N.C. collegiate ministries teach students to be campus missionaries

by BSCNC Communications
Monday, August 20, 2012 | 2 yrs old

Students at North Carolina’s oldest public university are learning that some things must change if they want to reach their campus with the gospel.

For too long the event-driven, “come and see” approach has been the primary means of reaching out to students, and campus minister Lee Sullens is finding that more personalized outreach is making a greater impact.  

“Baptist Campus Ministry works better if we go to others. The best way we can reach our campus is one-on-one,” he said.

Sullens, who coordinates the Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM) at UNC-Chapel Hill, is teaching students that if they really want opportunities to share the gospel, they must live out the gospel before their classmates.

To do this, Sullens is focusing BCM on helping students share their faith and make a difference among students living in their dorm. “God has given us the vision to plant a gospel-centered witness on every floor, of every dorm, in the next five years,” he said.

Dorm buildings are full of students not just during the week, but also during weekends, because UNC is very much a residential campus. With 34 dorms on campus, Sullens and the BCM students need 264 small groups in order to have a group meeting on every single floor of every dorm.

“This helps us take the 26,000 population at UNC and shrink it down to a manageable size,” Sullens said. “The students minister to people in their path. They get to know the people around them and they do life with them.”

Sullens knows the challenge he has set before his BCM students is a “God-sized mission.” “We know we can’t accomplish this on our own. But we believe God is going to do great things,” he said.

When the fall semester began this year about 20 small groups were ready to begin, up from the two that were meeting several years ago when Sullens first introduced this new vision to his students. 

Refocusing BCM was not easy, as Sullens had to help students see the long-term vision.

Once they did, they embraced the challenge and are beginning to see the fruit. “Students are sharing the gospel. They are pursuing hard after people for the sake of the gospel. You can see God moving students closer to Him,” Sullens said.

“We don’t evaluate based on numbers or how many people show up for a small group Bible study each week. We evaluate based on whether or not a small group would be missed if it were to disband. We want these groups to make such an impact that their lack of impact will be missed by people in their dorm,” Sullens said.

“Pipeline” is what Sullens calls the leadership training process that prepares BCM students to lead these small groups in their dorms. They learn to study their Bible, write Bible studies, witness to people and serve people. They also learn how to start a small group, and how to then identify at least one person in that group who they can help raise up to lead another group.

The goal is for students to be equipped to begin a small group by their sophomore year. They continue being trained even after they start the small group, and by senior year, they help teach other students.

“All it takes is some focus, direction and vision,” Sullens said.

Rick Trexler, BCM team leader for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, helps keep campus ministers and leaders focused on the overall vision of BCM in North Carolina.

“We want to help lead college students and others in the academic community to faith in Jesus Christ, and we want to help guide them in Christian growth and leadership,” he said. “We also want to connect them to the life and mission of the church.”

North Carolina Baptists have full-time ministry at 18 of the major colleges and universities in the state. Volunteers who may be church staff, faculty or lay persons serve an additional 19 campuses. Each campus Baptist Campus Ministry is committed to seeing students live out the Great Commission.

At Appalachian State University in Boone, Baptist campus minister Jonathan Yarboro is helping students learn to think and live as missionaries to their college campus.

“During these four years students are immersed in a culture that doesn’t know Jesus in a more profound way than they will ever have access to in their lives. If they are not engaging people who don’t know Jesus, they are wasting the opportunity God has given them,” he said.

Students who participate in BCM are taught they have a story to tell, and it’s their responsibility to share with others how the gospel transformed their life. They tell their stories as they earn trust and build relationships with other students.

Small groups specifically for freshmen help BCM students understand missional living. “We begin shaping what it looks like to be a college student living in this way of a missionary; we begin prodding them in that direction,” Yarboro said.

After their first semester, students are expected to begin exploring how they can be missionaries among a specific group of students, whether a club, sorority or club sport. One student who felt called to reach out to freshmen became roommates with the RA in a freshman dorm.

Students are encouraged to share with their discipleship group how they see God at work on campus and how they are sharing their faith. These groups serve as accountability to help students stay focused on their mission.

Serving is also an important aspect of living as a missionary. “We want to be a campus ministry that reaches people and cares about people’s needs,” Yarboro said.

BCM at Appalachian is based on Luke 10 when Jesus sends out the 72. Whenever they are welcomed into a town, Jesus tells the 72 to eat what is before them, heal the sick and proclaim that the Kingdom has come near.

“You have to do all three of these things to be an effective missionary,” Yarboro said. “You have to remove boundaries, you have to help meet needs, and you have to share the gospel.”

Baptist Campus Ministry is made possible because of support through the Cooperative Program. The Cooperative Program helps the BSCNC to have a missionary presence on college and university campuses, and to develop students to be missionaries.  

To learn more about Baptist Campus Ministry, call (800) 395-5102 ext. 5560 or email rtrexler@ncbaptist.org. For a list of North Carolina Baptist Campus Ministries, visit www.baptiststudent.org.