Living Out the Gospel on Campus
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Ben TruebloodBen Trueblood serves as director of Student Ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources. He has twenty years of student ministry experience, thirteen of which were spent in the local church as a student pastor. Ben is the author of Student Ministry that Matters and is involved in training, consulting, and speaking to student ministries across the United States. Ben and his wife Kristen have four children: Jonathan, Avery, Josiah, and Adrienne.
Brian MillsBrian Mills serves as the college pastor at Cross Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which reaches over 1,000 college students and young adults each week. Brian also serves as one of the chaplains for the University of Arkansas football team. He has authored three books and travels the country as a communicator of the gospel. He has led some of the largest student ministries in the country, along with serving as a teaching pastor since he began in full-time ministry in 1999. Brian is happily marr...more
Your teens are college ready, but are they spiritually ready? Brian Mills and Ben Trueblood talk about the difference between parents who live out their faith and those who are Christian in name only.
Living Out the Gospel on Campus
Bob: How often are you having spiritual conversations with your children in your home? Ben Trueblood says, if you’re getting ready to send off kids to college, those conversations are vital.
Ben: For teenagers who are active in the church during their high school years, only
27 percent of those said that they had conversations in the home of a spiritual nature. Parents—they may care about their relationship with the Lord; they’re just not talking about it. It’s not even like parents are living a completely different lifestyle—some might be—but they're just not taking their own faith and saying, “Let’s talk about it.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 20th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you care about your college-age kids hanging on to their faith, you need to make sure they know you care about your faith while they’re still at home/that you’re having conversations about it together. We’re going to talk more about that today with Ben Trueblood and Brian Mills. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You were a believer when you went to college; right?
Bob: You came to faith in college.
Dave: Come on Bob, you don’t know my story do you? [Laughter]
Bob: I thought I knew your story.
Dave: I came to faith—
Ann: He’s partially right.
Dave: Yes, I came to faith in college—
Dave: —going into my junior year.
Bob: You [Ann] had come to faith in high school?
Ann: Yes, sixteen years old.
Dave: Same month, same year, different place—she was just a young girl; I was the much older mature man. [Laughter]
Bob: Your college experience BC—before Christ?
Dave: You don’t want to talk about that Bob.
Bob: Is that right?
Dave: It was—it was not good. I mean, it was—
Ann: He was the college quarterback.
Bob: Got it.
Ann: He was at all the parties.
Dave: Yes, I was—
Ann: And I did not like him. [Laughter]
Dave: She did not like me; she—she didn’t. She really thought I was arrogant.
Ann: He thought he was all that.
Dave: Her dad was my high school coach, so she knew me in high school; and then I went off to college. I just—I went 100 percent into the college life.
Bob: So when you came to faith, did you go 100 percent into the Jesus life or did you go 60 percent into the Jesus life?
Dave: I went 100 percent.
Bob: Did you?
Ann: —after he met me. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; did Jesus save me or Ann?—that’s the big question. [Laughter] No; when I came to Christ, I got involved in the ministry on campus, Athletes In Action, and started a Bible study on the football team. The football team thought I was nuts. You know, I’m their quarterback/their captain; and I’ve just flipped a switch.
I’ll tell you a quick story. When I came in, as a freshman on a scholarship, the starting quarterback was a senior. I remember sitting in the quarterback room first day. Art walked over to me; he was sort of a legend. He was a three-year starter, and I was hoping to take his position someday.
Dave: He walks over to me and he says: “Hey you’re the next guy when I’m done. I want to give you a word of advice.” I go, “What’s that?” He goes, “You lead on the field and you lead in the bar.” I go, “What’s that mean?” He goes, “You lead on the field in the huddle; you’re the man; but you’re the man of the bar too. You’ve got to drink everyone under the table.”
Dave: I followed that. I just thought, “Okay, that’s what you do.” So I was that guy.
I look back now; I wasn’t a Christian yet. I didn’t know the Bible said—I had no idea the Bible said this: “The sins of your father will visit down.” I copied my dad, who was an alcoholic. I had no idea I was on that trajectory. Christ saved me.
Bob: We have got a couple of guys joining us today to talk about college. Honestly, any parent, who’s got a junior or senior in high school, and is thinking about sending sons or daughters off to college, is thinking about it with some fear and trepidation; because they’re thinking: “What choices are they going to make? What environment are they going to be in?”
They're hearing the stories of how many kids grow up in the church—going to youth group; everything looks good—and then they go to college, and it all washes out. So we’re going to talk about: “How true is that?” and “Is there anything parents can do/anything students can do so that that doesn’t happen?”
We’ve got Ben Trueblood and Brian Mills joining us today. Guys, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Ben: Thank you; good to be here.
Brian: Great to be here.
Bob: Brian is a pastor outside of Oklahoma City at Trinity Baptist Church in Yukon, Oklahoma. He spent four years as the chaplain for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Ben heads up the student ministries division of Lifeway, which is the headquarters for the Southern Baptist Convention. You're working with student ministries—camping, kind of everything that’s going on for students—that Lifeway’s involved with.
Ben: Yes, that’s right.
Bob: These guys have combined to write a book called A Different College Experience—different than the one that Dave Wilson had his freshman year. [Laughter]
Dave: Well, I’ll add this—this is exciting to talk about because I did have a different college experience—Jesus Christ changed the whole thing, and it was different/much different, much better.
Bob: And you’ve [Brian] been through college; but you’ve also been on campus, doing ministry, and watching young people come on the college campus. Are parents’ fears legitimate fears as they watch their sons and daughters come to college?
Brian: Yes, I would say 100 percent legitimate fears and what we just heard from the story of what took place from the different college experience. When you walk on campus, there’s freedom; but not just freedom, there’s expectation.
Ben: I think, too, I think there's rightful fear for parents in that.
But I think there's a point where the student, themselves, encounters that fear because, for the first time in their life—for many of them—it’s the first time they have to take responsibility. They’ve got to wash their own clothes; they’ve got to find their own meal; they got to get around campus; they got to choose what they’re going to study. It’s a responsibility moment for the first time. It may not happen previous to starting college, like a parent would experience, but there’s a fear moment that really rests on the student [himself/herself] too.
Bob: I remember being at a student ministry—my senior year in high school—and our—this was Young Life®—our Young Life leader got up. He looked at all of us and he said, “You guys, most of you, by the end of next year, are going to be drinking and partying.” I remember looking around at my fellow classmates and going: “No, we’re not. We’re not going to be doing that,” because, in high school, that’s not who we were; right?
Then we went away to college. I remember thinking to myself: “I’m not going to be that person. I’ll prove you.” It was almost like he threw down the gauntlet; and I said, “I’ll show you.” I went to college and wasn’t the partier, but I was stunned at how many of my good Christian friends in high school just got sucked up in it.
I’ve looked back at that and I thought, “I think there’s a parallel between seventh grade and freshman year in college.” Both of them relate to something you talk about in the book, which is you’re trying to figure out, “Who am I?” In seventh grade, you’re trying to figure out: “How do I get to be popular?” and “What makes people like me?”
It’s almost like you go through that a whole second time when you get to college. When I went from high school to college—in high school, I had been president of our senior class and people knew me. I go to college, and nobody's high-fiving me. I went and, all of a sudden, it’s like: “Wait! I’m not known and popular. How do I get to be known and popular?” I think that’s one reason some people dive into the things we’re talking about, because that’s how you get known and popular.
Dave: And yet you didn’t.
Dave: Bob, I want to know why not? What kept you?
Bob: Probably the biggest single thing was that I had an alcoholic father, and I did not want to revisit what I’d grown up with.
Brian: We’ve watched that common theme through being in college ministry. So many college students began to unpack their past from their parents, and even what both of you have said. We watched that happen over, and over, and over. You sit down and do all these one-on-ones; I mean, we would do probably over a hundred college students/ my team and I would meet with, one on one, a week.
Every one of them—consistently, that were really struggling—it went back to the way they were raised and what they learned, growing up. It really shows a significance of developing an effective and healthy parenting lifestyle to equip them to go into college instead of just hoping they make it in college.
Bob: So what’s the difference between the Christian parents, who get their kids really ready—and those kids go off, solid—and the Christian parents who don’t?
Ben: Yes, that’s a great question. I think some are the devotion of the Christian parents in the home; they choose the title of being a Christian parent, but they don’t choose the lifestyle of Christianity. Christianity’s become more cultural than it has biblical.
Bob: So, if a kid’s coming out of a home, where the Christianity has been casual—we go to church; but at home, there are inconsistencies they see with mom and dad. That’s putting them at risk as opposed to those kids, who are coming out, where it’s been the real deal; and mom and dad really love Jesus.
Ben: Yes, I think so. We’ve recently done some research through Lifeway Students that showed that, for teenagers who were active in the church during their high school years, only 27 percent of those said that they had conversations in the home of a spiritual nature.
Parents may be having this cultural Christianity; they may care about their relationship with the Lord; they’re just not talking about it. It’s not even like parents are living a completely different lifestyle—some might be—but they’re just not taking their own faith and saying, “Let’s talk about it,”—like: “Let me, as a dad, talk with you”—not about what you’re doing but—“about what God is actually teaching me right now,” and “What did I glean from church today?” and “What was that experience like for me?”
Ann: So you guys, we have found the same thing in our church. We’ve watched for
30 years—we’re watching these kids come through—and we’re thinking, “What makes the difference?” Because you see some in college have this vital growing experience with their relationship with God; others—man, they just go totally by the world’s way.
We’ve kind of watched that and thought, “What is the difference?” It is exactly what you’re saying. These parents that are living out what they say: they're talking about it, they’re ministering, they’re serving with the community—those are the kids that we see they want to make a difference, because they’ve watched their parents impact people.
Bob: We’ve got to say: “There’s not a one-to-one correlation here.
Bob: “It’s not an absolute; because some parents, who really love Jesus, have a prodigal.
Ben: That’s right.
Bob: The father in the story of the prodigal son is a picture of God, and His son becomes a prodigal; so you can be doing it right, as a parent, and your kids can still head off in the wrong direction.
Brian: That’s right.
Ann: For you guys, this is a passion of yours. You’ve been doing this a long time. What were you hoping when you wrote the book, and how did you come together to do this?
Ben: Yes, well, we’ve known each other a long time and were in student ministry. Both of us were youth pastors in different parts of the country, and were in circles with each other at conferences, and things like that. There’s been friendship there.
When Brian made the transition to leave college ministry, we were at a conference together. We were riding a bus, and sitting next to each other, and just started talking about: “Now, that you’ve been doing college ministry for a little while, after student ministry, what would you go back—what have you seen in college students that you would say, ‘What would you go back and do differently, now, as a youth pastor?’”
That’s kind of the genesis of the book. That’s where that conversation turned into: “Man, that’s something we need to address.”
Bob: So what would you go back and do differently, Brian? [Laughter]
Brian: Well, I believe most of it’s here in the book. [Laughter] You know, one thing how we started this book—and not just to promote the book—but we started the book with the idea of the gospel. What we found in college ministry was a lot of people are walking into college, and they don’t know Christ and they didn’t know Jesus. Jesus is life changing. When you come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, it changes everything. So we started the book with that.
That’s probably the number one thing I’ve realized—the significance in college is we need to share the gospel—but we don’t just need to share the gospel, we need to teach the gospel. People need to understand the gospel, not just hear it and come forward in an invitation, but actually understand it. The first couple chapters in this book is all about the gospel, because we felt like it was the most significant thing for college students to grab ahold of.
Dave: Were you finding that kids, that even came from church families, didn’t know the gospel?—or was it just kids that didn’t really have background?—r were you seeing sort of both?
Brian: Yes, I think there’s both. We wanted this book to be something that we know there are going to be people, who are across the board on the spiritual maturity spectrum, that pick up this book; because a mom, or a grandmother, or a dad, or somebody puts it in their hands as a graduation present or something. We wanted it to be an evangelistic tool as well as a tool that grounds a person, who already has faith in Jesus, and what it means to understand the gospel and then live it out.
Bob: You talk about the gospel on almost two levels when you talk about it in the book. There is an understanding of the gospel that causes people to go, “Oh, I want to follow Jesus.”
But you talk about believing the gospel on an ongoing basis—living out the gospel—not just a one-time: “I prayed to receive Christ; check that off; I’m done.” Explain to folks what it means to live out the gospel, or to meditate on it, or to think about it/believe it over and over again.
Ben: Yes, I think this is an issue that we see in student ministries that kind of creates this moment of transition that’s difficult into college because, like I said earlier, it’s the first time they take responsibility for a lot of the things in their lives—many of them.
If there’s not a clear understanding of how the gospel impacts their day to day versus the decision moment that they may have had, as a seven-year-old or as a sixteen-year-old, then that’s when things begin to fall apart. I would articulate it this way: “In
2 Corinthians 3:18: ‘We all with unveiled faces behold, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, and we are being transformed into that same image,’—paraphrased there; but the point is: ‘We’re going to be transformed into what we stare at most.’”
In that transition moment, no longer does the Christian teenager have someone in their life—a parent, a youth pastor, a small group leader—to turn their face to Jesus. They have to decide to stare at Jesus themselves. We stare at Jesus through His Word. That moment of transition is a fix-your-eyes moment.
I strongly believe that, if we stare at the gospel/if we stare at what God has done in reconciling us to Himself through Christ, then we’re going to be transformed into the image that He has set out for us—rather than us staring at popularity, or staring at athletic prowess, or staring at academic achievement, or staring at relationships, or staring at whatever it is—those are the things we’re going to be transformed into.
Bob: I heard somebody say once, and I’ve never thought of this; but I think it’s true—they said, “You become an amalgamation of the five people you spend most of your time with.” Well, if you’re spending your time with Jesus and other people who are following Jesus, you’re going to become like Jesus. If you’re spending your time with Dave Wilson, his freshman year, you’re going to become like Dave Wilson in his freshman year. [Laughter]
Dave: Don’t do it. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right.
The issue of—not just spending time with Jesus, which is critical—but also spending time with other people, who love Jesus—the issue of who you’re friends with, when you go off to college, that can be determinative for these kids; can’t it?
Brian: Yes; we had a young man in our college ministry—gave his life to Christ the second part of his sophomore year—which always seems to be a transformational time for a college student. They enter their freshman year; they make the freshman mistakes. The sophomore, beginning year, they feel guilty; the latter part, we were seeing them come to know Christ. I don’t know if that’s true data; it was just data in which we watch take place year after year.
A young man in his second half of his sophomore year—he was a frat boy; he lived out the fraternity world. He was the fraternity guy, but he knew—he came to our ministry; gave his life to Christ, was baptized.
We were teaching him this sanctification process to become more like Christ, day after day after day, and: “Things got to change if you’re going to be more like Christ. You’ve got to add to your faith like 2 Peter says or work out your salvation like Philippians says. There’s a process to grow in your faith.” He decided to change his friend bank, and decided to step away from the fraternity boys. Outside of that world—he lived around it—to win them to the Lord. He became friends and changed his environment, and it changed who he was. I think it's true for all of us.
Ben: We truly do become who we hang out with.
Dave: Again, going back to a long time ago, to my college experience—I had hair and the whole thing; you know. [Laughter] You don’t believe that, but I did. It used to come out of my helmet; I used to flip my bangs.
Bob: You didn’t shave your head? [Laughter]
Dave: I didn’t; there was just a good mullet.
Ben: A lot of hair.
Ann: There was a lot of hair.
Dave: I didn’t realize I had the comb-over going too. [Laughter]
Ben: A lot of great hair.
Dave: Yes; what was interesting is—I had to do the separation from some of the guys. I just/I was too weak to even go in a bar with them; I couldn’t handle it. I thought I could; I couldn’t, so there was a sort of a radical separation—which, again, I got ribbed on for a while—but then, as I started a new life and started to grow in that—and again, I had never really even read the Bible before—so I’m really starting to grow.
The man, who was mentoring me/discipling me, was a senior student, who really felt like God gave him a passion to reach athletes. He was never an athlete; but anyway, Bill pours into me. I’ll never forget—one day he says, “Okay, now it’s time to go reach your teammates.” I’m like, “What’s that mean?!” “Let’s share the gospel with them.”
We set up a meeting. Back then, it was a magazine we had that talks about athletes who had faith. Athletes In Action had a magazine; the last page was the gospel. We give—I gave everyone on the team this magazine; they all got the magazine. I said, “I’d like to talk to you about it sometime.” Then we set up a little appointment with them. Then we’d always ask, “Hey, by the way, did you see that last article?” None of them had. Then we go, “Let’s walk through this.” I learned, with Bill, how to share the gospel with my teammates.
Ben: That’s awesome.
Dave: We shared the gospel with 99 players; 25 gave their life to Christ.
Ben: Wow; that’s awesome.
Dave: I’m in ministry today because of this year; I watched them give their life to Christ. We started a Bible study—and just this move started to happen on our campus, which was powerful.
I’ll end with this: 25 years later, I’m invited to go back to the campus for the college was going to celebrate our championship team, back in the ‘70s, at half-time. I go down there. They say, “Hey, these guys won the thing when they were really young—a long, long, long time ago”; right?
I’ll never forget this. I had to then run up out of the stadium, get in my car, and drive back to Detroit; because I had to do chapel that night for the team/for the Lions; so I couldn’t stay. Just as I get to my car, this guy yells at me, “Hey, Dave Wilson!” I turn around, and it’s a college student. I don’t know him, and he’s 20 yards away.
He goes, “You’re Dave Wilson; right?” I go, “Yes.” He goes, “Yes, I saw you at half-time. I just need to say something to you.” He goes: “I just gave my life to Christ. I’m a tennis player. I was told that the athletic ministry of Ball State started, back in the ‘70s, when you gave your life to Christ and you led this movement. I just want to say, “You changed my life; thank you.”
Dave: I get in my car; I’m crying. I think I’m going back to my college for a celebration thing—and that’s the only thing that really matters—who cares about this championship ring?—I’m wearing it right now. Who cares?—really. It was like, “Oh my goodness, there’s a legacy—that God had this plan before we ever knew it.”
I’m thinking of a parent out there, thinking, “What’s going to happen to my child in college?” This could happen—literally changed my life and my legacy.
Bob: I know a lot of moms and dads this time of year—especially if you’ve got a senior—you’re all caught up in letters, and papers, and applications, and essays that have got to be written; and “Where are they going to go?”; and “What about scholarships?” and filling out the FAFSA form. All of that’s important, but you’ve got a window of time left to impress on your son and daughter the things we’ve been talking about here today.
Ann: I would add to that Bob; I know, as a parent, I did feel that sense of fear as my kids are coming into college. I wasn’t sure where they all were, as they were coming to that point; but man, I started praying like crazy—praying that God would bring them to people like you guys—people that are doing ministry, that will pour into them/that they'll connect to. Don’t think that your prayers don’t matter; God hears those.
Bob: Maybe what you do is you get a copy of the book these guys have written.
Ben: Yes, we would love that!
Bob: Go through it together with your son or daughter. Read a chapter together with them and talk about it. We’ve got copies of Ben and Brian’s book, A Different College Experience, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy. Again, the title of the book is A Different College Experience: Following Christ in College. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-”F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” to get a copy of their book.
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We hope you’ll join us tomorrow when we’re going to talk about why it’s, not only important for us to be shaping our children's behavior, but also to be helping them think biblically about the issues they’re facing. Our guests, Ben Trueblood and Brian Mills, will be back with us tomorrow. I hope you can be here as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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