I am back on the road this week visiting Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) on Oklahoma college campuses, and another thought occurred to me as I have been talking with students about their BCM experiences. BCM is ideally-timed to meet the spiritual formations and training needs of college students.
Each time I visit a campus, I find myself duly impressed with the level of discipleship and depth of leadership awareness of these students. Now, granted, I am talking to the cream of the crop in many of these visits, but I don’t think the folks I am meeting are outliers.
As I related in my last post about BCM, discipleship and leadership development are essential to the current BCM culture. Here’s how BCM talks about these core values that are being instilled in our students through BCM ministries in our state:
Discipleship: Moving students forward in their relationship with Jesus in a systematic and consistent way no matter their beginning point.
Student Leadership Development: Identifying, enlisting and training students to effectively lead specific areas of the BCM ministry on campus in order to make the greatest impact possible.
These are just two of the BCM essentials (read my previous post to see all six). When people think about collegiate ministry, they often think about evangelism. In fact, just the other day I ran across an article by Tim Keller and Michael Keller called “Why is evangelism among university students so crucial?” The article said:
“One reason is because of the unique openness the university experience creates in students’ lives. During undergraduate years, young adults usually experience a new level of independence from family and other childhood connections. For many, it’s the first time out of the house and being fully responsible for their daily decisions and actions. Most students go to college not to stay the same but to set their own course in life, so there’s an openness to big questions and different ideas, even radically new ones.”
The article goes on to describe how perfect the timing is for university ministry to reach students with the Gospel at a time they are most primed to hear it. After all, students are asking themselves the big questions of life at this time in their lives. They have time to explore the answers, and students from all over the world are easier to reach with evangelism because they are concentrated on college campuses.
But these same issues also apply to discipleship and leadership development for students as well. Students who come to Christ in college, or Christian students who arrive at college, are also asking the big questions about how to personally follow Christ, what it means individually for them to grow and walk as a believer. And they have time to spend focused on it.
I believe the real benefit of BCM is that the ministry gives them time to explore these topics within the context of their peers. As one student said to me, “I loved my youth group, but I only saw them a couple of times per week at church. Here at school with the friends I have from the BCM, if I want, I can find someone who’s been through the same things I am going through on a Tuesday night at 11 pm.”
When I served with the International Mission Board, missiologists and missions strategy coordinators often talked about “Just-in-time” discipleship and leadership development. What they meant was that a church planting movement doesn’t spread because someone takes a seminar and applies what they learn. They spread because once people come to Christ they immediately get discipleship and training as they need it—on the fly. Or “just in time.”
This approach to learning is not something unique to missions. Educators also understand it. Here’s a definition on this type of education:
Just-in-time learning is an approach to individual or organizational learning and development that promotes need-related training be readily available exactly when and how it is needed by the learner (from Wikipedia).
BCM ministry happens to be perfectly timed to the moment when young adults in college are gathered in significant concentrations on campuses. They are discipled to be young adult Christians when they have the time and inclination to explore their spiritual formations the most. Just in time, these students learn how to pray, study God’s word, worship and evangelize.
Students are also given opportunities to take responsibilities within the ministry of the BCM. Just in time, they get to become leaders among their peers. And with BCM, the leadership team isn’t just a handful of students. Many of these BCM leadership teams have 70-100 or more leaders on them!
But there is another way BCM ministry is Just-in-time learning that is ideal for college students. BCM discipleship and leadership development happen “just in time” for students to absorb it developmentally. This has to do with the natural physical and mental development of college students.
You see, college comes about the time the traditionally-aged student’s brains are fully maturing. As our bodies grow physically, our brains are also developing. It’s a natural process that you see in kids. The part of the brain of children under the age of 16 that is not fully developed is called the prefrontal cortex. Here’s a definition:
Prefrontal cortex: This brain region has been implicated in executive functions, such as planning, decision making, short-term memory, personality expression, moderating social behavior and controlling certain aspects of speech and language. The basic activity of this brain region is considered to be orchestration of thoughts and actions in accordance with internal goals (from Wikipedia).
Doctors tell us that “the development and maturation of the prefrontal cortex occurs primarily during adolescence and is fully accomplished at the age of 25 years” (from Maturation of the adolescent brain).
So what dawned on me, as I have had the occasion to meet with these students, is that through BCM, God has placed the exact kind of spiritual formations and ministry training they need, right when they need it. I can look back in my own life and see the same thing is true. When I was in BCM (then called BSU) God used that ministry to shape me even up until today!
During the college years, BCM gives students a safe place to make life decisions, learn how to make plans for their lives, mature in their personality as a believer and become proficient in moderating their behavior to live like a Christian. They don’t always get it right, but there are BCM directors, pastors and peers to gently help them align their actions in accordance with their own Holy Spirit-led internal spiritual goals. And it is all happening right when their brains need it most. That’s amazing to me.
It’s not by accident that BCM is there. It’s a sign of God’s provision for these students. That’s because God is never late, He’s always right on time!
“He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts” (Eccl. 3:11 HCSB).