Above: Approximately 200 freshmen cadets at The Citadel took part in an Aug. 22 meeting of the Baptist Collegiate Ministries. Photo by Katie Scott

CHARLESTON, S.C. (BP)—Bronson Baker prayed for a big start to his second year of leading the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) at The Citadel. The result may have been a surprise, but thanks to a dedicated group it’s not overwhelming.

“The Lord brought almost 200 cadets to our meeting, and this was specifically for freshmen,” he shared in a Facebook post Aug. 22.

Bronson Baker, in blue cap, prays with cadets last year. Photo by Katie Scott

Baker knows well the importance of freshman year. It was then that, although he was saved as a child, he experienced tremendous growth in his faith through the BCM at the University of Oklahoma (OU).

OU’s BCM (formerly known as Baptist Student Union or BSU) has long been regarded as among the strongest and most impactful in Southern Baptist life. Longtime director Max Barnett established a pattern of discipleship from 1967-2004. That continued with the guys who discipled Baker, particularly current director Shane Kammerer and former staff member Paul Worcester, now serving as national director of Collegiate Evangelism through the North American Mission Board.

Getting a crowd is important, and Baker is excited about the number that showed up to the BCM’s gathering at The Citadel. But his experience as a student now influences the way he leads.

It starts with accountability, a concept that’s important to Citadel freshmen even before their freshly shorn and polished scalps lead to their new nickname—knobs.

“When I started at The Citadel last year, we had 14 cadets I’d consider leadership material,” Baker said. “I was the third BCM director for our six seniors. I’m so thankful for them because I wouldn’t have blamed them for leaving, but they were faithful and trusted me.”

That trust has led to Baker’s helping develop some 50 leaders in the ministry. They are now tasked with contacting and developing a discipleship plan for those 200 freshmen cadets as well as others.

“I challenged them to view the campus the way Jesus would. Start looking around,” he said. “The cool thing was when they started to do it and we saw the ministry grow.”

The smaller group is important, he stressed.

“We don’t want to outgrow our leadership,” Baker said. “What we have is a decent ratio.

“This year, we’re starting off with about 50 students in ownership because those six guys invested in the freshmen around them. Each invested in about 10 other students. And now, I have a leadership team because of the faithfulness of discipleship investing in itself.”

The term he used is intentional; there is actually no “leadership” team at The Citadel.

“I say they’re in ‘ownership’ because I want them to own their faith,” Baker said.

As one would expect, the concept of leadership is strong at The Citadel. Technically called The Military College of South Carolina, it’s one of six senior military colleges in the country and currently boasts among its alumni six governors, three U.S. senators, 12 congressmen, 47 college and university presidents and Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., who retired in April from commanding the U.S. Central Command.

Leadership, in that context, is about compelling others to follow a set of orders. Baker adds a wrinkle by encouraging cadets to first own their walk with God. They are to see it as their personal ministry that extends out to small group Bible studies and discipling others.

Charleston BCM actually consists of two schools – The Citadel and the College of Charleston (CoC). Meetings take place separately, with Citadel cadets gathering on Monday nights and CoC students on Thursday nights.

The culture of the two schools could hardly by more different.

The Citadel’s student body is close to 90 percent male. The College of Charleston is two-thirds female. The former is highly conservative; the latter very liberal. The differences are apparent in the prayer guides for both campuses on the BCM website.

Senior cadet McCall Chapman said those prayers “sustain” him and other leaders as well as other cadets in what he described as “a very challenging school.”

“Pray that we will be able to meet the needs of the cadets here and be intentional in discipling them,” he said.

Baker’s leadership has brought stability to the BCM, Chapman added, but also a shift in mindset.

“Just do the thing,” said Chapman, referring to discipleship. “Do that, and there will be success.”

The Citadel’s BCM leaders joined their counterparts from OU on a retreat this spring. By that time, Baker’s discipleship emphasis in Charleston had taken root, but it was still good for Chapman and others to learn more.

“(That time) was really influential on how our year went and this one started,” Chapman said.

There was no special enticement for the crowd of freshmen earlier this week, he said. Other student groups in the same meeting area eventually were asked to give their tables to help manage the rush of those navigating toward the Baptists.

“The Lord brought them to us,” said Chapman, happy for the large number but already focused on discipleship plans. “We prayed for it at the beginning of the year and it happened. It’s a testimony of the Holy Spirit working in others.

“Now the real work begins.”