Editor’s note: You can listen to Bill Choate discuss Baptist Collegiate Ministries during Episode 8 of Radio B&R, the official news podcast of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. That podcast can be found at baptistandreflector.org/tag/radio-br. Also, check back on May 5 & 8 for additional columns on Baptist collegiate ministry.
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
BRENTWOOD — The 2016-17 college year is drawing to an end for about 345,000 students attending colleges and universities in Tennessee this year.
Though each institution is different and the student bodies on each campus are unique and diverse, there are basically only two types of college students, observed Bill Choate, director of Baptist Collegiate Ministries for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
While that seems “kind of simplistic,” Choate explained his rationale.
“There’s the kind of student who came through our churches. They were in our nurseries, our children’s choir programs, and our Sunday Schools. We baptized them, sent them off at the age of 18, prayed for them, and hoped they would stay close to Christ,” Choate said.
State BCMs work with those students in a discipleship role, he continued. “We want to see them continue to grow as the church has been growing them and we want to send them back into the world. We want them ready to lead and ready to have an impact for the Kingdom.”
Christian students from Baptist churches are vital for BCM ministry, he continued. “I, as a Baptist minister, can’t walk into that class and begin to build a relationship and share a gospel message with a student sitting next to me, but those students can all day long.”
Then, there is another kind of student, Choate said. ‘They didn’t have the benefit of growing up in a church where they know Christ. It’s hard to imagine how many students have no experience with Scripture and no experience with the church,” he said.
In fact, some students “don’t even know they ought to be interested. The best persons to reach those students are the Christian students we’re discipling and mobilizing on campus. We really see university campuses as a missions field.”
There are 24 active Baptist Collegiate Ministries on campuses across Tennessee, Choate said. BCMs are a partnership between the TBMB (through giving to the Cooperative Program and the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions), local Baptist associations, and local Baptist churches, he continued.
“We don’t do that alone. We operate on campuses as recognized student organizations” so that makes the schools a partner as well, Choate observed. “It’s a partnership between a lot of people. Last year, there were almost 6,000 students involved in Baptist collegiate ministry.”
Choate noted that last year several thousand students participated in discipleship groups on campus while about a thousand students participated in short-term missions trips. “We’re engaged with more students than you can imagine on our campuses,” he said.
The impact of Baptist Collegiate Ministries is substantial, Choate said. He noted there are International Mission Board missionaries around the world who received their first missions experience through BCMs. “Now, they’re devoting a lifetime to doing missions.”
Choate also cited the large number of teachers across Tennessee who came through state universities with a BCM presence. “They may not be a full-time missionary but they’re in front of children in our schools. They are missionary leaders in their churches and organize their churches and motivate them to be on mission,” he said.
Baptist Collegiate Ministries also have a global impact, Choate observed, noting there were about 7,000 international students on Tennessee campuses this year. He noted some of these students are from countries that are closed to the gospel. He cited students who accepted Christ through BCMs who have returned to their native country and become part of a church plant “in places we sometimes couldn’t actually go ourselves.”
Choate is grateful for everyone who makes Baptist collegiate ministry possible. “It’s a partnership, and it’s real, and that’s the only way we want to do it.”