Michigan campus team grateful for core group of 11

EAST LANSING, Mich. (BP) -- When Brett Luker joined Christian Challenge's three-person pastoral team at Michigan State University, its outreach among dorm residents was at a crossroads.

Although 30 international students were connecting to the Baptist student ministry, all of the American students had graduated.

So, Luker was tasked with restarting the component of Christian Challenge's dorm-based outreach among American students.

"I figured it would take a little bit to get students involved, but it was a lot harder than I thought," Luker recalls. "It takes a lot of work to start something from nothing."

It took two years before Luker and his team had more than one student at their Bible study. No one attended the first year, but during the second, one faithful student eventually became four, and this year, that four has grown to a core group of 11.

"I told that to one person, and he was so apologetic that we had so few students," Luker says. "[But] I was like, 'Are you kidding? This is the best year we have ever had!'"

Luker joined the staff of Christian Challenge immediately after graduating from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in December 2012. He brought with him a vision for one-on-one discipleship, which has allowed the ministry to expand from its starting point of zero. The ministry now encompasses small-group Bible studies and Sunday evening worship at Jacob's Well, an on-campus church founded by Luker and his team.

Alongside its ongoing ministry and English-language tutoring among the international students, Christian Challenge continues to seek inroads into the 50,000 students on the East Lansing campus toward reaching MSU -- and the world -- for Christ.

Born and raised in Indiana, Luker became a Christian at age 6 and sensed a call to ministry as a sophomore in college. Though he initially wanted to minister to teenagers, Luker's involvement with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of Southern Indiana -- where he was pursuing his bachelor's degree in history -- led him to consider becoming a collegiate minister.

One of the primary draws of campus ministry for Luker was and continues to be that people develop who they are for the rest of their lives from the ages of 18 to 22.

"College is when you are most influenced by what you hear and you begin to develop your beliefs," he says. "It's amazing some of the questions that you hear from students, especially from believers when they are being torn apart from what the world wants them to think and what they believe to be true. They are the most moldable during this time -- try to get a 40-year-old to change his or her ways."

Following his graduation from USI in 2009, Luker went to Southwestern Seminary to pursue a master of divinity degree with concentrations in biblical languages and collegiate ministry. The courses taught by Max Barnett, professor of collegiate ministry, proved particularly impactful. Whereas Luker previously had a programs-based approach to ministry, Barnett taught him a disciple-making approach instead.

"When Max talked about disciple-making, he was talking about one-on-one, walking someone through Scripture and through life in order for them to be like Christ," Luker says. "He used many examples of how Christ did the very same thing with His 12 disciples. That really had an impact on my ministry, and it's the foundation to everything we do here at Michigan State."

When Luker's time at seminary drew to a close, Barnett put him and his wife Niccole in touch with Larry Woods, lead pastor at MSU's Christian Challenge. After some email correspondence and a few campus visits, Luker knew God was calling him to Michigan. He began serving at MSU in the 2013 spring semester as both a worship pastor and Bible study leader, roles he still fills today.

Of the many challenges ministers face in the Midwest, Luker says one of the most pertinent is a culture resistant to the Gospel. "Most people are not only turned off from the Gospel; they also don't want anything to do with it," he says. "It's old news for a lot of people. They have already heard it and don't want it. So that's a big challenge, as the culture is so different from many places of the U.S., especially from the South."

Even so, getting through to students is not impossible, as Luker has learned firsthand. "The biggest reward [of ministry] is seeing someone 'get it,'" he says. "What I mean by that is they begin to really understand what being a Christian is all about. We have had some of those moments … and it has been great to see students begin to understand what Christ wants in their lives."

Jacqui, a sophomore involved with Christian Challenge, had one of those moments last fall when, in the midst of a discussion about heart attitudes, she realized she needed to be more intentional not only in inviting her friends to church events but also in witnessing to them on a regular basis. She also realized she needed to spend more one-on-one time with God so she could better serve Him. Luker characterizes this revelation as "a defining moment where she realized she needs God in order to get through college and wants to share His love with others."

Andrew, another sophomore, also has experienced growth from being involved with the ministry. A Christian for little more than a year, Andrew asks questions during Bible study that others seldom consider, including queries about faith, grace and righteousness. "It is really encouraging that he is engaging the Bible in such a way," Luker says.

Now in his fourth year at MSU, Luker says seeing students experience God in such ways makes him grateful to be able to serve in a location where ministry is so difficult. "Because when you are able to get inside people's hearts, it's the most rewarding experience I have ever come across," he says.

Alex Sibley is the senior writer/copy editor for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. This article first appeared in the fall edition of the seminary's Southwestern News magazine.
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