Friday, December 4, 2020

We Surpassed Our $100,000 KFG Goal!

Thank you so much for your prayers and gifts! So many people have been extra generous during this tough season. God is doing great things on our campuses this year, and I'm praying next year is a big growth year for us!

Various and Sundry Pictures

At the end of the apprentice's Old Testament class, Dr. Iain Provan (Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College & former FOCUS Winter Camp speaker) joined the class on Zoom for nearly 2 hours of open Questions and Answers about the Old Testament. It was such a blessing! 

During our Deep Dive session on Mark 15, Amy read the crucifixion narrative while Rhett compared Mark's telling with the coronation proceedings for Roman emperors. You should check it out!

Some students gather outdoors on the lawn on Friday nights to watch Deep Dive together.

Our testimony this month comes from an alumna who is near and dear to my heart. Maloa was an international student from Cameroon and a student leader at UTD. She has remained a friend through med school, moves, and having triplets!

Sunday, November 22, 2020

I'm Excited to Share this Song With You

Many of you may be aware that most colleges in the US are sending students home before Thanksgiving this year due to COVID. Ours are no different. Many students have already left and others will depart in the coming days. And then they won't be back until January 19! So we've been working to connect with them before they go and preparing to move even more of our ministry online for the next 2 months. 

At UTD, we've been studying through Mark's gospel in our weekly Deep Dive meetings this semester, and we're almost done. This past Friday night, Rhett led us through the crucifixion narrative. It was excellent! He shared a number of things I don't think I've ever heard or thought about. You can find it at if you'd like to hear the sermon. But to go with the message, Rhett wrote the lyrics to a song, which Pico Dickinson then put to music and sang for us. It was very touching to me, and I want to share it with you here.

4 Holidays in One Day

Since we missed Fall Camp this year and with the students leaving so early, we came up with a new outdoor event to wrap up the semester: Holidays in the Park! We were outdoors all afternoon and evening. We played Halloween games, had a catered Thanksgiving dinner together complete with a thankfulness reflection time, were led through a Christmas devotional, and ended with sparklers and singing All Glory Be To Christ (set to the tune of Auld Lang Syne) to celebrate the New Year. It was a fun way to cram all the holidays in since we won't get to be together for most of them.

Thanksgiving Dinner. It was a windy day to eat outside, but the wind was good for safety!

Christmas Devotional. It's hard to tell, but everyone is spaced 6 feet apart.

New Years. It was so fun so worship together with sparklers going.

Keep FOCUS Growing!

Our annual fundraiser is upon us! On Giving Tuesday, December 1, we have $42,000 of matching funds up for grabs! (The students already had their KFG offering and more than matched the $8000 in matching funds we had for them!)

Please prayerfully consider giving an extra gift during this time to help cover all of our extra expenses beyond staff salaries. Depending on how things go with the virus, we are considering pioneering FOCUS ministries on some new campuses in 2021, and you can help us Prepare the Way. Thanks for all of the ways you've already helped us do just that!

Saturday, November 7, 2020

What are YOU passionate about?

For my seminary class this quarter, I've been reading a lot of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s writings, speeches, and sermons.  He was passionate about justice, passionate about injustice, passionate about people both young and old, passionate about the poor and the rich. He was truly passionate about creative nonviolent resistance as the only good alternative to either acquiescence or violence in the face of blatant evil and injustice. And his passion made him repetitive. Very repetitive! 

This is the book I've been reading from. So much good stuff!

This has me thinking: what am I passionate about? We live in a culture of neophiles. If you don't know that word, a neophile is "someone who loves and embraces new things and experiences, regardless of whether they are any good." We LOVE new stuff, the newest model, the latest upgrade, the newest trend. Then we get tired of our new stuff so quickly and go looking for something new. We replace our phones and gadgets, our hobbies and entertainment, sometimes our relationships or our convictions. We're bombarded with new needs and new problems in the world.

In the face of all that, it's up to each of us to, with the Lord's help, examine our hearts. Do I love what is good? Or do I just love what is new? Am I passionate about the same things the Lord is passionate about? His heart is unchanging, and while ours aren't, are they changing to be more like his, or are they just changing? Many of you have been serving and giving and investing and praying in the same places for many years now. Is your passion dwindling? Has it become stale? Do you need to rekindle something, reconnect with why those things are important to you and the Lord?

My passions play out in repetitive words and deeds. Those become habits, and our habits shape our hearts. But they can also stand to be refreshed from time to time. Perhaps it's time to remember why I do some of the things I do for the Lord, and let him renew my heart for the things he loves.

If you haven't ever listened to MLK's speeches or sermons, or read any of his writings, I highly recommend them. Many are readily available on the internet, and I'd be happy to give recommendations. I'm struck over and over again how very relevant to today his message is, as well as how deeply Christian it is. That's the part I never learned in school.

Thank you for caring about the Lord's work on college campuses. Thank you for your prayers and financial support. I pray the Lord multiplies all you do for his kingdom and renews your heart to look like his!

Student Testimony

Friday, October 9, 2020

How to Think Like a Christian - Politics Edition!

With the upcoming election, all the challenges of living together in society are on many minds. We are all sensitive to the constant barrage of media and entertainment that we experience every day. It's hard for the God's messages to us through the Bible to keep up! 

One of the themes we return to again and again as we try to mature young disciples of Jesus is "How to think like a Christian." That's easier said than done! Faithful, Jesus-loving individuals fall on nearly every side of nearly every issue--but that doesn't mean they're all thinking like Jesus would want them to! Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church showed how much their thinking had been shaped by the world instead of by the cross. In terms of their thinking, they were "mere infants in Christ" (1 Cor 3:1). This is the challenge I see all around me in the church, not just with young people. Our recent Pizza Theology was an attempt to give students tools for understanding laws and politics that will hopefully point their thinking in a better direction. It was designed to be a base hit, not a home run (as if that would be possible in a few hours!), but the feedback has been exactly what we hoped to hear--it's making students think differently and deeply. Please join me in praying that these young followers of Jesus would have wisdom in how they participate as citizens of our country. If you want to check out the Pizza Theology, you can find the videos on our new YouTube Channel

Garrett (our director at Collin College), also shared this article that is well worth reading and thinking through.

Good News

We continue to hear lots of good news when we talk to the student leaders. A couple of our guys sat down to have lunch with a new student on campus. They found out he was an atheist, but invited him to core and he came that night! He's continued coming weekly and is now in a one on one Bible study as well. This past week he shared that he was realizing that he had rejected a certain way of reading the Bible, but had never really investigated if there was a better way. He said something along the lines of "I guess I shouldn't call myself an atheist until I've done that." So cool!

One of the guys I mentored last year shared this story: "I just met a Muslim girl on campus that was really interested in talking. I shared the story of when I visited prison to forgive the guy that killed my dad, and when I shared that I forgave him only because Jesus would she looked off and said “Jesus would do that.” I gave her a connection card and her eyes seemed to light up at making new friends and having discussion with other girls."

Halfway through the semester, our cores are still growing because students are longing for connection, and the Christian ministries are the only people offering it! I'm praising God for this opportunity and praying that we steward it well. Thank you for helping make these stories, and so many others, possible!

Student Testimony

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Lots of Good News!

Even though it's a strange year, we are off to a great start! I thought I'd share a handful of stories from our different campuses to give you a sense of what God is doing.

From Amber at TWU Dallas (the nursing campus) 
  • I have some good news! I’ve already had two girls from Twu Dallas find me by email and reach out to me about getting involved!! It was encouraging because, so far, I’m not allowed on campus at all and they are not allowing orgs to meet in person. So those two girls were a total God deal!

From Rhett at UT Dallas
  • I overheard a freshman talking to one of our corefas . Here's what they said:
  • New Guy- So what is this group?
  • Corefa- tells him who we are
  • New Guy- Ohhhh man. I've done some messed up s***. I think Jesus probably hates me (he's laughing at this point, and sounds pretty dismissive)
  • Corefa- I don't think he does at all.
  • New Guy- ...........Dang man. I wasn't going to tell anyone this, but I feel like God told me that I need to seek him out when I came on campus, and I don't really know what to do with that, but it's crazy that I met y'all. 
  • He and a friend have been showing up to everything they've been invited to.

From Sarah at UT Arlington 
  • 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 girlfriends and struggling with mental health. She said she planned on joining a sorority because that’s the only way she knew she could make girlfriends. 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.
From Elaine, one of our corefas at UTD 
  • I was in my first day of my Life Science class and I had just hopped onto the MicrosoftStream call and everybody except the professor had their mic and camera off. And as I was sitting there I remembered something one of the staff had said: “Set the tone for the year”, so I turned on my camera and mic and started talking with the professor. One by one people started turning their cameras and mics on and by the end of the class everyone had their cameras on and mics on and we ended up making our own group chat and we’re now getting to know each other.
From Laurence at SMU 
  • We had like 30 people show up to our first TNF of the year; that's about double our normal numbers! We DID get rained on a bit and have to cut the sermon early, but it went about as well as it could have.
There are many more! It sounds like all of our cores at UTD have a full group (many are meeting outside and we are trying to cap them at 10, but they are ready to split up if more than 10 come). Some of the Zoom cores are even bigger. With very few other options on campus this year, a lot of people who don't know Jesus are in cores and exploring faith for the first time. Pray that they fall in love with Jesus this year!

Friday Night Deep Dive

Since we can't have our normal Friday Night Fellowship meetings on campus, we decided to forgo the musical worship portion and do an extended teaching time online. Students are watching together in small groups either on Zoom or in backyards and such. Rhett is leading us through a deep dive into the Gospel of Mark all semester long. They are excellent! He started with chapter 1 back on August 21, and you can find his lectures here if you're interested! (eventually, these will drop off and you should be able to find just the audio on our website)

Student Testimony

Please Pray!

Please pray for the administrators and the policies that they are setting for each of our schools, and especially UTD. Pray for wisdom for them, and that we would as a result be able to safely pursue God's mission on campus.

Thank you for all your support!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

A Welcome Week Like No Other

We're a few days into reaching out to a new UTD freshmen class in the middle of a pandemic! As a mission to the campus, we're blessed that we actually have students on campus; a number of other schools with a FOCUS ministry have gone fully online for the fall, and our pastors are having to get extremely creative. 

With that said, reaching out at UTD is tough. All of the move-ins are staggered so students aren't meeting their peers as they move in. Students are living on campus, but there are literally no events for them. The Student Union and most buildings are closed. The dining hall is take-out only. And it's very hot outside! Where and how are these students supposed to make friends?!?!

Enter FOCUS. I don't know of any other group that has hosted an event this week, but we've had multiple events daily! In the afternoons, we're hosting live Q&A "Get To Know FOCUS" sessions online as well as group online games on Zoom. These are the events we've advertised on campus, and we've had a handful of new students each day. 

In the evenings, we've been informally hanging out outside (yes, we're wearing our masks for hours in this summer heat!) with various games and such. I think Monday night we had only 3 new students, which was a pretty discouraging start. (We're used to playing board games in the residence hall common areas on the first night of move-in and connecting with 40 to 60 new students!) But as the week has gone on, more and more freshmen are hearing about what we're doing and coming out. They are eager to make friends. 

I've been asking some of these guys what they did that day, and they all say some form of "Nothing. I've just been waiting all day for this event to start." Another guy shared that he'd been thinking this week that he needed to do some thinking about his spiritual life, and coming to our event made that even clearer.

Our student leaders are being faithful and creative with reaching out. Some have invited new students outside the dining hall at both lunch and dinner in the heat of the day. One of our student leaders set up a UTD class of 2024 page on Instagram that now has over 1200 students following, and other students have been messaging them one by one to invite them to things! Some students have taken to throwing a frisbee outside the residence halls so that students will see something going on from their windows and come out. 

And then when freshmen show up, FOCUS members welcome them, introduce them to others, take an interest in their lives, invite them to play games, and get their numbers to invite them to more stuff later. And all of that is with the sole intention of blessing them, not to get something from them. That's a little piece of the Kingdom of God come to UTD; it's how things should be. I'm so proud of them! In a hard year, they have such positive attitudes and a shared commitment toward and love for these new students.

Even on these nights when our efforts don't seem as successful as past years, I've been reflecting on how it's in those times of serving without success and acclaim that we can know that we are doing it for God and not just for external rewards. Perhaps God is more proud of us when we do what is right and love others even when it isn't "working".

But as of tonight (Thursday), I can see momentum building. They were spread over a large area (even outside and with masks on, we're social distancing as much as possible), but I counted over 85 people at the event tonight, the vast majority new freshmen! (And every group of new people I saw had a couple of our corefas in it.) And there are still many more students moving in Friday and Saturday. Please pray that we will reach the ones we need to reach, that we will be bold in connecting with them and loving them even before we know them, and that we will be careful and keep one another safe from disease.

Students playing games in large circles outside a residence hall.

It's hard to see in the dark, but there were about 85 people doing many different activities tonight!
Mandy and Rhett leading a "Get to Know FOCUS" Q&A on Twitch.

Our Theme for the Year - A Voice in the Wilderness

From men and women in the Old Testament to the early church leaders and apostles, God has chosen to use his people as a vehicle for his message, whatever wilderness they found themselves in. As John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ as a voice in the wilderness, we too prepare the way for the Kingdom of God. This upcoming year will be its own type of wilderness with the unknown and unexpected before us. But there's a huge need for people who will be God's voice in the lives of the people around them!

Student Testimony

Thank you for giving and praying to make this mission possible. We need your prayers this year more than ever!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

What to Expect this Fall

One of the biggest questions that comes up in my conversations these days is, "what will ministry look like this school year?" The truth is that only God knows! As COVID-19 continues to surge across the country, there is a lot of uncertainty for UTD and for all of our campuses across DFW. Right now, UTD is planning to allow all students the option of in-person classes, online classes, or hybrid classes. They're saying that all on-campus classes will have an online option. Student housing and dining will be open, but the administration hasn't given any guidance yet for student organizations and events, the part that directly affects what FOCUS can do. 

I'm projecting that we will have very few of our regular events (for example, we've already canceled Fall Camp), but will be focusing in on one-on-one discipleship (including our new version of FOJ) and cores (our small mentoring groups). These are already the main thrust of our ministry; cutting events will just give us more time and energy for them! The challenge will be that events have historically been a major way to draw new students into the ministry and get them connected. We also don't expect to be able to host Friday Night Fellowship, our main weekly service. We're considering various options as to how we might replace that important teaching time through this season.

Given all that, we've been praying and strategizing to be ready for whatever comes our way!

We're currently in the middle of selecting student leaders for the school year. Even though we didn't get to go to SICM, our biggest leader training event of the year, and with so little clarity on what the school year will hold, so many students are stepping up to make the commitments required of a corefa (core facilitator = small group discipleship leader). Making commitments to consistency in example and leadership and care for others, these young men and women are reaching forward to create pockets of stability in an uncertain future, places where other young adults can encounter Jesus and mature in their faith. And it's looking like we'll have more than ever before make those commitments! Praise God!

God is doing and will do good things, and we want to be ready to participate in that. Please pray that we can be creative and discerning in how we invest our resources on campus this year. Pray also that the Lord will bring a great harvest in these unusual times!

Feel free to reach out to me with questions or ideas. Thank you for your prayers and steady support!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Reflecting on Racial Diversity

You may have already seen the statement that the FOCUS pastoral staff put out on social media last week:

FOCUS is a diverse community in a diverse city. We are a community where many young people are learning to relate to and understand others who are different from themselves, sometimes for the first time. We don't yet mirror the diversity of our broader communities, though we are moving in that direction. We live in a sinful and broken world, but as Christians, we are not without hope! While we wait on God to deliver final justice and usher in a new age of righteousness, men and woman of faith have always stood up for what is good and right, and many have seen positive changes result. This has been true in the Old Testament, in the New Testament, and throughout Christian history. As the writer of Hebrews says of the varied results of living by faith:

I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. (Hebrews 11:32-38)

My seminary classes at Fuller Theological Seminary have been helpful in beginning to understand the idea of systemic, or structural, racism. I recently read a very troubling book called The Trouble I've Seen by Drew Hart. He unpacks some of the history of our country, of our prosperity that was built on stolen land and stolen labor. There are some tragic chapters in our shared American story. As a 21st-century American, I don't need to take the blame or guilt for events I wasn't around for. But as a follower of Jesus, I need to do what He did--take responsibility for the sins of others. He freely owned my sin and paid the debt I had incurred. I can do the same as I look at the sins of my forebears, especially sins that have indirectly benefited me and my family.

Hart is angry (rightfully so!), which made his book a bit frustrating to read, but maybe I need to be frustrated. I think my problem is often that my emotions don't reflect God's--the things that make Him very angry and sad sometimes only bother me a little bit.  Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours! As Christians, we need to be creative, dynamic, honest, and self-sacrificing as we do our part to move our country toward righteousness and justice and mercy. We need to be careful about throwing stones, as our Lord taught us. And, we need to be humble as we seek to bring our lives in line with our prayer: "Our Father in heaven...may your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

I'm praying for us all as we seek to live faithfully in the face of these challenges.

Student Testimony

I got to spend a significant amount of time with Nhala at our Summer Leadership Training last week. He's a wonderful young man, and the Lord is doing some cool things in his life! Thanks for investing to make stories like this possible!

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Why I'm a Campus Pastor, Part 4

I've been reflecting for the past few months on why our partnership in campus missions is so important. In the midst of that, I got this message from a young man who graduated from UTD a few years back. I think it captures a big part of our shared passion for reaching students with the good news of Jesus!

"This has been on my mind a lot lately and I wanted to share with you. I am extremely thankful for the campus communities and relationships you guys have worked so hard to build and strengthen over the years. The transition out of college to full-time work for me was certainly challenging at times, even though I have a job that is a great fit for me that I enjoy very much. To try and figure out what my life should look like as a disciple in very different environments and with very different groups of people who are older and have already been doing things a certain way for a lot of their life is challenging. There's was a temptation for a while to give in and just do the common "Christian" thing: Build just enough relationship with coworkers to get the job done but not enough to where they actually know me; talk to my neighbors just enough for them to be on good terms with us; involve myself at church just enough to trick myself into thinking I'm being obedient to God. But thank God this has stayed mostly as just a temptation! I have been working to invite my coworkers into my life slowly but surely. I have been able to read the Bible with an elderly neighbor of mine who has become a dear friend. I have found God placing me in a leadership role in a very unusual looking church, trying my hardest to rely on God's strength and wisdom. There were a lot of transformative people in my life that God has used to put my life on a trajectory as a servant. One of the biggest ones was you! The things I was exposed to in Focus helped shape my inner self and what I envisioned for the rest of my life. Part of why the transition out of college life was challenging was because I was not content for my life to start down a different path, less focused on God, just because the college season of life had ended for me. There was such a GOOD struggle in me (that sometimes felt like defeat) to fight to find out what it looks like to stay fully committed to God's mission in the next season. This is what I am so thankful to you and my years in Focus for: For daring to call me to more than the status quo and for giving me a great vision of a life devoted to God!"

I'm so proud of this young man! I miss having him on campus, but I'm so proud of the way he is living out his vocation in step with the Spirit. Transitions are hard, and the transition out of college is a big one, but so many of our young graduates are creatively finding ways to live for Jesus in their diverse walks of life. Praise God!

Final Note:
Ending the school year in social distancing is disappointing. We don't get to have a final fellowship meeting or party to celebrate our graduating seniors. No commencement ceremonies, no graduation parties, no face-to-face goodbyes with the students we've been mentoring all year. But the Lord is surely still working and so are we! Thank you for investing faithfully. It's my commitment to you and to the Lord that we will continue to minister creatively with energy and discipline as we move into the summer.

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 (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

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!

Developing Our Pastoral Team

We are back in August and ramping up for the school year! We have an amazing pastoral staff, and an outstanding group of student leaders. At...