Sunday, March 29, 2020

Why I'm a Campus Pastor, Part 3

Well, this last month has been unprecedented. I never thought I'd see all of our campuses closed, all of our students sent home to finish the semester online, all of our events and plans for the end of the school year canceled, and so much uncertainty about summer and fall. But it's a good reminder of why it's so important to be doing our best to reach university students with the gospel--our current way of life is unsustainable. It's easy to lull ourselves into thinking that things will simply go on as they have, that we have plenty of time for all that we want to do. But Jesus taught differently. I think his words in Matthew 24 speak well to our current situation:

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. 50 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. 51 He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I'm not saying I think this pandemic is a sign that Jesus is returning in the next weeks or months. In every generation, some Christians have expected him to return in their lifetime, and every generation has been proven wrong so far. I think it plays especially well to our American self-centeredness to think that, of course, all of those scriptures must apply directly to me. :)

What I am trying to say, is that Jesus calls us to be awake, aware, ready. He calls us to live with a sense of urgency and expectancy. While every generation so far has been wrong about the date of Jesus' return, they have not been wrong to sound the warning that he is returning, that judgment is coming, that all of our "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage" is going to come to a sudden end.

When we get too comfortable, we don't even want him to return! We hope he'll wait until after I get my dream job or my dream spouse or my dream vacation or my dream grandchildren. We've got plans and goals! College students have lots of plans and goals too. Someone needs to be in their lives, proclaiming and reminding them that Jesus is coming back. As he says three times in Revelation 22, "I am coming soon!" He's right at the door, ready to open it and come in at any time. This pandemic is a good reminder to students and campus pastors alike that his return is always near, and we must always be ready and making others ready for that Day.

(If you want to hear my teaching on some of the scriptures around Jesus' return, including what I think Jesus was saying about timing, you can check out this Pizza Theology from 2 years ago.)

Our response to COVID-19


Some events, like our party to end the school year, have had to be canceled, but most of what we do has just moved online and on the phone. Our ministry model is based on relationships rather than events, so modern technology makes it possible for us to keep going! Here are some of the ways we're adapting:
  • Individual meetings - We always meet regularly with students one-on-one for mentoring, support, and discipleship. We've continued these over video chats and phone calls as students have left campus. Some students are easier to nail down now that they have little else to do!
  • Small groups - We use small groups for discipleship, leadership development, Bible study, accountability, and fellowship with our students. Cores and peer teams are continuing to gather on various platforms, some even meeting daily to help provide structure and spiritual direction to their members! 
  • Teaching - We teach our students from the Bible and provide supplemental classes and teachings. This will continue via videos, podcasts, livestreaming, and posted materials as we continue to produce content for our students. For example, we'll be doing a Pizza Theology on heaven and hell in three parts over three weeks starting next Sunday. We are also streaming services on Friday nights on twitch.tv/utdfocus (you can still see the one from last Friday night if you're interested in what we're doing).


Alumnus Testimony!


Every so often, we like to share a story from an alum to see the further-reaching impact of our ministry. I remember James as a freshman at UTD, and it has been so cool to see God's powerful work in him and through him these past few years. Thank you for your prayers and financial investments that make these stories possible!



Saturday, March 14, 2020

Responding to COVID-19

I know some of you are aware that many of our campuses have extended spring break by a week and are moving all instruction to online-learning for the rest of the semester in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The situation is still developing, but I know many of my ministry partners already have questions about what this means for FOCUS. Here's a letter we sent to our students detailing where we are right now. Please be praying for us and that we can take full advantage of this very different season of campus ministry.

March 13, 2020

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

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Why I'm a Campus Pastor, Part 2

I'm a campus pastor, a missionary to UTD, because I firmly believe that "One on one is how it's done." Real ministry is personal, relational. It takes time; it takes knowing people. Real ministry takes place in the context of real relationships. Young people have more access than ever before to the best Christian preachers on Youtube, the best Christian musicians on Spotify and in concert, the best Christian thinkers through books and podcasts, yet the Church is continuing to lose our young people in droves!

We've replaced the lap with the lecture as our primary means of discipleship. What I mean is this: instead of learning the faith life on life, parents and pastors alike have outsourced the transmission of the faith to "experts" in order to cope with our own busyness. But discipleship can only go so far in a mass-production context.

In FOCUS, we have an axiom about this: "We're a custom shop, not a factory." It comes from reflecting on the slow and seemingly inefficient ministry model of Jesus. Mark 3:14 reads, "He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach." Luke would observe later in the story that the Jewish rulers couldn't understand the powerful ministry of those chosen men: "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus."

One more axiom: "Character is more caught than taught." It was being with Jesus that had transformed and empowered Peter and John. We can't improve upon Jesus' ministry method. It's this "inefficient" ministry model that drives my passion for campus ministry. As Robert Coleman observed at the very beginning of his book The Master Plan of Evangelism“It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow him... His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow...  Men were to be his method of winning the world to God.”

College students have time to spend with me. They have time to practice what they are learning. The campus gives me access to them in a way that's hard to get after they start their careers. I get to spend the bulk of my time mentoring young men and women and seeing them step up to do the same with others. It's not just about a once a week Bible study/mentoring time, though those are so important! It's also about living life alongside them so they can see what life lived as a disciple looks like, as best as I can exemplify that. Brady Bobbink recently reminded my entire pastoral staff, "Students are looking for us to act like people they could become. They don't need us to act like them."

I'm a campus pastor because there's a need for disciples to make disciples on campus the same slow, transformative way that the Master showed us so long ago. Thank you for empowering me to be present with these young adults. It's bearing good fruit!

Showcase and SICM





Just a quick note that Showcase was incredible! The show was better than ever, and we raised over $20,000 to help send students to SICM! (We're still waiting on the exact total.) We have 65 students signed up to attend in May, and we're expecting nearly that many for the June trip. Thank you to all of you who spent money to help these young people have this experience. I was talking to a senior yesterday at lunch, and he told me that of all the Christian trips and camps and conferences he's ever been to, nothing came close to being as impactful as SICM. It's worth it!

Please, say a prayer that we can find cheap plane tickets when we buy them in a week or so. Also, pray that we can find cheaper prices on rental vans. We have some reserved, but they are hundreds of dollars more than in years past. And pray that the coronavirus doesn't disrupt the whole trip!


Sunday, February 9, 2020

Why I'm a Campus Pastor

This time of year is full of conversations with our apprentices and young campus pastors. Some of our pastors' commitments to FOCUS are up at the end of the school year, and they've been thinking and praying and seeking counsel on whether to make another multi-year commitment to student missions. Our staff is in the process of deciding which apprentices to invite to stay longer on our team, and they, in turn, are deciding whether to accept those offers. On top of that, a whole new group of graduates is carefully discerning whether to apply for the 2020-21 apprenticeship class. The applications are due at the end of this month! Please be in prayer for the Spirit to give all involved wisdom and discernment this month as we make key decisions that will affect our future.

With all that going on, I've been reflecting on why I'm a campus pastor, a missionary to college students. I firmly believe there is no more strategic mission field than our college and university campuses. These campuses are the crossroads of the modern world, where ideas and cultures are coming together, much like the crossroads cities in the ancient world where the Apostle Paul chose to take his message about Jesus.

Young people come to college to learn, to decide for themselves what they believe and what they will live for. In this season of life, they are forming the friendships that will form them in the coming years. They typically have as much free time during college as they will at any time before retirement. They're often excited, idealistic, hardworking, and passionate. And yet, for decades the Church has been losing far too many of our young people when they leave home and go off to college! Many will come back to church eventually (often with plenty of unnecessary baggage!) but many will not. But whether they come back or not, we are missing a huge opportunity while they are in college!

I'm tired of people making comments about what it will be like when students get out into the "real world." Even college students live in the real world--this isn't a fantasy novel. They face tough challenges and work hard and overcome obstacles. They are practicing skills they will need and making real decisions that will shape their lives and the lives of others. It's a different season, but it's very real.

It's in vogue to call young liberal students "snowflakes," but as I've heard Brady Bobbink say, I've known many who have been to hell and back and haven't melted away yet. The Lord chose David when he was a young man to fight a giant that all the adults were too afraid to fight. Paul told Timothy to not let others look down on him because of his age but to set the example in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity. Many of these young people on campus are setting an example I wish we in the church would follow. They are fighting spiritual battles against a very real, very powerful enemy. They are making a difference in the lives of their peers, living out the biblical vision for community rather than the American dream vision of privacy and property. Do they have much to learn from their elders? Of course! But do their elders have some things to learn from them? Absolutely.

I can't think of a more important thing to be doing with my time and talents and money than to make disciples of college students and help them mature in the Lord. They are not the church of tomorrow; they are an important part of the church of today. My prayer is that God would give them many tomorrows so that these amazing young disciples will one day be the amazing elders our churches sorely need. We've got plenty of seniors filling the pews, but far too few true spiritual elders preparing and equipping the next generation.

More to come on this topic, but I want to say thank you to all of you who believe in what I'm giving my life for, who pray for me consistently, encourage me along the way, and invest the money that you've earned to be a blessing to young people you may never meet, but whose lives are absolutely transformed by you regardless. God sees the connections. He knows your fruit even if you don't. And He's doing something so cool on these campuses through our partnership. To God be the glory!




It's time for our annual SICM fundraiser again, and it's going to be a great show! It's a little earlier this year, on Saturday, February 29. You can get your tickets for $20 at anyfocus.org/showcase

And don't forget about the $50 VIP ticket experience! Seats in the front 3 rows, a special snack box put together by Debbie Sustaita, priority parking, backstage access between shows, and more!


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Unlocking the Psalms

I just spent the day out at a lakehouse (Thanks to the McCrackens!) praying and reading and writing to prepare for my sermon on Psalm 1 at our upcoming Winter Camp. No guest speaker this year--it's going to be some of our FOCUS staff unpacking various Psalms. We picked this particular topic (proposed by Peter Ueng) for a couple of reasons.

First off, we want to see our students grow in biblical literacy, and they often feel especially intimidated by the Old Testament. It's easy to come up with a long list of topics we'd like to preach on, and that's certainly important! But maybe it's more important to equip these young people for a lifetime of engaging with God's word and learning how to let the scriptures speak into their thinking, their feelings, and their actions. Many students arrive on campus, even from church backgrounds, never having read much of the Bible, and they feel intimidated by it. Our hope is to help them get excited about the book of Psalms and to give them tools to read it well.

Secondly, throughout most of Christian history, the Psalms have been the hymnbook of God's people. This is a rich tradition that stretches back hundreds of years even before the birth of Jesus! Yet now, in America, we hardly use them at all in our corporate worship, and as a result, our praise songs can begin to all sound the same. There is certainly little place for lament (over a third of the Psalms) in our church services, to the degree that we begin to feel that when we're hurting, being with the church is not the right place for us. We think at church we need to be happy and joyful. This shouldn't be! Our hope is that the Psalms can further inform our worship, helping us relate to God in all the seasons of life. If these young people don't know how to relate to God in the hardest and darkest seasons of life (or even worse, if they buy the lie that loving God means everything will go smoothly and painlessly, disregarding Jesus' words that "In this world you will have trouble"), they are in danger of running away from God rather than to him when the storms of life hit.

We all need to go back to the Psalms and hear again their message for us. The first Psalm is different than the rest--not a prayer, but a blessing.


When we hear "law" or Torah, we should not think just of a list of rules from the Old Testament, but the will of God for all creation, all the received wisdom from generations before, and even God's guidance through our consciences (compare with Psalm 119 and all the different ways "law" is conceived of). This is not a book for just anyone; we are greeted at the beginning of the book as a reader of God's word and as a lover of God's will. There are two paths--God's path and a path to destruction. It's not a book for perfect people; even people on God's path can fall down. But it's also not a book for people who scorn God and his ways, walking a completely different path through life. We're invited as followers along the right Way into a life of solidity and fruitfulness. That's God's will for us. If you haven't approached the Psalms lately, I encourage you to read them again. And I ask you to pray for those of us who are preparing these lessons for the students. I'm sure we'll post them for you to listen to in a couple of weeks!

Brady Bobbink at Staff Retreat and Sunday Morning Service


We had the wonderful blessing of Brady Bobbink (founder of the SICM conference) and his sweet wife Shirley coming to our staff retreat to encourage our team. They spent MANY hours answering questions and ministering to us. It was such a blessing! Then he came and spoke at the joint service of our Family of Churches. It's well worth a listen. You can find it here!

Brady speaking during one of our sessions at Staff Retreat.
I love this sweet picture of my dad with Brady at the end of the service.

Student Testimony



Thanks for all you do and give to make this ministry to students happen!

Why I'm a Campus Pastor, Part 3

Well, this last month has been unprecedented. I never thought I'd see all of our campuses closed, all of our students sent home to finis...