In December of 2010 I was at a conference with our church and college ministry. Sasha and I were newly graduated, newly engaged and new at just about everything in life. It was at that conference, over long (and very cold) prayer walks, that God began to lead me into college ministry. I now look back at my young, naïve, and zealous self with a chuckle. God had a lot to teach me. Some of the lessons would be hard and all of them would be unmerited grace. There are some prayers that are etched in your mind by specific, catalytic events. My prayers at the conference in 2010 are like that. Other prayers are not tied to events because they are so regular. These prayers are anchored to months and years. Over this past decade two anchored prayers stand out. The first is simple – Help. The second, goes something like this: God, I can’t believe I get to do this with my life. The first is a call, and the second is an answer. God has been overwhelmingly gracious to me and Sasha over the last ten years. There have been lots of blessings and lessons learned. Campus Fellowship
The Director Years
The first few years of campus ministry are a blur. Not because I don’t remember anything, but because I learned so much it is hard to encapsulate the lessons. I learned how to focus; divided time is wasted time. I learned how to have healthy conflict; sometimes you need to win the debate but most of the time you need to win the person. I learned how to balance ministry and an early marriage/family. Sasha and I developed this together over games of cribbage before we spent evenings on campus. Most importantly I learned that I can’t survive unless I daily take my soul to God through his word and prayer.
The Director Years
After the early years I became the College Ministry Director at Drake University. The learning curve was steep. It is one thing to learn how to reach out, disciple, and train students. It is another to learn to lead a team to accomplish those things. Again, God was a patient teacher. I learned the hard way that systems cannot replace relationships, and, conversely, that poor systems can steal valuable time and energy from relationships. I also learned that latest fad is just that, a fad. Authentic growth comes from preaching the Bible, prayer, gathering together, communion, evangelism, and the like. God’s workers work God’s way.
Obviously, I don’t know exactly what God will teach us in the future, but I have some suspicions. Ephesians 2:20 reads: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” God is the one that works with ultimate power. As Edmund Clowney once wrote, ‘We can build the altar, but God alone brings the fire.” I expect to be shocked by God’s work over the coming years. In the past year Campus Fellowship has helped start Campus Fellowships at Iowa State, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Nebraska-Omaha, and Kansas State University. It is our hope and prayer to start more Campus Fellowships in Rhode Island in 2021. In order to facilitate this growth, Campus Fellowship has started a new non-profit with Walnut Creek Church being the founding organization.
I currently serve in the role of Executive Director and College Ministry Coach. As far as Campus Fellowship in Des Moines, this fall was one of our largest launches in recent years with 250 students at our opening Midweek Service. Caleb Thompson, Jacob Bennett, Eric Semjenow, and Blake Joiner are ready to lead CF in Des Moines into the future. We wait with anticipation to see what God will do.
I mention the family second, not because it is second in importance, but the story above creates the scene by which our family has been blessed. Certainly, raising a growing family and college ministry are sometimes at odds, but usually CF is a great gift to our marriage and our kids. For one, we have an endless supply of babysitters. If we go out, we will often have a 1 to 1 ratio with our kids (and with 6 kids that is saying something!). Our kids are continually receiving gifts from the students and alumni. For example, for Grace’s eighth birthday, some students made her a pinata. On Knox’s birthday a few weeks ago, I came home to find 6 guys playing with the kids. These very abnormal blessings are very normal for our children, and, in hindsight, was a blessing we didn’t anticipate. Grace (8), Annabelle (6), Jack (5), Will (4), Knox (3), and Judson (1) are all richly blessed by God and blessings to their parents (undisclosed ages).
The Church Plant
As some of you have heard, or seen on social media, Sasha and I are preparing to plant a church in Providence, Rhode Island. Over the years, I have felt God leading me to Sasha’s home state, because it is one of the most secular places in the USA, and there are a lot of college students (over 50,000 in Providence). What has been astounding is God’s provision to provide a team. There are currently 29 people committed to going to Providence to start the church, with another 20, or so, people still prayerfully considering going on the church plant. The radical faith of the other team members (uprooting everything to see lost people saved), and the overwhelming support from our sending church (Walnut Creek) has given us a strong assurance that this truly is God’s will. Our hope is to move in August of 2021. We will spend a year meeting people in the city, learning, having hundreds of coffees, and gathering in small groups. We will start gathering for a public service in September 2022. Our hope is to engage both the community and college campuses with the gospel.