be one of life's most testing experiences for a young believer. It is a time when temptations of a moral, worldly and denominational character have to be faced by a young Christian, but it is also a time when the essential support and advice of parents, elders and other godly believers from the home assembly are no longer readily to hand. Those first few months away from home can, potentially, be a dangerous time in a young believer's experience. This article is written to emphasize to assemblies in towns and cities where there are colleges and universities, how absolutely essential it is that loving care and support are given to such young believers from the day they arrive.
For this to be done, however, there is first of all a basic responsibility on the part of the student's home assembly. It is clear from a study of the New Testament that for a brother or sister to have a letter of commendation to take with them from their own assembly is a scriptural practice. That letter should not be printed or stereotyped, but it should tell the receiving assembly something about the spiritual character of the young believer, and any activities in service in which he or she has been involved in the home assembly.
When Paul commended Pheobe to the assembly at Rome, he commended her as a servant of the assembly at Cenchrea and as one who had been a succourer of many and of Paul himself, Rom. 16. 1, 2. However, I would suggest that as well as giving the young believer such a letter, the commending assembly would be well advised to make enquiries for the telephone number of one of the elders in the assembly to which the young person is going, and that a call be made before the young person is due to arrive. Such a call would not only let the receiving assembly know that the young believer was due to arrive and when, but enquires could be made about the days and times of weeknight meetings. Most students commence in college or university at the beginning of the week and there are, therefore, quite a few days before the Lord's Day. Knowing the times of the weeknight meetings would enable them to attend during their first week.
Assemblies, receiving students into fellowship, have a number of important responsibilities placed upon them and we want to examine some of those now.
'Given to hospitality' is not only one of the qualities to be seen in an overseer, 1 Tim 3. 2, but is something in which all the saints should feel exercised, Rom. 12. 13. However, overseers should show an example in the matter and if the practical suggestions outlined above are followed and contact made prior to the student arriving, it should not be too difficult for contact to be made within the first few days and the young believer invited to the homes of overseers during the evenings of that first vital week. Our young brother Mark Lacey made reference in his article in the previous issue of Precious Seed, to the dangers to which the young Christian student is exposed during fresher's week. I still remember my first week at college very well. It was one of the most difficult and loneliest weeks I had ever spent. Students need much help and support at this time. The weekends are also times when a student needs to be shown hospitality. I was fortunate during my three years at college to have a Christian home which was open to me On any Sunday. I also look back with deep gratitude to the dear saints in the Hellier Street assembly in Dudley, many of them now with the Lord, who invited me to dinner and tea on every Lord's Day.
The desire of overseers in every assembly should be for the spiritual and moral development of the saints who are in fellowship. When a student has been commended, he or she ought now to be in full fellowship in the assembly which has received them, with all the privileges and responsibilities which are involved. This should be emphasized to them by the receiving assembly as well as by the home assembly. The situation, unfortunately followed by many students today, where the Christian Union meetings held in the college take precedence over the gatherings of the local assembly to which they have been received, is to be regretted. If the young believer is to continue in his or her spiritual development, then attendance at the prayer meeting, the Bible reading and teaching meeting of the assembly will be just as important as the gatherings on a Lord's Day. Overseers should seek to gain the confidence of these young believers at an early stage with a longing to see them grow in the things of God so that when they return to their home assembly it will be obvious that progress had been made while they have been away.
Involvement in Service
Although I am a firm believer in the fact that young believers should make gradual and steady progress in their service for the Lord, there is, nevertheless, a need to give them something to do so that their energy and enthusiasm can be channeled in the right direction and made useful for the Lord. This will apply just as much to students who have been received into fellowship as it will to the assembly's own young people. I had been involved in children's work in my home assembly before 1 went to college. This was mentioned in my letter of commendation and within a few weeks of arriving I was taking a Sunday School class. This made me feel part of the assembly and got me involved. I was encouraged to get involved in the trading work and to give a little word in the open air which was held in the marketplace in the centre of Dudley every Lord's Day evening. Assemblies should follow this example. Many students get involved in interdenominational activities both in the college and outside simply because the assemblies to which they have been commended do not seek to get them involved in assembly activities.
It should be said that things will be 'done decently and in order' if, when the student has completed his or her course and is returning home, the assembly in which they have been in fellowship were to give them a letter of commendation to their home assembly, in which mention is made of the student's spiritual progress and of the service rendered.
We do not know the number of students who have left home assemblies and gone away to college who, by the end of their studies, have either ended up in the denominations or, even more sadly, have put aside the things of God altogether. We would probably find the number staggering. Many of them would still be in fellowship today if the home assembly had clearly taught them, from the scriptures, the fundamentals of the faith and the principles of assembly gathering, and if the receiving assembly had with love and concern shown them hospitality, desired their spiritual growth and had sought to get them involved in the service of the assembly. It is therefore very important that the new student should feel welcome, involved and committed to the new assembly. This can only be achieved if the elders and all the saints go out of their way to 'look after' the student in the same way as they would their own sons and daughters. Let them feel welcomed, protected and involved in the fellowship.