By Jennifer Harris
College ministry is essential, says Mizzou BSU Ministries director Jerry Carmichael. “There is no more critical time shaping a person’s life than the college years.”
Despite organizational changes, which caused Carmichael to lose his job with the Missouri Baptist Convention and motivated Mizzou BSU Ministries to become an independent organization, this has been a good year, Carmichael said.
On June 4, 2007, the MBC Executive Board voted in closed session to remove the position of “campus minister” from the MBC job inventory and add the positions of “collegiate ministry regional coordinator” and “collegiate ministry international coordinator.” Carmichael was one of six full-time campus ministers to lose his job.
Upon hearing the news, the Mizzou BSU Ministries’ endowment board, along with several Columbia churches, took responsibility for the ministry and hired Carmichael to continue serving as the director.
Carmichael emphasized that he feels no ill will toward the convention, but that he sees significant weak points in the new direction of the campus ministries. “I have great respect for Matt Kearns (MBC student ministry director). He’s a godly man,” he said. “I care very much about (MBC) Collegiate Ministries — I hope it increases and thrives...I still want a cooperative relationship with Collegiate Ministries and Matt.”
The BSU kicked off the year with a student retreat led by Rodney Reeves, dean of the Courts Redford School of Theology and Ministry at Southwest Baptist University. Seventy-five students attended the weekend event. Carmichael said the BSU emphasizes going on the retreat, because “if a student goes on the retreat, it solidifies their involvement.” Once a student is on the retreat, they make friends and form a personal attachment to the BSU.
“As a freshman, I was looking for a Christian organization to join,” said Stormie Dorrell, a senior from Green Valley. “The BSU was the first place I came. I really enjoyed it, met a few people and have been involved ever since. I’ve found a community I can always go to — good or bad. It’s been really good developing those relationships.”
David Kissinger, a freshman biomedical engineering major from West Plains, was attracted to the BSU when they were giving away food. “I came for the free tacos and stayed for the good fellowship and good people.”
During the week, students have several opportunities to plug into BSU life. On Thursday nights, the BSU hosts Real Life, a “very strategic, main large group event.” The student-led event is designed to be a fun, upbeat evening with the goal to connect students with God.
Students have the opportunity to join small group Bible studies. In the fall, there are specific groups geared to freshmen as they experience living on their own for the first time.
“During the college years, students decide what they are going to own — what they believe and value, and what they will discard,” Carmichael said. “It is the crossroads of responsibility and freedom. They are focusing on what they want to do in life, finding their purpose in life and deciding who they want to spend their life with.”
The BSU also offers Paradigm Shift, a mid-sized group designed to deal with special interest topics. Carmichael said the staff is working to expand this group to bring in local experts to address these topics in an authoritative manner.
Each staff member mentors two or three students to bring them to a deeper discipleship level. Several also lead Bible studies, Carmichael said.
He encourages ownership of the BSU — both from the standpoint of local churches taking responsibility for the ministry and student involvement to “get in the game instead of standing on the sidelines.” If a student has a talent, it can be utilized in service, he said.
One of the BSU’s new projects is working alongside other Christian ministries on campus to host two larger events on the University of Missouri campus. The first event is designed with an evangelistic focus. For the first event this year, the ministry groups invited popular Christian author Lee Strobel to speak.
The second event is directed toward Christians with a focus on missions. They invited missions-sending agencies from various denominational and non-denominational roots to set up booths and share with students. Thirteen agencies participated this year.
While the BSU continues to seek new ways of ministering to students, the changes in structure did significantly impact the budget, Carmichael said. He took a drastic cut in pay, lost the ability to have NAMB-sponsored semester missionaries serving as interns and lost general funding from the convention. His two full-time staff members live “well below the poverty line,” he said.
“When I first came, I knew we needed local Baptists to take responsibility for the BSU,” Carmichael said. They started an endowment fund with the intention of leading the BSU to become self-sufficient. “Any ministry that is not self-sufficient could cease to exist if giving drops.”
He said the new MBC focus is on churches — and rightfully so, but where does student ministry fit? “Students have no income, but I believe they are tomorrow’s leaders, tomorrow’s missionaries.”
The BSU has planned a $230,000 budget for this year. “I don’t know where $130,000 of it will come from, but there is no Plan B — this is too critical of a ministry,” he said.
While there are other great ministries on campus, the BSU is unique, he said. “We are the only Christian ministry with a presence on campus. We are one of two properties on campus not owned by the state.”
The BSU building is surrounded by student dormitories — “we are at the heart of MU for the hearts of students,” Carmichael said. The student body is projected to grow significantly in the coming years, making the ministries’ continued presence important.
He tells his graduating students “people you don’t know and who don’t know you made this ministry possible. God might lead you to make it possible for someone else.”
Beyond the immediate needs of the operating budget, the BSU building is going to need a new roof and drivers with Commercial Drivers Licenses are needed for the spring break mission trip.
If a church or individual is interested in helping the Mizzou BSU Ministries and are already supporting their local church, Carmichael suggests asking God what He wants them to do. “He is capable of giving an answer,” he said. “I don’t know what God wants you to do, but God will let them know — I really believe that.”
“I want Missouri Baptists to know I’m grateful for 25 years they paid me to do what I love to do,” Carmichael said.