You can’t afford to skip church during exams

As a pastor in a church with about 50% university students I have lots of conversations with students at this time of year about exams. Sometimes, young Christians tell me that they won’t be coming to church or Bible Study this week because they are stressed out about exams.

I feel their pain – I did ten years of continuous undergraduate full time study. Exams can be extremely stressful – many students are under a huge amount of pressure of expectation from parents, teachers, and themselves. The last thing I want to do is add more pressure by guilt tripping them into coming to church.

It’s not like God needs you there. Unlike the pagan gods, the true and living God doesn’t need us to turn up to church religiously. He will still be God if we don’t show up. After all,

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” Acts 17:24 – 25

Nor is it a simple matter of priorities. “Where are your priorities?” is a good way to make people feel bad. But I’m sure there are some true emergencies which require us to be absent from our church family. Not because that emergency is more important than God, or our fellowship. But simply because it is urgent, and as limited human beings we cannot be in two places at once.

However, I do think most of the time the decision to skip church because of exam pressure is a bad one. Here’s some thoughts.

  1. I worry about what these habits look like after graduation. For every student in our church studying for a big exam, there is a worker under massive pressure from their boss, or a primary carer who has not slept all weekend. Studying for a law exam is hard work. But so is being a lawyer on a massive merger deal. Sitting exams puts huge pressures on our time. But so does marking 150 of them. If we don’t learn as students how to make space in our lives for the important things, then how will we cope in the future with the competing demands of work, friends and family?
  2. You can’t actually study effectively 24 hours a day. Being disciplined with your study time, and clear about your boundaries, is actually better study technique. I was very grateful for one of my university lecturers who taught me this. Make a plan which includes the things which make you thrive as a human being: exercise, good food, sleep, friends … and yes, church. You could cram unproductively all day. But far better to get up early, go for a run in the morning, then work solidly for the day, then enjoy a well earned study break at church.
  3. When I am under stress, the last thing I need is less time with God and his people. Why do the exams seem so ominous? For me, I know it is at least partly that I tend to value myself based on my performance. There are good practical reasons why passing exams is better than failing exams. But, personally, I know there is also a part of me which has made more of my self than I should. Jesus taught that the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth are toxic to faith (Matt 13:22). What could be more important, during times of great stress, to spend an hour and a bit with our brothers and sisters being reminded of who God is, and who we are to him? Jesus said:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matt 10:29-31)

I’ll leave you now with this classic Anglican prayer for students:

Almighty Father, who commanded us to love you with all our mind; look with your gracious favour, we pray, on our Universities, Colleges, and Schools. Bless all who teach and all who learn; grant that they may seek and love the truth, grow in wisdom and knowledge, and in humility of heart ever look to you, the source of all wisdom and understanding. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (An Australian Prayer Book, 1978, p96)

17 thoughts on “You can’t afford to skip church during exams

  1. What helpful reflections. From my experience, I resonate strongly with all 3 bulletpoints. I certainly appreciated the fellowship aspect of church when I was feeling tense about my engineering degree. You wrote for point two, “You can’t actually study effectively 24 hours a day. Being disciplined with your study time, and clear about your boundaries, is actually better study technique.” Well, that’s a great principle, but you see, when I was a student I was often pretty hopeless with time management, so when it came time to head off to a church, I was torn in self-loathing about my wasted day. It wasn’t that I hadn’t *tried* to study that weekend, it was that my self-discipline and distractedness. I have a feeling students often have a similar experience to mine. I reckon if you have a uni student friend who didn’t be part of church on a given Sunday, they could do with a compassionate, quick text. They’ll love you for it.

  2. Although I am not a university student, I feel those quilty and pain for not coming to church because of examinations. I am David and I am from Singapore, studying in a secondary school. I am not saying that what you say is wrong, I just want to add points or maybe disagreeing. Having a high expectations from your loved ones could be the reason why we don’t go to church. Like it stuck in your head that a student needs to study in order to achieve the standards that their parents want. Not only that, the world is so screwed up that a student personality is based on his grades not his personality. I mean what? How are we suppose to be focusing on God when we have to fight for ourselves so that we can be part of the society to be accepted as a worker of excellence or whatever. Yes I know that we need to spend time with God but these things that we always face in our lives come and haunt with no escape of freedom or with no patient at all. I do love going to church, praising God and marvel at God’s creations, miracles and the unity that Christians have. However, sometimes a student is just constraint to what their parents say and I am one of students. I love my parents and respect their decisions even if they say no for me not to go to church, I still have to respect them. God told us to honor our parents.

    • David, your points are valid. Certainly, the demand from studying is heavy. However, remember that the Lord promises us that He will provide when we seek Him (Matthew 6:33), and His yoke is not burdensome (Matthew 11:30). To survive in the demanding world is not by striving on our own, but instead we need to depend on God.

    • Hey David,

      I grew up in Singapore, going through Secondary School and later went on to finish my Diploma before coming out to Melbourne to do my degree. So when you say that there are high expectations from our loved one like our parents, I totally understand what you are talking about.

      What stood out to me in your comment was “How are we suppose to be focusing on God when we have to fight for ourselves…” and I realised that maybe you have not truly have the revelation of the Father.

      David, why are you fighting for yourself? Zechariah 4:6 says that it is “…Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit…” Are you leaning on the Father or are you relying on your own strength to be where you are? Isa 26:4 says “Trust in the Lord (commit yourself in Him, lean on Him, hope confidently in him) forever, for the Lord your God is an everlasting rock.” The enemy wants to keep you busy, thinking you need to achieving everything on your own, always living by the expectations of others and forgotten to lean in and rest in the Lord.

      We come from a society thats is about works but where is the grace? Faith without work is dead but work without Faith is powerless. Hard work without faith lacks the power of God and the perspective of heaven.David, studying is a good thing, we want to do our best cause it not only honour our parents but also God. However, are you so busy studying and trying to achieve and forgot your position of faith. Studying from a position of faith is partnering with the Holy Spirit. It is like in Luke 10 where Martha kept running around the house so that Jesus could have a good meal etc and ends up getting frustrated and missed the encounter with Jesus.

      David, I am one of those student from a neighbourhood school that everyone looks down at. My O’levels result was so bad that I can barely make it into Poly. In Poly, I thought let take an exam break from Cell Group and serving…guess what…I FAILED and was to repeat the whole semester. Since than, I never stop going to Church and Cell Group and serving…and guess what were my results. I had A/B average in Poly and Distinctions in Uni with Honours. Am I not honouring my parents when I go Church? It is quite the opposite. When I take the time out and put God first, God honours me back cause it is the sacrifice (offering) I had made to Him. When I partner with the Holy Spirit while studying (and now working), there is always peace…yes, there are times where I do get stress but there is also peace that surpasses my understanding. And when I’m doing well, I honoured God, and my parents are happy with the fruits. Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.”

      David, I am not sure if you are reading this or anyone else that are in similar situation and know that what Ps Andy shared here in his blog is the truth. Where is your focus, are you setting parameters to protect your church life, prayer life, study life and social life and are you relying on your own strength or on Daddy God?

      Love you mate and I pray that you continue to spend great time with Daddy God.

      • Hi David,

        I’m from Singapore too! And I just wanted to ask you how do you know that you are depending on God’s grace and favour and not according to your own striving?

        Hope you’ll take time to reply even though it’s been so long!

    • Hi David,
      First and foremost, I would want to say that I’m an JC2 student this year but I have been going to church regularly up till now, which is during A’s. I would say I rly understand how you feel, the stress you are going through, since well, I’m also a singapore and in the same education system as you are. I would like to share with a testimony of which I heard that kept me motivated till tdy. He shared that when he was in an university. I’m sure that there’s more to learn in there than in secondary school. But even so, he chose to listen to God’s plan for him in which he went out for mission trips and did mainly God’s work. Eventually, he did push through his university but not with the best score he can have. He even admitted that he would have definitely done better if he had not set large time aside for God’s work. However, is living on this earth only for the certificate? The wealth? I do agree that they are indeed important, however, this will all come to pass when you reach Heaven, isn’t it? so why spend so much time on earthly pursuit that you take time away from God? I am sure that God will provide and definitely not let us have a bad future so why worry? Plus, you would think that secondary school is very tough now but when you enter Jc, you will realise it’s really simple. As you go into different phases in life, it only gets tougher. If you always choose to sacrifice God, in the near future, when you enter into JC or work, you will also sacrifice God. It’s an endless chain. You will never get less busy. If so, when will you ever have time for God? I hope what I’ve said do help you and I just really want to let you know that I really understand your situation. I really want a good job and future, which I believe it had all been planned for me. For He said in Jere29:11 that he has plans to prosper us. So setting aside 2hr of your 168hrs in a week would not harm. Hope this can encourage you go continue to go church! 🙂

  3. Pardon me for all my grammar mistakes or my sentence structure. I was too tired to write a complete clean no grammar mistake comment

  4. Focus on preparing for life, in apprenticeship or school, is a consequence of the Fall: Sweat and Toil, all the days of our lives. Do all as unto God, without grumbling and complaining, without eye service. Church is more than brick and mortar: wherever two or more are gathering according to HIS purpose; pursuing His goals, representing His character, building up and fortifying others and therefore ourselves; we are churched. Do NOT forsake the fellowship of your fellows…. The problem lies not in missing a visit to the building, or a sermon from on high, but in foregoing the support of those who love you and care for you, denying those God has prepared an opportunity to be an answer to prayer or a remover of obstacle in what you are experiencing, and for those preparing you to be effective in your future and in your development as answer to prayer for others you will be encountering and for whom God will burden your heart to care. And other reasons. SO, let’s TRY to think outside the box, this building, and carve out some time for those with eternal importance; and activities which prepare us for our eternity together. Youth are all too proficient, even when studying, to carve out entertainment time, and decompression time. At the root of worship is WORTH. How much you allocate of your discretionary time to what you are doing is an indication of the value placed on that activity. What proportion of our DISCRETIONARY time is allocated to God? The 1 and 1/2% of our waking hours we expend at Brick and Mortar? Is that SUFFICIENT?! Is that all we WORSHIP (value) GOD?! God has a claim on 100% of our time, and provides us this heart beat and this drawing in of air. What attitude do we reflect when we are at our sweat and toil? Does that reflect well on our claim to KNOW God? Well, THAT is scratching the surface, but that should hold you for a while, while you work out what it “means.” God bless you, in that endeavor.

  5. Hi David. I’m from Singapore too, in university, and yes, not only is our education system so rigid and taxing, Sungapore culture is such that results take precedence over everything else. Nothing we can do about that at the moment, sadly (hopefully we won’t be like this to our children! I know I won’t). As for your relationship with God, perhaps you could take 5-10 mins every day just to engage Him in private prayer. Regarding all the trials and tribulations you mentioned, all the more reason to focus on God. Give up your worries and whatnots to Him. Do your best, God will do the rest

  6. I don’t know about you, but if one believe God is GOD over everything….actually we should be stressed if we skip worshipping God and not let Him sort out whatever we ourselves cannot. GOD will honor whoever honours Him.

  7. Thank you Andy for a succinct write. I see a response from a fellow Singaporean. What David has written is true here. All students are under pressure come exam time and the pressure could be from within or without – the latter unfortunately from parents even Christian ones. I hope what you have written though encourages young Christians to think for themselves and realise that indeed it is a mindset. Even with poor time management, that hour and half in church will not mean that that time will be made better used of to study. Nevertheless, I do appreciate that sometimes absence from church is unavoidable, especially when you are also serving God through work.

  8. Hey I’m a JC2 from Singapore too 🙂

    I agree with the points you made Andy: it seems these are the reasons we Youth avoid fellowship – I am guilty of that sometimes too. It’s wonderful to know that when we give control of all things, even our results and grades, to God, He can work miracles. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I suppose “Going to church” here is synonymous with Christian fellowship, and when we are willing to invest that one to two hours in worship and fellowship, God hears it and makes His power and glory known to us. God bless!

  9. I graduated from my Engineering course and by God’s grace, I did not skip going to church even during Exam weeks. It is a matter of discipline. Study in advance!

  10. I’m a worker and I have my professional exams come up occasionally. I tried to explain to my pastors wife why I won’t be regular in the weekday activities. This is because fellowships take long from 1800-2030 hours. I work an 8-4job. I have to stay back because church is nearer the workplace than house. I get home late and tired and still have to make dinner for my siblings. I won’t be able to cover much before I sleep. I’m being made to feel guilty each time. I can’t help it. I’ve thought of changing church because I’m getting bitter. No one pushes me to serve God but the timing ain’t right for me. Today is another fellowship day and I’m wondering what I’ll face the next time I see my pastor and his wife. Note, I attend services on Sunday’s.

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