Nathan Murphy, BJU Alumnus
Nathan Murphy graduated from BJU with a BS in Business Administration in 2017, and an MA in Biblical Studies in 2019. Nathan serves as a missionary to the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona.
I was an overwhelmed freshman, sitting in my chapel seat and wondering how I could possibly get through college and do anything meaningful along the way. Dr. McAllister walked to the podium and announced that a juvenile detention facility would soon be opening only a few miles away. He then made a Gospel-anointed plea for students to get involved at this exciting and difficult ministry venue.
His poor secretary… dozens of us emailed him (as directed) with a desire to plug in somewhere. A planning meeting eventually took place in Lecture B, where an array of outreaches formed to fill the programming schedule at the Greenville County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC). Only a few of those ideas lasted in their initial form, but God honored the overflow of creativity and the Gospel desire in the room that day.
We were all learning on the go. In fact, the Center for Global Opportunities came into existence partially in response to the coordination and communication that fell to us students in the early years of ministry at the JDC. The proudest I ever felt of BJU as a student was watching the CGO be created and staffed up to keep Gospel needs and opportunities from falling through the cracks. If you are a current student, you have been given a fantastic resource. Earn it. Throw yourself into ministry on campus, off campus, and around the world… especially when you feel overwhelmed by college life.
By my junior year, I was leading a “Life-skills” outreach to the JDC on Saturday mornings. Behind that resume item lay hours of anxious preparation, enough self-doubt to hospitalize the most self-promoting person I know, and the memory of more capable leaders who had graduated. I wasn’t a ministry major. I didn’t have a car. And I didn’t have a smartphone quite yet either, which is equivalent to walking five miles to school in the snow—uphill both ways. A typical Saturday morning found me ironing out the game plan of who would do what, who would drive, and who was going. With a reluctant resolve, I would slide a compact Bible into my back pocket and ask God for grace. I would then meet up with an ensemble of friends and acquaintances, and we would embark on our journey to the JDC. Regardless of what was happening in our lives that weekend, we had carved out the opportunity to “build redemptive relationships with at-risk youths.” That was our mission statement.
One source of wisdom and encouragement was Mr. Andy Martin, who serves on staff at BJU. I went along on his outreach several times to learn under his leadership and have more overlap with the kids currently at the facility. I also sought out the patient counsel of my trombone teacher, Dr. Overly, whose love for jail ministry made him a valuable resource. I always leaned heavily on peers for feedback and leadership. Whenever possible, I had someone else “emcee” the outreach so that I could focus on giving a challenge or teaching a life skill. I also enjoyed being the “emcee” and watching other people refine their preaching and teaching skills. That allowed me to better read the cues of the kids and detention officers.
If you are a college student, try to view ministry opportunities in terms of “seasons.” Juvenile detention was neither my first nor my last season of ministry during my time in Greenville. You will hopefully get to experience a variety of ministry settings, but God shapes those who faithfully throw themselves into whatever opportunity is in front of them.
It may seem impossible to “commit to anything extra,” but you can commit to a season. Consider the stakes. Everyone needs a cause. But if we fail to make the Gospel our cause during the college years, we will eventually look to the world for a cause. This has become a trend with Christian college graduates who failed to prioritize personal ministry. If you wait until you are rested and ready for every Gospel opportunity, your diploma will mean very little to you when you hit 26. Am I saying that you should live a slightly unhealthy or unbalanced college life so that you don’t have any regrets? Well, you probably already do. And if not now, then just wait until senior year. We all sacrifice resources for things that give us meaning, so choose your cause carefully. With eternity in mind, you can invest for a season of outreach and then prayerfully re-evaluate. Remember the stakes.
My older sister gave me some life-shaping advice as a freshman: “You don’t own your weekends.” They aren’t a loophole to spend entirely on fun, on homework, or even on ministry. Weekends must instead be viewed in smaller segments of time and invested appropriately. At the time, I thought it was a college advice, but it has turned out to be a ministry advice. A college degree is earned in small, intentional segments of time, but so is Christ’s Church. For the rest of your life, you will make small decisions to exchange comfort, convenience, and career confidence to build the Church. For the rest of your life, you will be presented with unseen and unsung opportunities to invest in eternity. Hitting the snooze button or clicking “play next episode” sidelines us from the advance of Christ’s Kingdom. Once more, the Church is built by small, sacrificial decisions to prioritize the feeding of Christ’s sheep.
Don’t underestimate the spiritual opposition you will face when you wake up on a Saturday morning, having to make a decision with how you will spend your time (1 John 5:21). Don’t underestimate the weight you will feel as you look into the eyes of people who were questioning your motives even before you arrived. Don’t buy into the lie that meaning can be found while grasping for predictability, comfort, or even community. Your mind can be at peace with God even when nothing is certain. The busier you are, the more you need an outlet. The more you are being invested in, the more you need an outreach.
If you are leading an outreach, surround yourself with a good team. Give people opportunities while you shoulder the responsibility. Take notice of unlikely people and find out what they are good at. Invest in future leaders with an open hand. Your investment will bear fruit in God’s timing even if your own outreach never visibly recoups on your investment.
God may put a thorn in your flesh in regard to your outreach—a logistical complication, a health condition, a class, or a person, but the fears you surrender daily to God will grow you. Experiencing weakness while remaining faithful is a participation trophy we receive for God’s glory.
Start now to build your expository ministry, whether you are a preacher or not. In addition to your devotional books, invest in a few commentaries. Have your own interactions with God’s Word and let the truth you mine from the Scripture spill over wherever you go.
Make this season of your leadership a success, but realize that leaving a ministry legacy amidst the high turnover-rate of a student body is both unrealistic and meaningless (Ecclesiastes 4:16). You can hand over a finely tuned machine when you graduate, but God’s choice of replacement may be just as reluctant and dazed as you once were.
Today, a large portion of my ministry is at a tribal detention center in Arizona. My central focus is on the adult men, but I continue to use the avenue of Life-skills to reach juveniles. I’m still “building redemptive relationships with at-risk youths.” My undergrad diploma is meaningful because I know what God taught me during each season of ministry. Several of the kids whom my outreach team invested in at the JDC are either serving life sentences or dead, and the ups and downs of our college years stand against that backdrop. Although we made all kinds of cringy mistakes, we had a cause. I often felt like I was just putting in a rep for God’s glory. As it turns out, that’s how it is supposed to work. I expected outreach to shape my skillset, but God used outreach to shape my soul.
Jeremy Wray, BJU Alumnus
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
With this statement and through his life of obedience, Jesus redefined first, exemplified last, and served each of us in his gospel mission.
How did Jesus redefine being first?
First is not being noticed or well loved, rich or well-bred (Mark 10:25). First is not being the best in your field or the quickest and brightest. First is willing to go unnoticed. First is staying until the end to clean up. First is doing good when no one is watching. First is not having most ready opinion or well-timed response. First is not the leader in the front of the auditorium or the person to pass the finish line before anyone else. First is not overcoming all the obstacles and standing proudly at the top of the stack. First is not being seen. Jesus says that first is being last. He redirects the disciples thinking and redefines the term.
What did last place look like?
Would you rather look like a servant or be a servant? Jesus did not only redefine what first looks like—He also exemplified what being last feels like. He took a spot at the back of the line. He suffered greatly and endured lots of pain. He was rejected by his own hometown crowd, all because He wasn’t afraid to be viewed as less for the sake of the kingdom (Mark 6:4). He knew how to go unnoticed and under-appreciated. He spent nights with nowhere to lay his head. He knew that God’s kingdom was not made up of the best and the brightest, but rather full of those who had faith like children. He knew that it was those who lose their lives for the sake of the gospel are the ones that would truly find it (Mark 8:35). Jesus took the last place so that he could provide our salvation, healing, and cleansing.
So, what does this have to do with a CGO blog?
I am still figuring that out myself, but I wanted Jesus to have the first and loudest voice in the conversation regarding our “ministries” and “service projects” (Mark 9:7). Where we may be caught up in thoughts of success and popularity, Jesus reminds us that people who think that way end up last in the kingdom. Let that thought strike you. Even if we are brilliant, brave, and beautiful, without humility and a servant’s heart we won’t be the first to enter the kingdom of God.
These words from the Servant also remind us that the life of a disciple is essentially a life of service. What steps are you currently taking to be the last place in service to others? When do you serve others in the gospel mission? For you, is putting others’ needs before your own a casual obligation or a life-long commitment?
What might this look like?
The best place to do this while in college may very well be outside of your college campus. The most enduring and sanctifying lessons I learned while in undergrad were not sitting at a desk and taking notes on a laptop. They were at Saturday morning Bible Club. These times were especially important because they required me to get outside of myself—outside of my cozy space and out of the ever-growing line on campus to be noticed. These times of outreach allowed me to connect my life to others who needed physical, emotional, and spiritual good news. I was allowed the opportunity to share the good news to boys and girls who may not have heard it otherwise (even in Greenville, SC!).
The value of outreach is in the name. These are outings, events, and conversations where you get to reach out to others with the same love, kindness, and mercy God has reached out to you. Christian, you need times where you are filled up with spiritual truths and encouragements. But equal to this need is the one to share what has been shared with you (Phil. 2:1-4). We are not meant to spend God’s extensive grace on ourselves, but rather on others (Eph. 4:32). The lost community surrounding us is the best candidate for our focus. They need the truth that shines in their darkness. They need unconditional love that does not require reciprocation. They need your life because they have not shared yet in Christ’s.
Participating in an outreach is valuable because you get to experience Christ’s heart rather than just being educated on it. Whether it takes place in nursing homes, rehab centers, the projects, or detention centers, Christ’s disciples should bring Christ’s words to action—anyone who wants to be first must be the very last and the servant of all.
End the argument of who is the greatest and embark on your journey by remembering that Jesus redefined first, exemplified last, and served each of us in the gospel mission.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.