Collegiate internship spurs evangelism, discipleship & passion for ministry

Almost every day of the week, the students who comprise the collegiate ministry at Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth gather in groups to share the gospel at seven different college campuses in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. During the past two semesters, the flames of this effort have been fanned into a glowing fire with the addition of a collegiate intern, funded by a grant from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

 The grant program, which launched during the Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters, supplied funding for an intern of the church’s choosing with a two-fold goal: (1) spur college students to share the gospel and disciple fellow students and (2) ignite a passion for local church ministry in those the Lord calls to his service.

Birchman hired Josh Owens, a recent graduate of the College at Southwestern, as their collegiate intern. Joey Tombrella, the church’s minister to young adults, said the decision to apply for the grant and hire an intern was an obvious and simple choice.

“Who wouldn’t want to have more focused help with ministry, especially when the goal is evangelism on the campuses? That is the greatest need,” Tombrella said. “The whole body of Christ benefits and is spurred on when evangelism is full force. People begin to say, ‘Hey, I want that!’ When one group starts sharing, others begin to start sharing and taking risks. Evangelism is contagious!”

Owens said “part of living gospel-centered lives is to work side by side for the faith of that gospel,” referencing Philippians 1:27. As a growing Christian and even more so in his leadership role within the college ministry, that has been Owens’ chief aim.

“My main roles are to catalyze our students to share the gospel and make disciples on their own campuses and to mobilize the rest of our college ministry to come alongside and encourage each other in the task,” Owens said. “We have students at seven campuses, and at each we want to spur them toward sharing the gospel. We also have a large number of seminary students, and we want to deploy them alongside our students onto these mission fields. We desire to be intentional in the contexts where God has placed us. That will look seven different ways on seven different campuses, but the goal remains the same: to mobilize our students to exhaust their lives on the mission fields God’s given them.”

Birchman’s pastor, Bob Pearle, shares Owens’ sentiments and sees the collegiate intern grant program as a win-win for the interns chosen to serve and the world of lost people those interns are working to reach with fellow students.

“The millennial generation—one of our largest generations—needs to be reached for Christ, and this is a great tool to help [college ministries] reach their generation for Christ,” Pearle said. “The internships are very beneficial because they are helping to guide a young adult into ministry, and they can see first-hand what all it takes in service to our Lord.”

Sometimes “what it takes” is faithful, relentless sharing and perseverance, even when responses to the gospel seem few and hearts icy toward the gospel seem abundant. Tombrella recalled an instance that painted such a picture well.

“Last spring, Josh and another student went out on the Texas Christian University campus to share the gospel,” Tombrella said. “They met a student by ‘chance’ (divine appointment), and shared the gospel with him. Although he didn’t receive the gospel, they ran into him other times on the campus that spring. During spring break, our group went to South Padre for Beach Reach, and Josh met him there by ‘chance.’ He would later pray to receive Christ.”

Pearle says it is stories just like this that cause the work the Lord is doing through the college ministry of a church to spill out into the rest of the congregation, often spurring people of all ages to be bold in their witness for Christ. 

“I whole-heartedly recommend this to a church because it encourages the older adults to see what God is doing in the lives of these younger adults,” Pearle said.

Owens says that the time he has spent working alongside Tombrella has done more than help him be a better mobilizer of people; it has has spurred him to follow Christ all the more closely, the natural outpouring of that being a desire to see others do the same.

“By his life and words, Joey teaches us to treasure Jesus above all else, and to recognize Christ’s preeminence in all,” Owens said. “These are ancient words, and foundational not just for a gospel conversation but for life. It’s not that Joey never taught me anything more, but he never taught less; and these twin truths are joy sufficient to proclaim Christ to our seven campuses and the 7 billion people they represent.”

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