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!

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...