By Lonnie Wilkey
NASHVILLE — Southern Baptists and Church of Christ members may not agree on every doctrine, but they do agree that college students need a Christian influence in their lives.
In what may be a first on a Church of Christ campus in Tennessee, Lipscomb University in Nashville is in the process of possibly granting “Recognized Student Organization” status to a Baptist Collegiate Ministry organization.
Braley Chambers, a Lipscomb alumnus, had been leading informal Bible studies on campus. Chambers, now a member and part-time staff member of Hope Community Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Nashville and a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, attended a BCM meeting at Vanderbilt University when his pastor (Jeremy Meeks) was invited to speak. He became acquainted with Thom Thornton, BCM specialist at Vanderbilt, and the two began to talk about establishing a BCM at Lipscomb.
Chambers approached Lipscomb officials, including campus minister Cyrus Eaton, about the possibility of a BCM on campus and they “were totally on board,” he reported.
Eaton helped Chambers and his students secure a space on campus and basically pledged to do whatever he could to assist the organization, Chambers recalled. The group began meeting last fall on a part-time basis.
He noted that some private, Christian colleges sometimes are closed to having organizations on campus that are not from their faith tradition. Lipscomb, however, dispelled that belief.
Since Chambers was an undergraduate student, he has noted the school has become more diverse and there are more students coming to Lipscomb each year from different Christian heritages and traditions. They have students from other denominations on campus and the school does not want those students to feel like they’re not welcome, Chambers observed.
Eaton added, “It is the desire of the university that each and every student will feel at home and know there is a place for them as they continue, or begin, their faith journey. With our growth we are seeing a more diverse representation of students from different denominational backgrounds or others who come from no faith traditions at all.
“And in the midst of this growth, we are sincerely grateful for the friends and alumni in this city, like Braley, who want to help love and lead our students to follow after Jesus,” Eaton added.
The new BCM is a joint effort between Baptist Collegiate Ministries of Greater Nashville (BCMGN), Lipscomb, and Hope Community Church. The Tennessee Baptist Mission Board has an ongoing ministry at Vanderbilt and Belmont University through the local work of BCMGN.
Bill Choate, BCM director for the TBMB, praised the efforts of Chambers and Thornton in helping to bring the BCM into fruition at Lipscomb. He also is grateful for the response of Lipscomb leadership. “They have fully encouraged us in our early steps toward establishing this work on their campus,” Choate observed.
Since the group began meeting last fall, nine attended on a regular basis before the Spring semester ended in May, Chambers said. He acknowledged that they began slowly as they tested the interest level of students and the support of Lipscomb administration. Though they have not officially heard if the BCM has been accepted as a recognized campus organization, Chambers said they are proceeding in the hope that it will be granted approval. He doesn’t expect any official action until later in the summer.
Chambers noted that of the students who have attended, about half come from a Church of Christ background.
And, he is not really surprised by that. “The Church of Christ is a pretty big umbrella and most of the people who are at Lipscomb would consider Baptists to be brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said.
Chambers also observed that both Baptists and the Church of Christ are united by their views on the inspiration of Scripture. Since most of their meetings thus far have basically focused on reading and discussing the Bible together, no student has been opposed to that,” he noted.
In addition, Thornton said denominationalism is not as prevalent in college students today. He observed that years ago when he was in college, Baptists went to Baptist groups, Methodists went to the Methodist groups, etc.
“It’s so intertwined now. It’s based more on connection than it is denominational loyalty or affiliation,” Thornton said.
Thornton added that the Lipscomb group’s focus on the Bible is a plus. The fact that they are going to open their Bibles and do serious Bible study will appeal to new people and draw them into the group, he predicted.
Grace Gillispie, who will be a junior at Lipscomb in the fall, is excited about the possibility of a BCM on campus.
A member of Tulip Grove Baptist Church in Old Hickory, Gillispie attended meetings on campus this past semester.
“I loved it,” she said. “It was a great place of community with believers who wanted to dive deeper into their faith and really study the Word,” she said.
“It’s been a unique experience on campus to find students from all denominations get together to study the Word from a former student who can relate to us. I loved getting to know people from across the campus who deeply love the Lord,” Gillispie added.
Jeremy Meeks, pastor of Hope Community Church, said his congregation is pleased to be a part of the campus ministry effort at Lipscomb.
“We are very excited to be able to fulfill the cause of campus ministry in a healthy and biblical way and seeing disciples made,” he said.
“To be able to be a part of this ministry is an incredible encouragement to us,” Meeks added.