BCM minister Mark Whitt discusses culture and the way the college campus of today reflects tomorrow’s culture, and the role BCM has in shaping the lives of young adults.
Mark Whitt: If we want to know what culture’s going to look like in the next five, ten years, I think we look at the college campus. The college campus is always on the forefront of what is happening in culture.
Chris Turner: Hello and welcome into this edition of Radio B&R. I’m your host Chris Turner, director of communications at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. And today our guest is Mark Whitt, campus minister at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. Mark, welcome into the show.
Mark Whitt: Well thanks Chris.
Chris Turner: Well it’s getting close to the end of the school year here and you’re about to start one of your last worship services here at the BCM. So any of the background noise that we hear is probably the worship band that’s warming up and getting ready. But we are here shooting a Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions video and the role that Golden Offering plays in Baptism Collegiate Ministry. So just talk a little bit about the ministry and what it is that you guys are trying to accomplish here at Middle Tennessee State.
Mark Whitt: Sure, yeah, we … here at Middle Tennessee State University, the ministry here has been here for many, many years. And Tennessee Baptist has supported this ministry on our campus for so many years with great church participation here in Murfreesboro Rutherford County. And for our campus, Middle Tennessee State is one of our larger campuses in the state of Tennessee. Around 23,000 students walk on our campus every single day. And our ministry’s really focused on helping students come to know Christ. We talk about reaching students every day. We talk to students that are involved with our ministry, with our churches in our area, about reaching students because so many of our students have no idea what relationship with Christ is all about. So reaching students is important.
We also emphasize equipping students, and that’s where discipleship comes in and our small group bible studies, our time of worship, our different opportunities that we have to help students serve not only on our campus but our community and then in mission opportunities around our community, the nation, and the world. So we’re equipping students with what it means to be a follower of Christ.
And then we emphasize mobilizing students, that we’ve got them for a brief time. If they’ve transferred here, that we have them for two years. If they are here for four years or sometimes there’s those six, seven year students that we have around that-
Chris Turner: That would have been me. I would have fallen into that category.
Mark Whitt: It might take them just a little while to get that diploma. But however long it takes, we emphasize that importance of mobilizing them while they’re here. But then also for when they step into the workplace, when they get married, when they’re in their neighborhoods mobilizing them for the cause of the gospel. And some of them obviously step into ministry roles, missionaries, whatever. But a majority of them are teachers and doctors and nurses. And we really emphasize that we’re mobilizing them to be followers of Christ and disciples of Christ once they leave this place. So reach, equip, and mobilize. That’s what we’re about.
Chris Turner: Yeah that’s definitely what you guys are about. But just talk a little bit about the campus in general and the challenge that a lot of students have to overcome to even be a part of the BCM.
Mark Whitt: Sure, yeah. So MTSU 23,000 students were highly commuter campus. Only about 3,000 students actually live on campus in campus housing. So that means that a large majority of our students either are commuting in here every day or two times a week according to when their classes are. So that’s a large majority of our students. We’re a very large commuter campus in Murfreesboro. If you come over here around eight o’clock in the morning or four thirty in the afternoon and you see the traffic around our campus, everyone’s leaving. And so that’s a challenge for us as a ministry. And also for students just to even find community on campus. Because so many students come here, they take class, and then they’re gone. They’re off to their jobs, they’re off to an hour commute from here. Whatever it may be. So that’s sometimes a challenge for students to find community on their college campus. So often we think that students have this built in community when they’re on a college campus. It’s not always the case because many students are here to take class and then they’re gone.
Chris Turner: Yeah, you know, that’s one of the things that’s been interesting as we’ve been able to shoot some GOTM videos on some other campuses. It really does look like when a student comes to college, they’ve obviously gotten beyond that environment that they’ve known for a lot time. Really what is a stable environment. And when they come to college, all of a sudden everything … they’re in an environment that they’ve never been in before. Why is it important for them to find community, to get plugged in some place?
Mark Whitt: There are, as in many different stages of our life, there are so many distractions. There are things that are competing for our time. And so it’s so important for a college student when they step into this season of their life to develop some of the disciplines, some of the opportunities to be able to really thrive in their walk with Christ. And thrive in meaning that what it really, really means to be a follower of Christ. It’s not just the faith of their parents, church that they grew up in, or for so many of our students they come to our campus and they’ve never really had any involvement with church. We’re in a generation now that church was not the norm, necessarily, for most of our students. And so in college when we help them understand that following Christ is not a religion, it’s not a set of rules, it’s not something that you have to have all these check lists to do. But it really is a relationship with Christ and helping them understand what that means. And then helping them with the disciplines of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
What’s it mean to read your Bible on a daily basis? What’s it mean to have community with other believers through … what’s it mean to follow through with baptism? And really helping them understand that and then develop the disciplines of that. Once they get beyond the college campus and they’ve developed some of those disciplines of following Christ on a daily basis, then they’re going to find those churches and be involved with those. They’re going to lead their family differently. So it’s so important in college to catch them at a really crucial time in their life because a lot of habits are made in college.
Chris Turner: Well and you think about that transition period between being home and being with mom and dad. And then transitioning to adulthood and hopefully getting a job and moving out of home. Recognize a lot of them come back but the idea of this four years is kind of that land in between and it’s just a critical period not only for their personal development but also for that spiritual development. And that’s where you really see BCM as being a vital ministry in there.
Mark Whitt: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. Because we have that opportunity to help them in small groups with studying scripture. A lot of students necessarily have never sat down and really understand what it and how to study scripture. But to have small groups, one on one time with students, and then to give them the opportunity to also lead in that. One of the big things I think that what we do through Baptist Collegiate Ministry is we develop leaders. We emphasize leadership. So many of our ministries around the state, all of our BCMs have leadership teams. And we give away a lot of leadership to our students. And for many of them, it’s really some of their first opportunities to really lead.
So not only are we … and that really comes in that equipping area that we talk about, that we’re equipping students to be leaders in our churches and helping them prepare. Because on a college campus, it’s one of the largest mission opportunities, largest places for them to see that it’s really a dichotomy of our culture, of our city, right here. We’re a small city in itself. And so to help them understand what that looks like to be a leader on our campus and a leader in our ministry. We’re helping to equip them in that area. But it is. It is a crucial, crucial time for students and their development of faith and spiritual issues.
Chris Turner: You know, when you talk about a community like a little city in itself, I mean, the number of students enrolled here at MTSU is larger than my hometown of Millington, Tennessee.
Mark Whitt: Yeah, absolutely.
Chris Turner: And so, but we have Baptist Collegiate Ministry is on about 20 plus campuses across the state. I think you’ve mentioned that we have about 300,000 plus students on university campuses in Tennessee. And many of those are internationals. So we really do have a concentrated number of cities, sort of, that are mission fields. And so BCM really is a group of missionaries developing missionaries within a mission field.
Mark Whitt: Right, right.
Chris Turner: And so when you look at that, that is one of the reasons it’s so strategic that Tennessee Baptist have these Baptist Collegiate Ministries, don’t you think?
Mark Whitt: Absolutely. And I really think that if we want to know what culture is going to look like in the next five, ten years, I think we look at the college campus. The college campus is always on the forefront of what is happening in culture. It is important for Tennessee Baptists to strategically be here. I know I’m biased but I believe that the college campus is the most strategic place that we can be.
Chris Turner: If you could say something to parents about to send their kids to college, what advice would you give to them about what lies ahead for them and their students?
Mark Whitt: Sure, I would always say don’t be afraid to have really honest good conversations with their middle schoolers and high schoolers about culture issues. They’re already having those conversations with their friends so don’t be afraid to have those conversations with your sons, daughters in your home around the dinner table about cultural issues. What are your friends thinking about? What are your friends saying about some issues that you know are going on in the community or in the culture? So always and sometimes parents shy away from having those conversations because they might awkward or they might not know about it or they might not know enough about it so they’re afraid to ask. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions. So I would always encourage them in that area.
I would also really encourage them just to pray, pray very specifically, that God would continue to work in their son and daughter’s lives. And for them to find people when they get to the college campus. I have switched … I have welcomed college students for year through my time on different college campuses. I’m now a dad of a college student and it has changed perspective for me. It’s helped me have conversations with parents in a different kind of way.
Also I would also encourage parents, too, to give their sons and daughters opportunities to lead even when they’re at home. To not do everything for them. And I’ve had to step back even with my daughter and she’s learning. But also would encourage them in those areas. And help them find community. I think that’s … when they visit a college campus for a college visit, make it an intentional part of going to visit a local church, visit one of the BCMs. I know I love to get phone calls from families that are visiting our campus that want to come over and visit our ministry. Make that a part of your college visit, because they’re then going to see students that are just in our building or whatever.
And when I know that those families are coming over, I make sure some of my key leadership students are in the building. Because then they see, “Oh wow, so there are other college students that are growing in their faith while they’re in college.” And so to have that conversation one on one. I love watching those conversations happen. While I’m talking with the parents, our students are having conversations with the incoming students. I think it’s important for high school students to see that and know that’s an important part of their college experience.
Chris Turner: Yeah I think another thing that’s an opportunity for parents of high school students, most of our Baptist Collegiate Ministry … actually I think all of them, one night during the week like on a Tuesday or Monday or Thursday have a worship service at the BCM. And if families live somewhere near an MTSU, a UT Knoxville, a Tech, APSU, Memphis, whatever, you guys and gals that lead our BCMs are more than willing for those folks to come and stop by on a night that you guys are doing it. All they would need to do is call and find out what night you guys do that.
Mark Whitt: Yeah absolutely. Yeah, we love having guests. And it does. It really allows for those students to see that they might be involved with their youth group at their church, whatever, and they don’t necessarily know that groups like this even exist on campuses. So yeah, find those opportunities to be able to introduce your kids to ministry on campus. And that there really are groups that want to help them be equipped while they’re students.
Chris Turner: So the final thing. You know it’s obviously if anybody knows you and you’ve been … they see you around certainly interacting. What is the thing that just drives you, because you really do have a passion for student ministry. And I’d say that all of our folks involved with BCM ministry and directors of our different universities do. What is the thing that drives you to really love what it is that you do?
Mark Whitt: Man, I’ve been doing this for quite a while now and these kind of things are what keep me awake at night. And wake me up in the morning, really. I think the college campus … I’ve always loved the college campus. When I was a college student, I loved it. And I think because of just the opportunities that are here. But when I see students really embrace what it means to be a follower of Christ and they come and tell me about the conversations that they’re having with their friends, where they come and tell me … they show me a text of a friend that they’ve been sharing the gospel with and having those conversations. That’s what brings me so much joy. That’s what drives me.
When I see students graduate from here and they are fully involved in their churches, in their communities, and they’re living it out of what it means to be a follower of Christ. I’ve done this long enough now that I’ve got a lot of former students that I look at and just, you know, I’m like, “Wow, I’m so thankful that I got to walk alongside them when they were students.” And to see them and to know them when they maybe walk down our campus and then to know them now and to see them now and see what God can do, it’s an amazing thing.
I always say I have one guy that when I was campus minister at Murray State, he epitomized freshmen when he walked on our campus. And he ended up going on some mission opportunities with me to Thailand and then went … did the Journeyman program after he graduated and then went to seminary in California at what’s now known as Gateway. And now he’s one of our IMB missionaries in South East Asia, who has adopted three kids, two from China and one from Ethiopia. You know, but if you had told me when he walked on our campus that that’s what would happen, I don’t know if I would have believed you initially. But I watched a young man just fully embrace what it meant to be a follower of Christ. And he let God just shape him. And he was obedient. And so I got to walk with him through that. Yeah that’s the joy of what we get to do every day. We see life change every day.
Chris Turner: Yeah, you guys really … it’s almost like, you know, you get this lump of clay and you get to mold it just a little bit. Help the Lord mold it and then it goes on and then what it becomes.
Mark Whitt: And there are hard conversations in the middle of that. You know, what’s so unique about what we get to do in collegiate ministry on all of our campuses with Baptist Collegiate Ministry is that we really do do life with students. We laugh with students, we cry with students, we have hard conversations with students. And we get to encourage them and be their biggest cheerleaders along the way, too. We do life with them.
Chris Turner: Well and that’s I think that’s one of the areas that parents can really have confidence and then take support is that there is someone on a campus that their child is probably going to that has an advocate for them to help them like take that baton and help their child get through college.
Mark Whitt: Absolutely.
Chris Turner: So another great reason to support BCM and certainly Golden Offering and Cooperative Program as well through our churches. Mark, thanks so much for taking just a little bit of time. I know we’ve got to get ready for a worship service tonight, but I think there’s some great things ahead here at MTSU and the BCM. We just appreciate you spending a little time with us.
Mark Whitt: Absolutely. I’m so thankful for Tennessee Baptists and their giving through the Golden Offering and the cooperative program to allow us to do what we do on college campuses every single day.
Speaker 3: Thank you for listening to Radio B&R, podcast production of the Baptist and Reflector, the official news journal of the Tennessee Baptists Mission Board. This and other episodes can be downloaded at BaptistAndReflector.org/RadioBR. The ministries of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board are supported through the cooperative program and gifts received through the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions. For more information, visit TMBaptist.org.