“If we can connect with students now and connect with them and train them to follow Jesus and help them learn the disciplines of discipleship and evangelism, it can change the world,” Clayton Bullion, director of Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) at Tarleton State University said. “When you invest in students and give them space to dream and a vision worth living their life for, which the Gospel is that vision, they’re capable of doing amazing things.”
Bullion has been director at Tarleton BSM for 10 years. When he started, the BSM was in the process of replanting. Bullion and the BSM team decided to focus on strong discipleship and building up student leaders who could minister to their peers.
Today, the Tarleton BSM is thriving. Their model of discipleship and leadership has developed strong Christians who are going onto their campus and into the world to share the love and hope of Christ. In response to the blessings the Lord has given them, Bullion and the BSM staff and students are turning their eyes to other college campuses to see how new collegiate ministries can transform lives across the country.
In 2015, Bullion and his wife went on a trip to the Northwest to visit Tarleton students who were involved in a short-term mission project there. He visited 12 college campuses and saw that there was almost no Gospel presence on any of the campuses. When he returned to Tarleton and realized how many students and resources they had available to them, Bullion felt God call him to use those tools to minister to campuses in the Northwest. So, Tarleton BSM began a partnership with the Northwestern Collegiate Ministries (NCM). The BSM launched a 10-year plan to send 20 Tarleton graduates to the Northwest for full-time collegiate ministry, in addition to continually sending short-term missions.
The students and staff that depart from Tarleton BSM to start or develop new collegiate ministries stay connected through the Tarleton Network of Campuses (T:NET), a loose affiliation of the campus ministries that have ties with Tarleton. Since Bullion came to Tarleton, they have started or restarted six college ministries in Texas and the Northwest. There are also two third-generation college ministries, which were started by the ministries Tarleton established. Former students and staff are also involved in strengthening and supporting an additional six college ministries in Texas, Colorado and Vermont.
In the fall of 2020, Tarleton will send two more couples to Oregon in partnership with NCM. One couple, Tyler and Kaylee Martinez, will join another Tarleton couple at the University of Oregon, while the other, Luke and Becca Johnson, will begin a new NCM at Oregon State University.
Tyler and Kaylee were intimately involved in the Tarleton BSM while they were students. Both joined as freshmen and eventually became members of the leadership team. For Tyler, the discipleship and development he gained at the BSM were essential in encouraging him to become involved in ministry himself.
“The community and the leadership and development we had in the leadership team showed me how to first serve myself … it was really the equipping, the training process of serving alongside other people, that prepared me,” he said.
The couple met during a BSM mission trip. Once they were married, they both felt increasingly convicted to serve in the Northwest. So, they went on a vision trip, touring the college campuses there and praying for the Lord’s guidance. One of the campuses they visited was the University of Oregon, where another Tarleton couple, the Harmons, had begun to plant a campus ministry.
“We both fell in love with the University of Oregon,” Tyler explained. “God allowed us to be a part of a lot of different things while we were there. We saw the campus and how hungry students are for the Gospel and for truth.”
Luke and Becca Johnson will also embark on a journey to the Northwest, starting a new collegiate ministry at Oregon State University (OSU). OSU has about 30,000 students, but only 1,000 identify as Christians. The university is a historically agricultural college, and the population tends to be more politically conservative than others in the Northwest.
For Luke and Becca, being a part of the leadership and ministry of the Tarleton BSM has been instrumental in preparing them for this journey. They plan to implement the ministry models they have seen at Tarleton in their NCM.
“A big part of what we’ll be doing there is similar to what we do here. We want to do a few things, one is we want to start a campus organization because at this point there’s not one, and we’ll be discipling students and doing evangelism, and hopefully seeing students multiply and students come to know Christ,” Becca explained. “But a lot of what we’ll be doing at first is groundwork because there’s not an organization there, so right now we are planning so that we’ll be prepared to start strong when we get there in the fall.”
Until they move to Oregon to begin their new positions, the Martinezes and Johnsons are serving at the Tarleton BSM as staff and campus missionary interns (CMI) to better prepare themselves.
In addition to sending alumni to the Northwest, the Tarleton BSM has also been involved in planting and restarting collegiate ministries in Texas. As of now, Tarleton BSM staff and alumni have helped six Texas campuses grow their own BSM presence.
One such campus plant is taking place at Hill College Cleburne, a community college about an hour east of Tarleton. Tarleton sends over members of their staff and leadership twice a week to do various outreach events and foster relationships with students.
The ministry has been very successful, and the newly established BSM was even able to send three students to Beach Reach, an annual state-wide BSM mission trip where college students go to the beach to minister to fellow students during Spring Break.
Claire Vallaster was one student who got involved with the BSM when she saw Megan Trotter, the founder of Hill College Cleburne’s BSM and associate director of Tarleton BSM, handing out coffee.
Vallaster was soon discipled by Trotter and also led a student Bible study. She became even more inspired to get involved in ministry, and has gone on two Go Now Missions trips through the BSM.
“It really changed the way I viewed my faith. I had been a Christian since I was a kid, but I had never shared my faith with anyone, and I didn’t really know how to live out my faith actively,” she explained. “So through discipleship with Megan and our Bible studies, I learned how important it really is to share the Gospel. And I had known that for a long time, but I never knew how, and they actually taught me how.”
Even when Vallaster transferred to Tarleton, she was grateful for the Hill College Cleburne BSM, which gave her contacts at her new school. She had friends and a strong Christian community before she ever stepped foot on campus.
Additional BSMs have been started or replanted at Ranger College Erath, Weatherford College Granbury, Texas Christian University, Tarleton Fort Worth and TCC Trinity Rivers.
The Hill College Cleburne BSM was established through cooperation between Tarleton BSM and the Southwest Metroplex Baptist Association (SMBA). For a BSM to be successful, it must have the support of the local churches or association, Bullion explained. Tarleton BSM can provide the people and the expertise, but they cannot provide the long-term support needed to keep the BSM running.
When Tarleton starts a new BSM, their first step is talking to the campus administration and talking to the local churches or associations. Since the average small, rural town’s community college does not usually have a devoted collegiate ministry, it is essential to have the support of local Baptist organizations. Furthermore, these local entities are familiar with the town and college culture, which is instrumental in creating an effective ministry. For Hill College Cleburne’s BSM, Bullion began talking to Scott Whitson, director of Missions at the association, two years before the BSM ever began.
It is important for college students to get plugged in with local churches in addition to the BSM, Bullion added. This allows for multi-generational worship and gives the students an opportunity to be mentored and taught by their elders. It also helps graduating students transition more smoothly from college to adulthood because they already have a strong spiritual community.
“We couldn’t do what we do without local churches. Every student that we’ve sent on short-term or long-term missions, every staff member we’ve sent out to start new work, has been in cooperation with our local churches. The local church is the strength behind what we do,” Bullion said.