Bill Choate, state director for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s Baptist Collegiate Ministry, discusses the importance of BCM ministry in reaching young adults with the gospel. College campuses are a mission field ripe for the harvest, and Choate explains BCM ministries are in position to make a Kingdom difference.
Chris: Hello, and welcome in to this edition of Radio B&R. I’m your host, Chris Turner, Director of Communications at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, and today, my guest is Bill Choate, the state director of Baptist Collegiate Ministries here in Tennessee. Bill, welcome.
Bill: Thanks. Appreciate it, Chris.
Chris: I’m real excited about everything that’s happening on campuses across our state. Tell us a little bit about the BCMs, Baptist Collegiate Ministries that we have, how many, how many ministers we have that Tennessee Baptist support.
Bill: Across Tennessee this year, there are 24 active Baptist Collegiate ministries on campuses. Most of them are on our state universities, most state university campuses. Baptist Collegiate Ministry is a partnership between Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, our local Baptist associations and local Baptist churches. We don’t do that alone. We operate on campus as recognized student organizations, so our universities are cooperative and supportive. It’s a partnership between a lot of people. Last year, about almost 6,000 students were actively involved in Tennessee in Baptist Collegiate Ministry. Several thousand were involved in discipleship groups. A thousand students went on short-term missions. We’re engaged with more students than you can imagine on our campuses.
Chris: Just the fact that you said a thousand students were involved in missions in some way, that’s such a significant number. Collegiate ministry, Baptist collegiate ministry, has a history of cranking out missionaries, and I think you guys see that as probably twofold. Missions to a marketplace when they graduate with whatever degree it is, but they’ve been discipled at a BCM, and they go on to a secular job someplace, but they have been equipped to be in that job as a missionary, and then, also, international missions, through like the International Mission Board and other missions organizations.
Bill: Certainly. There are International Board missionaries around the world who have come directly through Baptist Collegiate Ministry. Some of them, their first mission experience, their first plane trip, their first trip out of the state was with Baptist Collegiate Ministry, and now they’ve devoted a lifetime to doing missions. There are school teachers across our state who came through our state universities, and now they’re in front of children every week, and they may not be a full-time missionary, but they’re a full-time missionary in their school, where they’re in front of children. They are missionary leaders in their churches and organize their churches and motivate their churches to be on mission.
Chris: When you look at the 24 campuses that we’re on, and we talk about the thousands of kids that are involved in BCM ministry, talk a little bit about the potential impact on campus. I mean, we literally have hundreds of thousands of students here in Tennessee. How many do we have, and really, what’s the potential for our BCMs to connect with those people?
Bill: There are about 345 thousand college students in Tennessee this year and, if you think about that, that’s really a city. I always say- it’s kind of simplistic, but there are two kinds of students on those campuses. There’s the kind of student who came through our churches, they were in our nursery and our children’s choir program and our Sunday School, and we baptized them, and then we sent them off at 18, prayed for them, and hoped they’d stay close to Christ, and we work with those students in a discipleship role, and we want to see them continue to grow as the church has been growing them, and when we send them back out into the world, we want them ready to lead and ready to have an impact for the Kingdom.
There’s another kind of student, and 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 and don’t even know they ought to be interested. The best person to reach those students is those Christian students we’re discipling and mobilizing on campus. We really see university campuses as a mission field.
Chris: When you talk about the kids that are showing up on campus, so many of them have zero category for understanding- well, maybe some spirituality of some kind, but certainly, so many of them have no background or understanding of who Jesus Christ is.
Bill: Just none.
Chris: When you look at the opportunity our kids have, it really is a time in their lives when they’re asking questions, possibly, and they may be more open than they may ever be, so what are some of the things that our BCMs do that go out and reach and connect with those kids?
Bill: We’re fortunate in that many places, we have facilities that Tennessee Baptists have provided that are right in the middle of campus, and those are not places to hide. Those are places from which we send. They really provide an anchor right in the middle of those campuses, and so day in and day out, students are in and out of those facilities, and so we mobilize students from those points to go into dorms and do Bible studies, to think about who’s sitting next to them in class every day. 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. We have intramural teams on our campuses that make us a real partner in the campus.
With our organizations, we talk of being essential citizens to our university communities. Stacy Murphree, up at Austin Peay State University, before school starts, Stacy does a big, with the cooperation of her local association and churches, she does a big cookout and activities day on campus for faculty and staff at the university, and she’ll have four or five hundred people come to that event to say to the university, “Hey, we are real citizens. We care about the university, and we’re really here for the whole university, and we want to take care of these students.”
Chris: Another example of Stacy, if I’m not mistaken, they quit entering a float in the Homecoming thing and started serving other fraternities and sororities and other student organizations throughout that week, which really has connected them.
Bill: We’ve done that at several universities where we were spending a lot of time and energy competing, and we saw that as a real way to be involved in the university, to be a part of events like Homecoming, but we’ve just shifted that some to say let’s serve other people doing that, and it just has shifted our role a little bit. We’re constantly looking to see how are we having a positive relationship building experience on campus, because it doesn’t just happen.
Chris: That’s one of the things I’ve heard so many of the local BCM directors talk about is just that relational aspect, building bridges and opening conversations, and letting things really migrate from there. Talk about how important that is with the international students, because we talk about 350,000 students in our campus. We have a lot of students coming from other countries, some of them some of the most unreached countries in the world. What type of opportunity does our BCMs have with reaching the nations?
Bill: That’s really an unbelievable opportunity. There are around 7,000 international students on our campuses this year in Tennessee. That doesn’t count ethnic students who are from the southeast who are involved there. It doesn’t count other groups of students, but these are students who come from another country. Most likely, they’re going to go back to that country, and we’re talking about students from very closed places, sometimes, and so we have an opportunity, and we reach them for Christ. We had a student from a middle eastern country who was involved- we’ve had several students, actually, at the University of Memphis who’ve been reached by students in Baptist Collegiate Ministry, brought in, relationships built, and students making a clear decision for Christ, and then go back to their closed country in the middle east and join up with a church group there, begin to be a part of a church plant there in places we sometimes couldn’t actually go ourselves.
Chris: I was going to say we talk about how are we going to get into some of these closed countries. Well, we may not have to get into those closed countries, because we have an opportunity through our BCMs where those folks are led to the Lord, they’re discipled, and they’re equipped to go back. That’s their country, and so we are sending, in essence, a missionary back to their country. It’s just not an Anglo missionary like we traditionally think about it.
Bill: To be honest, imagine how much more effective that student can be than I could ever be as an Anglo North American missionary in that country.
Chris: Yes, definitely. We’re talking about middle eastern countries, we’re talking about China and Japan and other Asian countries, and European countries where there’s just an indifference to the gospel and a lot of those countries where there’s a hostility to it as well. When you look at your BCM leadership teams, one of the things that it appears that your BCM directors are really big on are rising that leadership to the top and really investing in them, because at some campuses, like Memphis or Tennessee, there are literally hundreds of kids involved in weekly Bible studies that a BCM director could not necessarily deal with all those kids, but they really pour into their leadership group. What types of things are they doing intentionally to really see those kids grow?
Bill: You mentioned the University of Memphis, and what we do there is have say a dozen teams of students, pairs of students, who are discipled and trained. They’re in Jeff’s home, actually. Jeff Jones is our campus minister there. They’re in Jeff’s home once a month for training, and then they’re able to be out on campus multiplying what we- we can’t do. Jeff can’t be out on campus like that, so we are building and training. Then, when they graduate, they’re ready to lead that way in a local church. They’re ready to lead that way in the marketplace. They’re prepared and ready.
All of that’s with the goal of reaching the objective that we talk about around here at Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, our primary objective of reaching, of baptizing, and of discipling, setting people on the road to discipleship. We have a goal of reaching those 50,000 a year, and we don’t think we can do that by ourselves. We’ve got to mobilize people to do that.
Chris: When you look at where the kids are going on their mission trips, I mean, we do a lot of things just to frontier states here and in the United States, even in Tennessee, travel team opportunities, but they’re really going to some interesting places overseas as well. Talk a little about just those different types of missions opportunities that they have, especially those overseas opportunities.
Bill: We have local Baptist Collegiate Ministry teams that will go out during the year, and some of those are nearby or some are around the country, and even some of those are overseas. This last spring, we had students in several countries. Some are places that we’re a little anxious about sending students, so we have to be thoughtful and proactive, but amazing places that we won’t name today, but places that might challenge, really challenge students. In the summer, we work with IMB to mobilize students with International Mission Board and some of our direct partnerships, Tennessee partnerships to see the students, and so we’ll have 80 or 90 Tennessee students give all or most of their summer this summer around Tennessee or around North America and around the world.
Chris: You’ve been involved in Baptist Collegiate Ministry for a long time.
Bill: Thirty-two years.
Chris: What is it about Baptist Collegiate Ministry that just really floats your boat? The thing that just really energizes you when it comes to that?
Bill: We talk a lot about generations, and generations do come and go, but there’s some developmental realities about a college student that are the same, no matter what generation. They’re 18, they’re 19 years old, they have a set of issues they’re working on in their lives that they’ve got to work on, and they are these issues that make them so open. As you said earlier, they’re probably never going to be as open any other time in their life as they are between 18 and 22 years old, so they’re thinking about these questions.
They’re thinking what am I going to do? What’s my major going to be? Really, the question is what am I going to do? Who am I going to be? Well, that’s a spiritual question. Who am I going to be is a spiritual question. They’re looking around. We make a joke about how many couples are married out of Baptist student union, Baptist Collegiate Ministry over the years. They’re looking around. They’re thinking not only who am I going to be, but who am I going to be with, which is also a spiritual question. Who am I going to devote myself to, and who’s going to be my partner throughout? What kind of partner do I need? They’re asking huge spiritual questions.
They’re thinking, “Okay, I was raised in this faith with my parents, but what’s my faith going to look like?” there are, again, huge spiritual questions, and if we can step in and be a part of the- it’s already going on. Even if they’re not doing this as a believer, they’re doing this, and if we can connect with a student making those decisions, having those questions in his or her life, if we can step in there and be a part of that, that’s an amazing experience. That’s what really [crosstalk] [13:51]
Chris: That’s such a strategic opportunity, too, especially for those kids who have grown up in the church and their parents send them off to college and are afraid that they’re going to go wayward, there is somebody, more than likely, on a campus- in Tennessee for certain, who can pick up not so much that parental role, but be a spiritual mentor, a guide, someone who really helps them take ownership of their faith, and it becomes something that is an expression of who they are and not an expression of who their parents are.
Bill: Sure. There’s a lot of fear around. I’m on a campaign against the fear. Put down the fear. Part of that fear is about university campuses. We throw labels around, but the reality is that we have extraordinary Christian students coming to our universities, and yes, many of those are secular universities, but the reality is they can come there, they can learn, they can grow, and they can leave and be even closer to Christ and stronger than when they got there. We watch this happen every day.
I was Vanderbilt University for 10 years as a campus minister, and nobody’s pretending that’s a Christian college. They’re not pretending they’re a Christian college. That’s a secular university. There’s some fine Christian faculty members there, no doubt about it, but I think about the many, many students I worked with there who came who were involved with Baptist Collegiate Ministry by their choice. It didn’t benefit them. It didn’t go on their resume.
I’ve lost track of how many have M.D., Ph.D. after their names. I think about students, like several students who have Ph.D.s from Harvard University in their specialty that are faculty members now. They’re influencing people. Every one of those individuals loved Jesus. They love Scripture. They’re having an influence for Christ where they are. I think about Brian McGraw, who’s chair of the political philosophy department at Wheaton University who’s a Vanderbilt alumnus and a Ph.D. from Harvard, and [phonetic] [15:52] Vernita Gordan, who’s on faculty in the physics department at University of Texas who has a Ph.D. from Harvard.
These are people who love Jesus and who have committed themselves to teaching and to research and to making this a better world who are involved in their churches, who love Christ, and who came through a secular university like that, came out even better people, because they actively pursued a life in Christ while they were in college.
Chris: Baptist Collegiate Ministry very much [crosstalk] [16:22] at the heart of that development.
Bill: Those are people who are actively involved in Baptist Collegiate Ministry.
Chris: Obviously, churches in Tennessee are involved with Baptist Collegiate Ministries here in Tennessee through the Golden Offering, through the cooperative program, but what is something else that a church that’s located near a university- what is something that a church could practically do on building a partnership or a relationship with that local BCM ministry?
Bill: It’s really important to us that these ministries- we don’t do an isolated ministry. There are other fine Christian ministries on campus. None of them are committed to involving students in local Baptists churches. That’s our calling and our mission.
Last night, I was in Johnson City at a banquet, 200 people in the room, all of those people from local Baptist churches. All those churches actively engage in being supporters of our Baptist Collegiate Ministry at East Tennessee State University. Those churches, when I’m over there, I see those church leaders in the building fixing lunch. One of those churches has a member who has a pizza truck, and he comes out and brings pizza. Those churches, some of them have worked on our building.
Some of them give directly in their monthly budget to Baptist Collegiate Ministry in addition to being part of the cooperative program and Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions. All those churches, our students are involved in their ministry. Their church leaders are involved in the ministry on campus. It’s a partnership, and it’s real, and that’s the only way we want to do it.
Chris: That’s one of the things I love about our BCM ministers is that we have across the state, because there is such an intentionality about the local church, about really helping develop these kids, not in a bubble, but help them see that they are a part of a community, and when they leave college, it’ll be the local church that they’re a part of and not continuing at BCM, so really that integration of what it means to be a life-long follower of Christ and evolved in a local body. Very important.
It’s just a great opportunity for people across our state to recognize that we have a tremendous mission field in our state. It’s called University Campuses. We have missionaries on those campuses, and we are developing missionaries within those campuses at the same time, developing leaders that are going to be influential as they go out. We’ll ask folks to be praying for local BCMs, and if you don’t know your local BCM minister, call up and get to know that person, him or her, and I think you’ll be extremely excited that you did.
Bill, thanks for the opportunity just to talk a little bit about BCM Ministry.
Bill: You bet, Chris. Thanks a lot.