Students change, but needs don’t, says 40-year veteran of BCM work
Through the years, thousands of students have walked off college campuses with degrees in their hands and Jesus in their hearts to serve Him in local churches.
And that pleases Charles Lillard. While the 40-year veteran of Baptist Collegiate Ministries breathes and bleeds BCM, he knows that what happens after a student leaves college is most important.
“Students need something that goes on with them,” Lillard said. “BCM is going to end; they need the local church to sustain them throughout life.”
That’s not to diminish the importance of the campus ministry, Lillard emphasized.
“There is a need to be fulfilled by some kind of college ministry,” he said. “But we must present a united front with the church.”
BCM, however, did not end for Lillard when he graduated from Northwestern Oklahoma State University with a degree in history/education.
When the Woodward native went to college, he planned on being a coach/teacher, but the summer before his junior year, he went to Glorieta, where God changed his plans by calling him into full-time ministry.
“I thought I was probably going to be a preacher,” Lillard said. “The only thing I knew for sure is that I was supposed to go to seminary.”
So, after graduation from NWOSU, he packed up his new bride, Suzanne, and they moved to Fort Worth to attend Southwestern Seminary. And with only six credit hours left before graduation, Lillard was called to Alva to interview to be the first full-time BCM (then BSU) director at Northwestern.
“Before that time, the BSU position had been held by the director of missions in Salt Fork Association,” Lillard said.
After four and a half years there, he and Suzanne moved to Tulsa, where he served as BSU director for three and a half years. On May 1, 1979, he became BSU director at the University of Central Oklahoma (then Central State University) and has been there ever since. He was the first BSU director paid by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
Lillard said during his 40 years as a campus minister, he has seen changes in students.
“We used to put up a mimeographed sign and students would come to BSU activities,” he said. “Although students have changed, they still have the same big decisions to make, such as what they are going to do with their lives and who they’re going to marry, but today, they don’t necessarily accept authority. They question institutions. They are more aware of the faults of the world, yet they accept a person who admits his faults.”
Lillard said students are still exciting to be around.
“I know every year, students are going to do something different,” he said.
Although Lillard said he tries to keep the BCM schedule so it doesn’t take up a student’s whole life, there are many opportunities for discipleship, Bible study worship and missions.
He said the first week of school, the BCM provides activities for the students to be welcomed and get acquainted, plus a discipleship program, a noon service and an evening of worship, which local churches help with. And from there, there are numerous opportunities to get involved.
“We believe BCM should be student led,” Lillard emphasized. “We have ministry and discipleship teams made up of 10 students each. One of our tasks is to develop leaders for the church.”
And BCM activities go on, even during school vacations.
“We sent nine students on mission trips last summer, and had a group going to China over the Christmas holidays,” he pointed out.
Through the years, UCO BCM students have traveled to Northeastern and Northwestern States, Utah, Canada, Armenia, Malawi, China and Haiti for mission projects.
UCO has a partnership with a university in China, where groups have done sports and culture camps.
“Where we go is not a tourist place,” said Lillard. “So when the residents see someone who is not Chinese, we attract attention.”
Lillard said their goal is to make students Great Commission Christians.
Lillard said as far as the university is concerned, the BCM is just another campus organization, however, partly because Lillard has been there so long, it is a trusted organization.
“We have a lot of opportunities,” Lillard pointed out. “The university calls on me for spiritual needs.”
He said when 9-11 happened, university officials knew spiritual guidance was needed, and Lillard received a call. When President Clinton visited the campus, the BCM building was used as a secure site for the presidential party until time for Clinton to speak.
Lillard said the university also sent him to be trained in suicide ministry.
“The university sees us as valuable,” he said.
Lillard noted that the biggest expense for the ministry is taking care of the BCM building, but “it’s important because it gives us a presence on campus.”
Because UCO is a commuter school, Lillard said the BCM has to be innovative in reaching students. Enrollment is about 16,000 with only 1,500 actually living on campus.
“We have a model ministry of discipleship for commuter students,” Lillard said. “About 50 percent of students involved in our programs are commuters.”
With all the activities going on at the BCM, Lillard says they try not to fill up a student’s entire life.
“Not all students are involved in everything, but we probably touch 300-400 lives each year through our ministry,” he said.
And how many of his students have gone on to serve in local churches through full-time or lay-led ministries?
“Wow, that would be great to know,” said Lillard, “There’s a bunch.”