“Give me the right lever, and I shall move the world,” said David Ethridge, paraphrasing the Greek thinker Archimedes. “Collegiate ministry is the right lever to move the world.”
Ethridge is the minister to young adults at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Raleigh and a board member of the Raleigh Baptist Campus Ministry (BCM). He believes that, along with the various collegiate ministries at university campuses across North Carolina, the Raleigh BCM has a lot of potential.
“It’s such a high-leverage ministry,” Ethridge said. “These are businessmen, engineers, journalists, artists, lawyers, politicians, doctors, teachers. … They are going to be leading this country 20 years from now; and they are going to be leading their churches 20 years from now.
“There are 77 different languages spoken just at N.C. State. In the American university, you find the nations. … They are typically the best, brightest and the most affluent from their countries … They are a force, if they get saved.”
Ethridge added that many of these students, if they become Christians, either go back to their home countries where they can take the gospel to their own cultures, or they stay in the U.S. where they can help local churches reach their increasingly globalized culture.
The Raleigh BCM began in 2014 as a handful of area churches felt the call to create a “viable, vibrant, evangelistic, biblically sound, Baptist presence in Raleigh that students can be involved in.” They pooled money, energy and leaders to create a non-profit organization that could connect students to local churches, involve local churches in collegiate ministry and allow them all to engage thousands of students on Raleigh-area college campuses.
The Recorder previously reported on the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) shift in emphasis from direct convention involvement in collegiate ministry to local church involvement.
Evan Blackerby, central region consultant to the BSC collegiate partnerships team, told the Recorder in 2014, “We have a tendency to get our hands in the church’s ministry, but we’re here to serve the churches. We want to wash their feet. For us to do anything that the churches could do on their own would be taking something out of their hands that God intends for them to have.”
There are numerous ways for churches to engage in collegiate ministry with the help of the BSC. The Raleigh BCM is one particular way for them to do collegiate ministry, and they believe local churches are the key.
In a time when North Carolina Baptists are thinking about impacting lostness through disciple-making, Ethridge believes collegiate ministry is a great way for local churches to do that. “You want to make disciples of the nations? Go to a college campus.”
Local churches should feel strongly about serving college students, according to Ethridge. Most young people that are involved in church stop attending after high school, and they don’t usually come back until they’re married and have children. Most people make the most important decisions of their lives during those years – vocation, marriage, children – and they do so disconnected from a local body of believers.
The Raleigh BCM tries to prevent that from happening, funneling freshman students into discipleship relationships with churches and older students. “We’re trying to create and produce after two years a junior that is equipped,” said Ethridge.
T.J. Cople is campus director for the Raleigh BCM, which meets at the Baptist Student Center next to North Carolina State University’s campus in Raleigh.
T.J. Cople, campus director for the Raleigh BCM, said the ministry is not designed to take the place of a local church. The guiding question, he said, is “How can we serve the local church, as well as serve students and engage students?”
The campus ministry doesn’t host small groups or large Bible studies so that students will join those types of groups at their local church. They do, however, provide teaching that equips students to engage their peers on campus.
They teach on an eight block plan – two sessions in the Fall and two in Spring for two years. Each block is dedicated to a topic like “What is the local church?” “How to study the Bible” or “Holiness.”
During each block, they host a mission outreach project and a panel discussion related to the current topic. Mission projects and panel discussions rely on church involvement, since the projects are often suggested by churches and the discussion panels are filled by church members and leaders.
“That’s our sweet spot,” said Cople. “That allows us to be a specialization of the church rather than a replacement of the church.” He explained that the goal is not to steal students away from local churches, but to help local churches.
“It’s better for the local church to be doing the discipling,” Ethridge said, “because you get a more of a well-rounded, intergenerational thing going.”
Cople illustrated, “They’re the general practitioner; we’re the cardiologist.”
Ethridge lamented that many churches try to avoid college students, saying “some churches shy away from college students because they’re broke.” Ethridge believes that’s a mistake since students can contribute in other ways. “They can’t always give money, but they can give energy, creativity and time,” he said.
Ethridge said they can provide manpower for mission or outreach projects that local churches are doing.
Even if college students couldn’t make a significant contribution to the ministry of a local church, Ethridge believes the sacrifice would be worth it. “If you only help those who can help you, what benefit is that? … There is a blessing in helping those who can’t repay you,” said Ethridge.
In response to a question about how churches can become involved in the Raleigh BCM, Ethridge said, “There’s almost no area where we don’t need help, and wouldn’t take help.”
They welcome churches, according to Ethridge, to provide meals for students, help with tutoring or moving, and lead discipleship groups.
They also welcome churches to invite students to come for corporate worship on Sundays.
“We need churches to be involved,” Cople said, “because there’s a huge mission field at these college campuses, and they’re sending students there every day. And we’re able to stay with those students and give them the tools they need.”
Currently Raleigh BCM receives funds from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and four area churches. A total of seven churches are involved in the ministry of the Raleigh BCM.
The Raleigh BCM is located near several campuses – Meredith College, Peace College, Shaw University and North Carolina State University. They also reach out to students at Wake Tech and The College at Southeastern.
North Carolina has more than 200 colleges and universities, home to almost 600,000 students.