Editor’s Note: This issue of the B&R focuses on the start of a new collegiate year and the efforts of Baptist Collegiate Ministries on campuses across Tennessee.
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
COOKEVILLE — Little Johnny, Billy, Susie, and Katie were all reared in church. From the time they were born they attended church on Sunday mornings and nights and were in all the missions education programs and various choirs on Wednesday nights.
They grew up in the youth program and attended all the special events and served on several missions teams while in high school.
Now, they have graduated from high school and will be away from home for the first time as they go off to college.
If recent trends continue, however, at least three of the four kids mentioned above are likely to stop going to church once they leave home. Some of them may return to church later in life, but some will not.
While little Johnny, Billy, Susie, and Katie are fictitious names, their stories are all too familiar for many college and campus ministers across Tennessee.
Ben Maddox, Baptist Collegiate Ministries specialist at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville, has seen it. So have Alex Melton, minister of youth and college students at First Baptist Church, Cookeville, and Jackson Chambers, minister of college students at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville.
The three ministers agreed that the first three weeks of college are crucial for college freshmen.
“The first three weeks of a freshman’s life will set a pattern and direction for where they are going to head in college life,” Maddox observed. “There are 200 organizations on this campus, all vying for their attention,” he added. He encouraged students to plan ahead before arriving on campus. “Think about priorities that are important to an effective start to the school year and research options at the university that meet those priorities. Then, come to college with a game plan on how to get involved.”
Among those organizations at Tech and on other campuses across the state are Baptist Collegiate Ministries sponsored by the Tennessee Baptist Convention and local Baptist associations.
Unfortunately, many parents are not aware of those ministries, Melton said.
Melton, who was raised in church in Florida, had not heard of BCMs until he went to college. “I saw the name ‘Baptist’ and checked it out,” he said.
Now, one of his priorities is to make parents at First Baptist Church aware of Baptist Collegiate Ministries, not just at Tech, but also at other institutions where children from his church attend. “My job is to equip people for the work of ministry. Included in that is making them aware of resources,” Melton said.
Both Chambers and Melton, along with other college ministers in Cookeville, work closely with Maddox and assist in activities geared toward incoming freshmen at the start of a new year.
Chambers focuses on relationships. “Our goal is to show them genuine care and to build relationships. God is working in the hearts of students and preparing them for college. We need to trust the Lord and let Him guide us to them,” he observed.
Maddox observed that the BCM has a good relationship with Baptist churches in Cookeville and that he intentionally tries to connect students with local churches. There are avenues to serve in church that are not available in the BCM, the men noted. “We complement each other by taking the strengths of the church and the BCM to make us more effective,” Maddox said.
While all three ministers are aware of the dangers of church kids withdrawing from the church once they arrive on campus, they agree there are factors that will keep them in church.
(1) A student’s personal walk with God. If a student has a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, he or she is more likely to seek to pursue that relationship in college, the three ministers agreed. Unfortunately, not all children who grew up going to church have that personal relationship with Jesus, Melton said, noting students have told him they went to church all their life because their parents made them go.
(2) Discipleship is vital. “If a church’s children’s and youth ministry are focused on discipleship as well as the training and equipping of students, rather than moralism and being a pizza holding tank, they are more likely to connect with a church when they go to college because they have developed a love and appreciation for the church,” Melton observed.
(3) Relationships are important. College students are looking for authentic relationships, Maddox observed. “But you can’t make it happen,” he cautioned. Students have to take the initiative and want to connect and form relationships, Maddox said. Melton encouraged churches to “adopt” a non-local BCM student who attends their church.
(4) Parental involvement is a must. “If Mom and Dad exhibited a love for Christ and the church for 18 years, students will grasp that,” Melton observed. “Many times, when I see kids who have fallen away from church, I see parents in the picture who did not model a love for Christ and His church or parents who were not in the picture and the church did not step up,” he said. Parents must walk a fine line, however, Maddox observed. At some point, parents must stop hovering over their students and telling them they must go to church or be involved in BCM. “That will drive them away quickly,” he cautioned. Instead, Maddox advised parents to “release them, trust them, and pray for them to walk with God daily in order to be shaped into the person Christ desires for his or her life.”
For those students who drift away from church, there is hope, Maddox said. He noted that students can start afresh and that BCMs want to be redemptive.
“I have no greater excitement than to see students who made bad choices come back,” Maddox said. “We’re (BCMs) an open community of faith that welcomes students at any stage in their development. … Part of college life is learning to live a gospel-centered life.”
- Austin Peay State University (Clarksville) Stacy Murphree, 931.580.9972
- Bethel University (McKenzie) Ben Worley, 731.819.0044
- Belmont University (Nashville) Tiffany Bailey, 615.371.2056
- Carson-Newman University (Jefferson City) Chad Morris, 865.471.3536
- Cleveland State Community College (Cleveland) Steven Johnston, 423.645.4027
- Lee University (Cleveland) Steven Johnston, 423.645.4027
- Cumberland University (Lebanon) Evan Owens, 615.604.3178
- Dyersburg State Community College (Dyersburg) Alisha Moody, 731.285.3750
- East Tennessee State University (Johnson City), Jonathan Chapman, 843.324.9096
- Lincoln Memorial University (Harrogate) Damon Billings, 423.587.1980
- Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro) Glenn Wallace, 615.893.5035
- Motlow State Community College (Lynchburg) Charles Nored, 931.455.1536
- Roane State Community College (Harriman) Travis Harmon, 423.507.3247
- Tennessee Tech University (Cookeville) Ben Maddox, 931.526.4282
- Tennessee Weselyan College (Athens) Drew Byers, 423.507.3247
- University of Memphis (Memphis) Jeff Jones, 901.458.7589
- University of Tennessee (Chattanooga) Steve Roper, 423.266.5121
- University of Tennessee (Knoxville) Rodney Norvell, 865.546.6302
- University of Tennessee (Martin) Morgan Owens, 731.431.6302
- UT Health Science Center (Memphis) Benjie Shaw, 901.729.7662
- Vanderbilt University (Nashville) Thom Thornton, 615.343.4459
- Walters State Community College (Morristown) Damon Billings, 423.587.1980