In early August I had the opportunity to take my first trip to Collegiate Week at Falls Creek camp in Oklahoma. My good friend Corey Olivier, Metro Baptist Collegiate Ministry Director in New Orleans, invited me along so I jumped at the chance.
I have heard about Falls Creek most of my ministry life and always wanted to see the facility. I am now able to *check off* of my bucket list “purposely traveling to Oklahoma for any reason at all.” 😉
Seriously though, let me first say that Falls Creek is an amazing place. Ridgecrest is special to Michelle and I and because of that I can see why Falls Creek is so special to generations of Oklahomans and others. What a great history and wonderful asset of the Oklahoma Baptist Convention. While I was there, I had the privilege of being shown around the area by a couple of Oklahoma friends. Luke Holmes made a special trip over to meet me for lunch and gave me a tour, then Pauline Boren, there with her own BCM group, scooped up one of the golf carts and we saw even more of the facility. Each of these kind people are experts on the camp itself. I was so overwhelmed that I encouraged Luke to write up something about the camp on Voices to which I could refer people. He did and you can find that article HERE. More should be said about the Falls Creek but that’s not the point of today’s article.
I want to talk about the amazing and oft overlooked ministry that is happening with College Students in our shared Baptist life.
For years I’ve been interested in collegiate ministry (CM). In fact, I believe that CM is one of the most important things we are doing in our cooperative effort as Southern Baptists. For most of my tenure at Westwego, as a small church, we have not had much of an internal collegiate ministry, but we have faithfully partnered with our local Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM). Our church does the annual Spring Crawfish Boil for the Metro Area BCM and I enjoy speaking once a year to the students gathered to meet near the Tulane and Loyola campuses. In recent years (thanks mostly to my son, Quint), our church has had upwards of 20 college students who have become members, are regularly engaged with our church, or participate in some way with things we do as a church. I love having these students with us during their college career and pray that many of them have an opportunity to stay in the New Orleans area for years to come.
I am also thankful for the state conventions who place CM as a high priority. Even with my own past issues with our state convention, I can proudly say that the LBC has always done CM well and I deeply appreciate that. Most of the credit there goes to Mark Robinson. But there is more happening in the CM world than many people know.
The Hidden Gem of the Baptist Collegiate Network and Collegiate Week
I have come to learn that there is a makeshift network embedded among us which focuses on CM in our Baptist life and it is likely that many of you might not even know about it. A network that is completely organized and executed by collegiate ministers themselves… and it is AMAZING! It loosely brings together all CM ministries by providing fellowship and a place for the sharing of resources and opportunities to do together what we can’t do separately.
It is called the Baptist Collegiate Network. Take a look at the website www.collegeministry.com. What they do is impressive. Along with the long list of resources they have for CM in our churches and on campuses, they plan and execute three major events each year. Those are the (1) Collegiate Summit, (2) Beach Reach, and the apex event, (3) Collegiate Week. I’m told that each of these events are wonderfully planned and executed. I’ve only been to one of them, but it is the flagship event… Collegiate Week and I was impressed.
Stunned really. It helps that I was with the Louisiana contingent and with Corey in particular because there is one big “cabin” that houses most of the students and leaders from CM’s in Louisiana. And Corey (likely the best CM big-event cook in the SBC) plans the meals while the students from the NOLA BCM group does most of the prep and kitchen work. So, I’m sure that had a big influence on why I enjoyed the week as much as I did, but there is so much more than just that.
The Quality and Content
The first thing I noticed was the level of cooperation that you see permeating the event. I’ve been around SBC work for a long time, and I’ve never seen such selfless, intentional cooperation as successfully implemented by so many different entities and groups. The IMB and NAMB have center stage for this time of encouragement for these young people who have entered adulthood and are about to launch out into the world after college. Honestly, there were times I was a bit emotional. The emphasis on living a life on mission, with the IMB and NAMB there to provide resources, council and encouragement, was inspiring to see.
The breakout tracks for students, the special events throughout the week (including late night gatherings), and the focused worship/message times were all very well planned and executed. The meetings for CM leaders and the hospitality from our entities toward those who oversee collegiate ministry was exemplary. As a side note, it was clear to me that NOBTS has always been a favorite of the students during College Week. The NOBTS cabin was always full and the apologetics tracks and other academic focused breakouts have been a big draw for them over the years. Lately, our other seminaries have taken notice of the value of this event and have begun to engage more broadly. That’s ultimately a win for everyone (even thought I have a feeling NOBTS will still be a favorite).
As I understand it, for years the event was held at Glorietta but recently was moved to Falls Creek, which is the perfect venue, I think. Unfortunately, there is a bit of a scheduling issue of sorts. Falls Creek has a very successful summer camp program with thousands of high school students coming in each week for a number of weeks through the summer. Those events force Collegiate Week to take place toward the end of the summer and for many college campuses, that’s too close to campus move-in time. Thus, some campus ministries are unable to make the trek to Oklahoma to participate. I do hope there will be an opportunity for that issue to be resolved in the near future. I believe, EVERY College Ministry, both on college campuses and the church-based CM’s ought to consider taking their students to Collegiate Week each summer. Simply put, it is one of the best kept secrets in SBC life and it really shouldn’t be a secret at all.
The most astounding thing about it? It is organized solely and completely by the collegiate ministers who participate in it. Lifeway, NAMB, the IMB, and state conventions might help with some sponsorships but none of them have oversight. Maybe that’s why it is so relevant and runs so smoothly. 😉 Students pay their own way to participate. I understand that some state conventions help sponsor the event directly. Others might help by covering certain meals or travel expense.
If you are reading this article and are in a position to influence your entity or state convention to help with the cost of Colligate Week or even help directly fund the Baptist Collegiate Network, you really should consider doing so. This is real “rubber meets the road” ministry at its finest. If you have doubts, go next summer and you will see what I’m saying. It’s nothing short of inspiring.
A Word About Our Collegiate Ministers
This article would be incomplete without a word about our CM leaders. The men and women who oversee the CMs with which I am familiar, are some of the most zealous, cooperative people among us.
I suppose dealing mostly with 18-22 year-olds keeps you on your toes. One’s ministry in this area must be genuine and transparent because this generation of kids can see through empty programing and disingenuous people. The leaders get older but these students “stay the same age.” These truths make for a minister who must remain fresh, transparent, and focused while doing discipleship and campus evangelism.
The cooperation among these CM leaders is an example for others. I come from an association of churches who are the most engaged and cooperative group of people I have ever known. When I see collegiate ministers engaged with one another for the purpose of encouragement and shared ministry opportunities, it is refreshing, and quite frankly, an example of what every part of Kingdom work should reflect.
The most impressive thing about these men and women is the longevity of their tenures. In the local church world, the average time for a pastor to be at a church is under 5 years with student ministers serving much shorter tenures. Many CM leaders I know, measure their ministries by decades. That is amazing to me. That sort of commitment and vision is something to which I wish our local church leaders would aspire. I know, I know, it’s different. But the longevity is honorable, and I deeply appreciate that level of commitment and cooperation in their ministry settings.
Speaking of long-tenured, inspiring BCM leaders, Steve Masters, BCM Director at LSU has initiated a fantastic website to help high school and college students navigate a possible call to vocational ministry. I wrote an article about it HERE. Another of our “best-kept” secrets. These things should not be secrets… we need to get the word out!
If you have not experienced Collegiate Week, you should. Even if you don’t have college students at your church or are in an area where there are no college campuses on which to serve. You will be inspired and refreshed to see what God is doing with these young people. Consider attending next year. Something special is happening with our college students and Collegiate Week is a major, influential hub of that work.