(This is the second of two interviews done by our contest winner, Erin Robertson. Another excellent interview.)
I am the director of campus ministries for Christ on Campus at a major University.
How would you describe what you do?
My goal is to help students take a step closer to God and prepare them to serve him and fill roles of leadership when they leave here, both in the church, in the community, in their professions, and wherever they go.
A lot of it is just investing in the lives of students. There’s some teaching involved, but a lot of it is just life-on-life mentoring, talking, helping students to think about their lives, their goals, their careers, the direction their future is and how God is involved in those things.
How did you get started in this career?
When I was in college, my career direction was toward being a pastor of a church. My last semester of school, some people asked me if I would be interested in beginning a ministry for college students. So I was 23, and in 1982, my wife and I moved and started Christ on Campus and have been here ever since.
What is it that you like the most about what you do?
I love working on a college campus. There’s always things going on, there’s always interesting people to meet and talk to, there’s always issues that are important to students. It keeps you young, it keeps you thinking, it keeps you engaged. And I like the fact that we’re able to impact the lives of students at a critical time that kind of shapes the trajectory of what they do the rest of their lives. Most of what is accomplished here, you don’t really see until 5 or 10 years down the road: You’re planting seeds and starting ripples that you see spread throughout their lives over the next 50 years.
So patience is a characteristic that’s necessary?
Patience is the characteristic, not evaluating success at the moment, but realizing that success is something measured over the long haul.
What is something that you dislike about your job? Or maybe, something that you don’t necessarily dislike, but you like less?
The nature of our ministry is that it’s a faith-based ministry. My salary, our budget is all provided strictly on contributions, which really puts you in a place of having to rely upon God and rely upon other people to make good ministry happen, to pay your mortgage. And it’s a great thing in the sense that it builds your faith, and it’s a not-so-great thing in that it sometimes produces stress, and…part of my job description is asking for money and raising funds. And I don’t know of anybody that enjoys doing that, and so that would be the hardest part of what I do.
And so, on that note, how much money do you make as a minister? Does it vary depending on the year’s budget or depending on how much people give?
We have established for our ministry a salary schedule, much like a teacher’s salary schedule. Based upon number of years of service, the salary is adjusted, and so at this point I’m in year 29 and my salary is about $58,000 a year. I started at $12,000 a year when I began in 1982.
Is there any other way that you’re compensated?
There are the personal compensations, the spiritual blessings, the sense of reward that comes from being involved in the lives of people – that’s definitely a sense of compensation. There’s not a commission based on the amount of money raised…we’re overseen by a board of directors, and they’ve been gracious at certain points – 5, 10, 15, 25 years of ministry – to give gifts to my wife and I for those kinds of milestones.
You mentioned being in school…what are some of the educational and/or learned skills that are needed to do what you do?
I have degrees in theology and counseling. Those kinds of skills are helpful. What I learned when I graduated with my theology degree was that I had learned a lot of answers to questions no one was asking. Then, it became about learning, what are the real issues people deal with? What are the real questions in their minds? Learning to be able to listen and kind of redirect and ask and help people come to realizations on their own about what’s valuable and what’s important. Everybody’s in the process of writing the story of their lives. So a lot of what I do is trying to help them recognize how their story intersects with God’s story, and that those two things are interrelated, and that their story has the most meaning when it’s interconnected with God’s story…and so helping them to put those things together and integrate their life and their faith.
You’ve kind of already answered this, but what is the most challenging about what you do, and what is the most rewarding about what you do?
Probably the most challenging thing is that you can’t make decisions for college students, and sometimes they don’t make the best decisions. And so learning how to ride with them in bad decisions, and to love them and care for them when they make bad decisions. I wish I could always make the right choices for them, but you can’t. So listening and talking and helping them deal with bad decisions – it’s hard to see students who have been involved spiritually and who then find themselves getting distracted by the world, distracted by others, and then drifting away from God and those values they had before, and pay sometimes severe prices for it, as far as not being able to stay in school, personal prices, relationship prices they pay because of decisions they made when they don’t include God in those decisions – that’s the hard part of that.
The rewarding part is to see people start to grasp how their story and God’s story mix together, and to make choices that lead them to lives that have eternal significance. That’s not necessarily missionaries or preachers; no matter what career they go into, they can go into it from the perspective that it’s part of God’s story, and there are eternal values that they can contribute as an engineer, or as a banker or a teacher or a doctor. When the light goes on that what god has called them to is part of their story, it’s exciting to see those things happen.
And so, taking into account the challenges and rewards, what kind of advice would you offer someone taking career or coming into this type of career?
I would tell them to come in and be willing to be challenged, to be willing to listen, to be willing to be stretched. To realize that all of the answers you may’ve been taught growing up, there may be other answers to that than you know. But to always come back to the foundation of God’s word. Part of the challenge of a college campus is the pluralism, and the negative view towards absolute truth, that all religions are equal. For someone in my position, I always have to come back to what does Scripture say, what does God’s word say? To evaluate your world view and your goals from the perspective of God’s word rather than evaluating God’s word from the perspective of your culture or your values or your goals.
You mentioned that one of the things that you like is being on a college campus – does that coincide with the college schedule? Does your schedule match up with the college schedule and, if so, do you get to take off more time than a typical pastor of a church would?
That’s one of the great benefits of working on a college campus is that my schedule matches the University schedule. So there will be, from mid-August to mid-December, three or four months of intense activity and then a month break. And then three or four months of intense activity, and then the summer break. That kind of rhythm lets you plan your life, so you know that when things are crazy and hectic in September and October, there’s a break coming. It works well for family also, to know that I’m going to have more time at Christmas, a less demanding schedule in the summer, especially when my kids were younger to know that those times were coming up. And it gives you a chance to rest and recuperate.
Are there any misconceptions that people have about what you do?
A lot of people think of our roles in campus ministries as kind of “babysitters” for Christian students. That if they send their kids here, that we’re going to keep them out of trouble and make sure they go to church on Sundays. College students don’t want babysitters and I don’t want to be a babysitter. They’re going to make their own decisions on their spiritual values, and for many students who grew up in the church, maybe their first spiritual decision they ever make on their own is, whenever the alarm clock goes off the first Sunday their on campus, they have to decide, am I going to get up and go to church or not? And it’s then that they start to live out the spiritual values they brought with them. My goal is not to babysit them, but again to help them understand the implications of following Jesus, and what that has in store for their lives, their relationships, their careers and their future.
Speaking of the future, what are some of your personal goals for your future career, and what are some of your goals for Christ on Campus?
Personally, I can’t see myself doing anything other than what I’m doing. I’ve been on a college campus now, either as a student or a campus minister since 1977. I’ve been a perpetual college student for 35 years, almost. So I don’t, at this point, see myself doing anything different. There may come a point where people tell me, whether through words or actions, “you’re too old, it’s time to move on and do something different.” But right now, I’m content and happy in what I do. And part of what’s developed over the years…this is my 29th year, and this morning I had breakfast, like I do every Wednesday, with a guy that was a student here in 1982. He was at our very first meeting of Christ on Campus, the first fall he was here, and I’m still able to pour into his life and minister to his life, and part of what I enjoy is being able to do that with our former students and alumni as they go into their careers, to continue to have a relationship with them. And I enjoy that – that kind of keeps the ministry fresh as well. So, professionally, I don’t see myself doing anything different. I don’t have any bigger goals than what I’m doing now. Personally, just enjoying my life and my family, enjoying the things I do and the people I’m around. I’m past the point of huge ambition, and I’m trying to learn the lesson of contentment and trusting God to provide for needs and opportunities and not trying to make those things happen.
Is there anything else you’d like the general public to know about what you do?
I would like the general public to know that God is very real on the college campus, that what you read in the papers is usually just the negative – the parties, the drunkenness, the things that go wrong, the criminal reports – but that God is very real on college campuses. There are a lot of visionary, Christian young people on college campuses, and that the future of the church is in good hands, and especially at the University of Arkansas. The presence of Christ is very real and authentic, and it’s an exciting place to be for a Christian student. And if you want to grow spiritually, there’s very few places better to do that than a University campus and being involved in the campus ministry.
Wonderful. Thank you very much!