Friday, September 11, 2020

He is Faithful!

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." 
- Romans 8:28 NIV

The past few months in ministry have just been one long testament to the faithfulness of God. I already told you guys just how much God provided in our season of financial support-raising this summer, and he hasn't stopped providing just because that season is behind us. Going into this school year, there was understandable trepidation among some of our students and staff concerning what ministry would look like in the midst of a pandemic. After all, how could we meet students to invest in this year if our campuses are neither hosting welcome week events nor allowing us to host our own? I am so excited to tell you that despite this obstacles, our year has been off to a great start!

Welcome Week!

Like I said, UTA didn't allow us to gather in large groups, so we had to get creative with how to meet students. Over the first two weeks of school, our student leaders and staff split into small groups and went to various areas on campus with frisbees, balls, cards, and board games to invite passersby if they wanted to join. And join they did! Because friendship has been so hard to come by in the age of social distancing, students have been hungry to connect with anyone who would invite them to connect, whether or not they have a Christian background, and so in some ways, God has used social distancing to make even more students open to Christian community than otherwise would be! As a result, many of our student leaders have hit the ten-student maximum capacity on their small groups and are trying to figure out how to accommodate people who are eager for friendship and eager to learn about Jesus. What a cool problem to have :)

Some of our guys played giant kickball on campus in order to make new friends!

Deep Dive

This year, since social distancing regulations have prevented us from meeting for Thursday Night Fellowship and worshipping together, we've decided to stream an extended teaching every week that we are calling Deep Dive, and it has been so cool! We decided to teach through the book of Mark and students have been loving it. My friend and co-minister, Austin, has been taking us through the first couple of chapters and if you have the time, I'd invite you to give it a listen. I hope it encourages and challenges you as it has me and our students. 

Encouraging Stories

I'd like to leave you with some encouraging stories from our staff and student leaders that I think illustrate well just how clearly God has been moving during these first few weeks of school!

"So I met a girl while [a student leader] and I were passing out water bottles Sunday morning on campus. We told her that if she wanted to make some new friends she could join us later that night for some socially distanced games. She ended up sitting down at a bench next to us and talked to us the entire time we were handing out the water. She shared a lot about herself and how, even though she’s a junior, she hadn’t experienced friendship on campus before. She even asked, 'is it sad that I’m a junior and I haven’t made any friends yet?' She has been coming to our hangouts every night and says this is the most she’s gone to events since she started college. She’s even watching the stream tonight, which is super cool given she doesn’t have a Christian background (she grew up Jewish). Anyways, God is so good and doing some great things in people’s lives, and I’m so thankful He has given us the ability to care for those who are lonely and need friends!"

"I was just sitting on a bench by a campus map with the strategy of meeting people looking for instructions, but also just talking to God and telling him how I'm discouraged by my lack of belief in the strategies I have available to me. I was asking God for a lot of his help, and specifically for some sort of divine appointment. As soon as I finished praying, two dudes asked me if I knew where the library was. I walked with them for a bit and found out that they're both transfer students from Waxahachie that are new to UTA and that they were actively involved in a ministry there. They wanted to join a ministry here and were looking to try to get a game of ultimate frisbee going tonight with people they were trying to meet. God is good."

"I had a really neat convo with a girl last night who sort of happened upon one of our 'informal hangs.' She was very candid with me about wanting friends and struggling with mental health. She said she planned on joining a sorority because that’s the only way she knew she could make friends. But then she asked what I was a part of and said it never occurred to her to join anything religious to make friends. She said that she didn’t grow up in church but in light of depression and anxiety she experienced for the first time a few months ago, she has been contemplating spirituality and her purpose. I hope she will decide to get connected!"

THANK YOU for making it possible for us to be on campus ready to respond when God shows up as he has!!

With love and gratitude,

Friday, August 7, 2020

Uncharted Territory

The school year is nigh upon us! Next time you hear from me, we will have already been on campus meeting students and beginning another year of ministry, and I will hopefully have many stories of God bringing people into our community to hear about Jesus and experience his love through his people. Until then, let me share with you some exciting developments as we prepare for the fall!

Large Group Ministry

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." 
- Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

As you may remember from my previous blog posts, our ministry has been meeting virtually this summer so as to keep each other safe from COVID-19. But as time progresses and we seek to find a model of doing ministry that is both safe and sustainable, we are prayerfully considering how we might begin to meet in person, whether it be every so often or in small groups of people. This week, we had our first in-person service of the summer to cap off Summer FOCUS for the year, and it was so encouraging! Getting to worship together for the first time in months was so life-giving to our students and staff, and we heard an awesome sermon from one of our directors, Sarah, about pushing past fear to follow Jesus this school year (this was a very challenging and timely message to our students as well as our staff, and I think it will be for all of you as well, so I'd encourage you to read some of it here!). With our outdoor location and mask/social distancing measures in place, this is looking like a viable way to do ministry going into the school year!

Student Leaders

I am so excited to report that we have SIXTEEN men's small group leaders ("corefas") committed to serving at UTA this year. SIX. TEEN. That is insane to me given that during my first year on staff, we only had six. Even then, the fact that we had six young men willing to give up much of their free time to make and mature disciples on the college campus was astounding to me, and God certainly used a leader team of that size in big ways. But that fact that God is using this ministry to light a fire in people's hearts to reach their lost peers is so, so encouraging to me. I'm beyond excited to see not only how God uses this year to transform the hearts of our student leaders, but to reach many more people for Christ through them, especially in this season of isolation in which college students are going to be longing for community and connection.

Along with my ministry at DBU, I'll have the privilege of mentoring six of these student leaders this year, and I am so excited about each of them individually. I can't wait to tell you all about them next month :)

A Final Word

THANK YOU for making it possible to be on campus bringing Jesus to students this year. We don't know what this year holds, but we know who is in control! Our staff was concerned that raising financial support this summer would be more challenging than ever given the circumstances, and this has been our most successful summer ever. If God can do that despite the obstacles we face, he can use this uncertain year to do some amazing things! I would like to leave you with a letter to our student leaders, which I helped compose, prompting them to think about how they want to approach this year in hopes that it might be an encouragement to you as well.

With love and gratitude,

Friday, July 10, 2020

Leadership Selection and Preparing for Fall!

Hey guys! With only a month or so left in the summer, our staff is hard at work preparing for the fall!

We are right in the middle of selecting our student leaders for this next year. At UTA we have a little over 40 students with whom we are in conversation about leading our ministry to reach the campus this year. With UTA doing a mix of in-person and online classes, we're looking into how we can responsibly and safely meet students on campus and still use our methods of small group and one-on-one discipleship to point them to Jesus. So yes, it does look like we will be limited in what we can do, but we still need all hands on deck if we are going to bring the Kingdom to the campus! Even if only half of our leadership prospects say yes to this call, that's still 20 young men and women who will be sent by God to the plentiful harvest that is the college campus this year. If you could be praying for these future leaders as well as the students they'll meet this year, that would be so appreciated!

Our staff is also hard at work preparing our own hearts for the fall, as the state of our hearts as pastors is going to have just as much of an impact (if not more) on our fruitfulness this year as our ministry methods. This summer our staff has been reading the above book to examine our roles and identities as the pastors of our ministry. So far we've looked at the roles of leading hearts to God in worship, interpreting and teaching God's word, counseling, and evangelizing in our mission field. Reading this book has been a constant reminder of the weight of what I've been called to do and who I've been called to be on the college campus. I'm thankful to God for his equipping and training to fulfill this calling well and I praise him for his grace as our team grows into these roles.

Lastly, while much of our effort is currently focused on ministering well in our next season, there is still much work to be done now! We are still meeting every week for a digital service and discussion groups, as well as for weekly PACCS, where students are spending time reading scripture together and having real, personal conversations about how their walks with God are doing during the summer. We are making preparations for a socially distant, mask-covered in-person service next week, so please be praying for our diligence and safety as we seek to serve our students well.

Thank you for your continued support in this confusing and different season. God is still very much at work in the lives of our students and your support makes it possible for us to join him in that work. So thank you!!

With love and gratitude,

Thursday, June 11, 2020

God is Still Good

This has been a rough couple of months. From COVID-19 to so much racial tension, this season has been one of pain and sorrow for many, both inside and outside of our ministry. It hurts to hear our students talk about the job loss, sickness, fear, anger, and despair that they are experiencing right now, and it hurts almost as much to know that there's very little I can do about any of it. But I also know that we serve a God of healing and justice, who is present with us in our mourning and promises to use our current suffering for good before ultimately making the world right. And I also know that this time more than ever in many of our staff and students' lives, we have an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus in seeking justice now while pointing those around us to the only One who can offer true and lasting hope. This is what I've seen from the Church around me. Praise God that he has equipped his people with hearts to do the hard work of ministry even in such difficult seasons and Praise God for the fruit he's bearing through his people.

Clarissa and Peter leading us in worship on Twitch!
Despite the challenge social distancing has posed to being together as a community this summer, our students and staff have shown resilience in their consistency in meeting together online. This summer we have been hosting our large gatherings on Twitch, where we have gotten to worship together (above), hear from our campus pastors (below), facilitate virtual small group discussions, and mobilize our students to take initiative with one another this summer. It has been such a blessing!

Brandon interviewing Darby on how to be faithful to God while we wait for him to fulfill his promises
We've also been hard at work this summer training our next generation of student leaders. This week was Summer Leadership Training (SLT), where we gave our students a vision for campus ministry and the role they are invited by God to play in it by being a light to their classmates. I was actually able to give two of the talks at SLT, covering some of my favorite aspects of what we do as a ministry: small group discipleship and evangelism. Click here if you want to listen to any of the talks from day 1, and let me know if you want access to any of the other days of teaching!

One last piece of good news: we are *finally* an officially registered student organization at DBU! 
After a year of looking for a professor who would sponsor us to no avail, we decided to write a letter to the University President and he put us in contact with the Vice President of Student Affairs, who agreed to sponsor us until we can find a professor. This means we can now advertise on campus, do evangelism, and reserve classrooms that are big enough to accommodate our growing ministry. We are so thankful to God for blessing us with this opportunity for ministry!!

Despite the physical and sickness so apparent around us right now, God is still at work through his people. Thank you for being part of what God is doing through his people in this season. People need to hear the good news of Jesus right now and through your partnership, you are playing a role in bringing it to college students.

With love and gratitude,

Friday, May 1, 2020

Developing Leaders

"And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others." - 2 Timothy 2:2 NIV

With over 45,000 students on the two campuses where I get to do ministry, it is vital that I and the rest of our staff do our best not only to reach as many students as we can for Christ but to empower our young men and women to go and make disciples themselves on the college campus. We are in the business not only of making disciples but of making disciple-makers. This is why we have recently focused a lot of our efforts on leadership development.

With SICM canceled due to COVID-19, we are going to have to get creative to meet the challenge of preparing our students to lead cores, evangelize on campus, and study Scripture with their peers come August. We're looking into alternative ministry training options for our ministry as a whole (i.e., across all of our campuses), but in the meantime, my co-laborer Austin and I have begun meeting weekly with a group of 10 young men who we believe have hearts that are ready to be used by God to make an impact on their campus.

Together, we are currently reading and discussing The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman, where we get an in-depth look at the Master Minister's (i.e. Jesus') way of doing ministry, in hopes that with the empowering of the Spirit, we can apply Jesus' methods to our modern university context. I care so deeply for each young man in our group and am SO excited to see how God knits us together as a team for his Kingdom over the course of our discussion meetings!

Leadership development at DBU has looked a little different. As the only staff-person currently serving at this campus, I have in many ways had to ask for my student leaders to function as a staff. 

For example, as I have mentioned in previous ministry updates, we have faced so many obstacles to becoming a registered student organization at DBU. We have a solid group of men, women, American students, international students, full-fledged disciples, and young Christians who are eager to organize evangelism opportunities and meet for worship in a classroom that can accommodate our size, but we have been kept from doing so due to the lack of a willing faculty sponsor, which is a requirement for registration. Our three student leaders have asked numerous professors, visited several organization offices, and have even written a letter to the DBU president to try to get this taken care of. As frustrating as this process has been at times, what an opportunity it has been for them to experience the perseverance and trust in God necessary to be an effective spiritual leader!

Between this issue, their conversational evangelism efforts, and their resourcefulness in getting all of our students 1-on-1 spiritual attention, our core facilitators have had to think strategically about getting a relatively new ministry off the ground in ways that many staff people and even more core facilitators on our other campuses have never had to, and I praise God for that opportunity for them!

I would like to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for your continued financial support and partnership in moving the Kingdom forward on these campuses. If I may, I would like to ask for additional (and more powerful!) support in the form of prayer over this next month. Our ministry at DBU is currently hindered by our unregistered status, and so we need as much prayer as possible dedicated to asking God to make it happen as we continue to try to problem-solve. In addition, summer is a crucial time for leadership development that is going to have to look different this year due to the cancelation of SICM. We need as much prayer as possible dedicated to asking God to make strong leaders out of our young men and women this summer. Will you join me in prayer for these two essential aspects of our ministry?

Thank you again for your partnership in all of this!!

With love and gratitude,

Sunday, March 29, 2020

He Never Stops Working

Okay, I guess he rested on the seventh day... But God has nevertheless been hard at work in this season, regardless of the challenges. Going into these past couple weeks, I wasn't sure what God's work would look like in a season of 100% online ministry, and I wasn't sure that we'd be able to adapt our usual ministry structures (Thursday Night Fellowship, cores, etc.) to an online format effectively. But as usual, I have been pleasantly surprised :)

Challenges turned Opportunities

"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way."
- James 1:2-4 (as paraphrased in The Message )

As you can probably imagine, our students have had a lot more time on their hands. With this time come both the temptation to become spiritually complacent and isolate oneself from community as well as the opportunity to invest oneself in more extended times of learning and prayer than are otherwise feasible. With this time also comes the opportunity to grow in the initiative our students take to maintain friendship and love each other on Christ's behalf.

So far, we've seen both come to fruition. Attendance has admittedly been a bit lower in both of my cores as well as our Thursday Night Fellowship. But students have also responded positively this week to one-on-one conversations I've had with them about making the most of this season. In addition, one of our non-Christian students who hasn't been able to make it to a core this semester due to his class schedule not only has made it to our online core for two weeks straight; he also told our whole core that his goal in this time is to seriously investigate what Christianity is all about. So one of our other students who is finishing up his study with my co-leader Nathan is now going to initiate his own study with this eager seeker! Praise God for these unique opportunities he is currently affording us :)

Below are some pictures of our staff and students getting creative to meet together during this time of social distancing/shelter in place :)

Our first online leader meeting at UTA!

Our first online family group at Arlington Central Church!

My book club discussing Spiritual Leadership by Blackaby!

My Bible study with Sagar. This week we looked at what the Bible has to say about sin!

My Holy Spirit class discussion with Emily and Austin!

DBU leader meeting with Elliot and Joseph!

Our first online core at DBU!

Our first online core at UTA!

Both of my cores are going to meet in smaller groups to engage each other in these 5 disciplines each week so as to minister to each other and engage with God outside of our weekly meetings!

One challenge we've yet to tackle is what evangelism/outreach looks like in this time. Do we find an online forum in which to ask spiritual questions? How to we build new relationships while socially distancing? Would you all please be in prayer that God would lead us in this area as he has been in the other areas of our ministry?

Thank you so much for your continued financial support and prayers in this uncertain time! Please do not hesitate to reach out if you want someone to pray with or talk to. I promise not to screenshot our video chat and put it in my next ministry update. 😉

With love and gratitude,

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

So, what does campus ministry look like when campus is closed?

I am sure you guys have received emails about COVID-19 from every single company you have ever given your email to, but here is another one from your friendly campus minister :) What am I doing with my time while everything around us seems to be on hold or canceled? What will FOCUS look like at UTA this semester given that the campus is basically closed? Will we still send students to Washington for SICM despite the large concentration of coronavirus cases there? All great questions.

I want to assure those of you that financially support my ministry that I am still hard at work to fulfill my calling as a campus minister. I am using FaceTime and Google Meet to get time with students and staff. I will meet with students one-on-one and two-on-one as much as I can wisely do so. I will read and study to be a better and more equipped minister. I will begin thinking through and planning for next year. Campus is closed, but campus ministry is still very much happening!

Below is a letter from our FOCUS director, Brandon Worsham. I wanted to keep you in the loop and ask you to pray for our ministry. Our students are going to struggle. For many of them, FOCUS is their main spiritual community and source of friendship. Many of our students and some of our staff have already been hit with anxiety in this time. Things around us are clearly uncertain, but I can honestly say I feel hopeful and excited to see God work through his people's creativity and perseverance in meeting the needs around us. It is our hope and prayer that we can play a small part in the restorative work that the Lord is going to do through this difficult time. 

"To the FOCUS Community:

I want to update you on how FOCUS is responding to COVID-19, especially in light of so many of our campuses extending spring break and moving to online instruction only afterward. As a community, we need to be praying diligently for our world during this concerning time. We don’t need to panic, because we know our hope is secure in Christ, but we do need to take action in order to love our neighbors well. Those actions may be personally inconvenient, uncomfortable, and/or expensive. The situation is evolving daily, and spring break has disrupted our normal schedules and access to one another, so we will hopefully have more definite plans in the coming 2 weeks, but here are the actions we are currently taking/considering:

The 3 SSI trips from Washington State that were scheduled to arrive on March 22 are cancelled.

Pizza Theology will not happen in its normal format on March 29, but we are considering our options for livestreaming a special teaching time, so stay tuned!

After tonight, we are cancelling our weekly large group fellowships (TNF, TNT, FNF) on our various campuses. We will be following the various policies on each campus to determine how long that will be in effect. We are also considering livestreamed weekly services to replace these. 

One-on-ones and FOJ studies will continue as planned, moving to phone or video calls depending on the health and comfort levels of the students and pastors involved.

For cores and other small groups, we are working with student life offices to determine what policies may affect those. We will not stop small groups of adults from gathering together, but we are also working on developing a video conferencing option. We will certainly encourage all sick or exposed students to stay away from others.

Leader development meetings on Monday nights will move to small groups led by a pastor, whether in-person or virtual.

We are waiting to make a final determination on SICM plans. We haven’t spent any money yet and it’s not urgent for a few more weeks. We will continue to monitor the situation for now.

Thanks for being gracious and flexible. We as a team of pastors are committed to providing pastoral care to the students in our community and beyond.

For the kingdom,
Brandon Worsham"