Students gather in December for The Great Exchange, led by the BCM at Georgia State University – Newton County campus. BCM Campus Minister Tony Gray reported approximately 40 Gospel conversations and 22 salvations thorugh that and a follow-up event supported by area churches and the Stone Mountain Baptist Association. TONY GRAY/Special
Campus minister says support from local churches, Baptist association, crucial in reaching students
NEWTON COUNTY – Strange things are happening on college campuses these days. Institutions once known as places where students rallied in support of free speech are now seemingly bent – led by those students – on doing anything to limit speech. Many of these establishments of higher learning are growing more antagonistic toward the very Gospel that they were chartered to advance.
For those commissioned to share that Gospel on today’s college campuses, the challenges are great. But one thing we can learn from Christian history is that challenges are often the fertilizer God uses to grow His kingdom. Regardless of what’s happening on a campus, there’s reason for hope.
Tony Gray, Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) campus minister at Georgia State University’s Newton County campus, became a Christian at a young age. He would develop a desire for missions, but the jungles of South America or large populations of the Middle East wouldn’t become Tony’s primary place of service. Instead, he has spent nearly 40 years ministering to students. The setting for much of those years would be one just as much in need of the gospel as those in South America and the Middle East – the American college campus.
Responding to the hunger
“Our campuses are becoming more and more diverse with population and lifestyles,” Gray explains. “But we have found a hunger within this generation of students that can’t be really helped without them coming to Christ.”
Identifying that hunger doesn’t come without effort on the part of Gray and other leaders. To do that he and his team meet with students weekly during the semester for meals together and to engage in intentional conversations about the gospel. They also lead in The Great Exchange, an on-campus event where active engagement takes place between BCM members and those curious about their faith.
All those steps coupled with an end-of-semester event brought a result that even the most pessimistic should see means college campuses aren’t beyond reach.
On Dec. 3, over 300 students received a meal through the support of Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief. Somewhere around 40 conversations about the gospel took place. On that chilly day, 22 people were saved by God’s grace.
A time to be proactive
This isn’t a numbers game for Gray, with BCM involvement of those salvations ending after the Sinner’s Prayer. Within 24 hours someone from his team contacts those new believers in Christ, gives them follow-up materials, and connects them to other believers “to help in the discipleship process,” Gray says.
Much of the hand-wringing over collegiate ministry has more to do with politics and sociology than theology. Looking from the outside, many would assume campuses are filled with whiners who are beyond redemption because they’re too busy looking for safe spaces.
Gray doesn’t share that perspective. Rather, he sees these students as image-bearers in need of grace. That’s evident, among other things, in his answer when asked about the worldview clash found on campus.
“The questions we are asked and the responses we receive can sometimes be very sad. But it is encouraging to see the response from students as they ask questions and respond,” he notes. “This is a great time for campus ministries and church college ministries to be proactive in sharing Christ and building bridges with the Gospel to college and university students!”
In other words, the college kid wanting to restrict Christian speech and thinking there are 37 genders should not be viewed as an enemy of the church, but rather a potential object of grace.
A team effort
Those students have questions best answered face-to-face over a meal rather than in angry subtweets or groanings of how much worse this generation is than the ones before it. Gray points out how, yes, sometimes those questions can be quite sad. But they aren’t nearly as sad as the ones left unanswered because older generations of Christians have given up on today’s students.
Reaching those students requires a lot of help, Gray testifies.
“The CM family there at GSUN would like to thank so many for their service! We have seen the evidence of believers working cooperatively together for the Kingdom!”
For their help at this particular event Gray pointed out Clint Culpepper, associate pastor for Harvest Baptist Church in Covington who serves as head of the BCM Advisory Team for GSUN, as well as young adult pastors Jeff Riley (First Baptist Conyers) and Jeff Clegg (First Baptist Social Circle). The roles filled by Lyman Fisher, head of the Stone Mountain Baptist Association Disaster Relief team, and SMBA Associational Missions Strategist Larry Cheek were also crucial.
“It was truly a great day!” Gray shared in an email. “Please keep these new believers and all the students touched by the good news in your prayers in the days ahead as they are followed up in their decisions!
“To God be the Glory … great things He hath done!”
Jay Sanders is a writer and serves as pastor of Towaliga Baptist Church in Jackson. He can be reached at email@example.com.