How Important is Church? Practical Theology Helps Students Answer Big Questions

Categories: Big Questions

David Warkentin engaging with students in the classroom


“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8)

Columbia’s vision is to be Christ-Centered, Kingdom-Focused, World-Impacting, where our programming equips people for a life of discipleship, ministry, and leadership in service to the church and community.

A guiding question towards Columbia achieving this vision is this: how does the timeless truth of Jesus relate to the practices of discipleship and the church in the 21st Century?

Columbia’s emphasis on practical theology is a key answer to this question. Alongside concepts of Christian belief (orthodoxy), practical theology considers the practices of Christian belief (orthopraxy). Practical theology engages the intersection of core beliefs and the practices of everyday life. Do our lives as Christians embody the truths we hold to? And here at Columbia, do our students engage a lived theology?

One of Columbia’s core first year courses, The Church In Mission, addresses these questions directly. The Church In Mission course includes teaching on the mission of God and the centrality of the church, concluding that the local church is the primary expressions of God’s work in the world.

But for anyone engaging young adults and the church today, saying the church is important doesn’t inspire church participation. Words need to correspond with actions. Here’s where the concept of practical theology has led to a dynamic engagement with the church through experiential learning, intentional reflection, and practices of integration.

Experiential learning

Church in MIssion requires students to visit a variety of churches to observe and experience the practical theology of local congregations in Abbotsford. Joel Thiessen, an expert on the church in Canada, recently suggested that when it comes to the church in Canada, “perception is shaped by reality.” As students experience the reality of local churches, their perceptions are shaped. And in a time when it’s easy to have opinions on just about anything regardless of the truth of our perceptions, experiential learning is helping provide Columbia students with better perceptions, perceptions rooted not just the idea of the church, but in the reality of the local church as a faithful witness to the kingdom of God.

Intentional Reflection

Consider this comment on experiential learning from pastor and author Dan White Jr: “It is sometimes said that ‘experience is the best teacher.’ But the truth is that the best teacher is reflection on experience.” One of the most rewarding parts of teaching The Church In Mission has been to hear students reflect on their experience of visiting local churches. Through their visits with local churches, students have reflected on encountering hospitable welcome, being challenged by passionate preaching, surprise at diverse congregations, appreciation for the depth of liturgical practices, an awareness of the importance of community interpretation of scripture, among many other rich experiences of God’s people in the local church.

In all these experiences, students reflect that the church is indeed practicing its participation in the mission of God in Abbotsford. Through experience and reflection together, students articulate the practical theology of the local church. A common refrain goes something like this: “Oh, the church really does matter.” Or, “these visits get me excited to participate in a local church.”


One downside to experience and reflection is that if engaged for its own sake, it can be self-serving, passive, or limited to a specific experience or time. What will students do with these experiences of Abbotsford churches? Reflection for the sake of integration, however gets to the heart of how I’ve seen practical theology at work at Columbia. To hear how students intend to integrate the experiences from The Church In Mission course has been inspiring. Students are actively integrating course material into their engagement with the local church in their own lives, as the following comments illustrate:

Students on Church

Rebecca Thiessen, Quest student


Overall the diversity of my church experiences has helped me gain better understanding of church’s purpose and has encouraged me to engage more intentionally. (Rebecca Thiessen, Quest)

Joe S, Counselling & Human Services program

Before this class, I went to church as a consumer. I went to get something out of my Sunday and leave fulfilled. This was incorrect, I completely left out community. Through experiencing authentic community with churches this semester I have learned so much about community. I have always loved to serve, and I am ecstatic to serve more to glorify God as a part of the church, the body of Christ. (Joseph Spridgeon, Counselling and Human Services)

With all of these experiences in mind, I have developed a very different view of how I will interact within the church and within my community going forward. The point that is really stood out to me through all of these experiences is the importance of finding a place and truly investing within that place. (Jesse Sonneberg, Quest/Applied Leadership)


Darian Atwood, Biblical Studies


This course has really opened my eyes into the lived theology of the overall church, as well as to the greater mission of the kingdom of God. I feel encouraged to go out and serve in a more practical, intentional, and joyful way…I have always felt called to serve in church ministry, and this class has opened my mind and broadened my perspective as to how I am able to that within the world in a practical way. It is not simply about me trying to please God and build up my own treasures in heaven, but it is about bringing shalom into the world through all relationships; not just between me and God, but also between me and others…I want to serve in a practical and intentional way, and I feel that God has equipped me for that. (Darian Atwood, Biblical Studies)

Abby T, ICS Student


Going forward I want to be more actively engaged in practical ministries at my church, as well as find ways to further engage by going into the community, rather than simply inviting the community into a building. (Abby Thompson, Intercultural Studies)

If I have learned anything from this semester it is the value in being rooted in place and people so that we can take part in the pursuit of holiness as the body of Christ. I do not want to be satisfied with sitting on the sidelines complaining about the problems in the church, I want to take part in fixing them. (John Wallin, Emergency Response Technician)

Abigail, Intercultural Studies student


In the past I have not been very present within my church community, preferring to sit on the sidelines and simply watch what was going on around me. However, through all these experiences I have realized that if I want to be a faithful follower, my approach to church needs to drastically change. I cannot sit passively by now. My attitude towards church needs to change. I need to become more involved however I can. I need to put myself outside of my comfort zone. I need to get more involved, in serving, in creating relationships, and be a more present figure in the church. (Abigail Guennette, Intercultural Studies)

Before this course I was content with church hopping, staying hidden in the congregation and being non-committal. I have been challenged, convicted and inspired to have church become the foundation of my action, relationships and daily routines.  (Jessie Holtvluwer, Human Services)

I have come to understand that it does not matter if a church sings my favourite songs or preaches only on my favourite verses, but what does matter is that we belong to the church that seeks to be in a posture of inviting Christ’s presence to dwell among us. (Jessica Friedenstab, General Studies)

As Columbia continues to integrate practical theology as a lens for education, we anticipate students continuing to benefit from a dynamic encounter with the timeless truths of scripture and the practices of faithful discipleship in the world today.

David Warkentin teaches the Church in Mission course at Columbia. He is the director of the Columbia One and the General Studies programs. He has an MA in Theological Studies (Christianity and Culture) from Regent College and is fascinated by the intersection between faith and culture. His passion is to lead, teach, and mentor students as thoughtful, engaged Christ-followers in the world today. When he’s not in the classroom, David can be found paddle boarding, disc golfing, and exploring both cities and mountains with his wife Julie and two kids.