Joe Graham speaks to a group about collegiate ministry. The Georgia Baptist Mission Board staffer is retiring effective Thursday.
By ROGER ALFORD
The Christian Index
DULUTH, Ga. – Joe Graham, described by colleagues as a model of humility and a legend in collegiate ministry, is retiring effective Thursday, closing out a 38-year career with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
Graham, 64, joined the Mission Board as a campus minister in 1983, later becoming a collegiate ministry catalyst, working as a liaison to help churches and campus ministers to identify strategies to reach students in colleges and universities across the state.
The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has always placed a high priority on reaching and discipling college students. In fact, the largest budget line item at the Mission Board is for campus ministries. And the largest number of employees are assigned to those ministries.
Most of those employees knew Graham well after years of working with him.
“Joe Graham is a college ministry legend who leaves behind a great legacy,” said Brian Puckett, Baptist campus minister at Georgia Southwestern University. “There are countless missionaries, pastors, deacons, and church members across the world who can draw a line back to Joe Graham.”
Graham, a graduate of Radford University who received his master’s degree from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and doctorate from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, said he had known even as a college student on his Virginia campus that he would be involved in collegiate ministry.
“I had not a hint of a doubt,” he said. “In my first internship, I remember the pure exhaustion of the week of campus ministry. I remember looking at my wife, Gayle, and saying, ‘I’ve never been more exhausted in my life,’ and ‘I love it.’”
A resident of Dacula, Ga., Graham said he doesn’t plan to remain retired very long. After spending some time with his family, he said he will begin looking for what God has in store for him in the next chapter of his life.
“I’m sure God isn’t finished with me yet,” he said.
Looking back over nearly four decades, Graham said the American culture has changed dramatically, and perhaps no demographic has been impacted more than college students.
“But what we’re trying to do in a lot of ways has not changed at all,” he said. “We’re still trying to help students discover who God is in their lives, trying to help them figure out how to spend their lives serving Him.”
Georgia Baptist Mission Board Missions Catalyst Buck Burch said Graham has had a major impact on collegiate ministry in across the state.
“Having worked with Joe for the last decade, I have seen a man who deeply cares for each Baptist collegiate ministry leader and worked diligently to help find the resources they needed for each campus,” Burch said. “Joe is a disciple-maker at heart and missional in his strategic thinking, so it is no wonder the campus ministries reflected that same heartbeat.”
Puckett said Graham has had a national influence on collegiate ministry, pushing evangelism, discipleship and personal relationships.
“From the largest university to the smallest college, Joe saw the value of ministry to the individual student,” Puckett said. “He was my mentor, my friend, and my biggest cheerleader for my ministry and family. Dr. Graham leaves a great legacy of disciples making disciples on the college campus.”
The Mission Board has a stated goal of growing campus ministry in Georgia by adding add 50 additional campuses in the next few years to the current 41 currently being served.
Graham said aspiring campus ministers need to have a passion for collegiate ministry, a passion to help students through the messes they can create in their own lives.
“You’ve got to be willing to walk with people on their best days and their worst days,” he said. “With students, you’re walking with them through some of the most lifechanging events they’ll ever face. Those four or five years determine what the rest of life looks like for them.”
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