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.
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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.