Colette Cross is the director of discipleship for Houston Baptist University, having served HBU since 2000. She is a member of Tallowood Baptist Church in Houston. From deep in the heart of one Texan, she shares her background and thoughts on Christian higher education. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
Where else have you served, and what were your positions there?
I served the Missouri Baptist Convention as the Baptist Student Ministries director for the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Longview Community College in Kansas City, Mo.
I also served on staff at Wornall Road Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., as the single adult and senior adult minister.
Earlier in my ministry career, I served as the international campus minister with the Baptist Student Ministries at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, Mo.
Outside of denominational ministry, I also was an elementary and high school counselor in a small school district in central Missouri for three years.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Jefferson City, Mo., which was a wonderful city in which to live and learn. My family was very involved in the First Baptist Church there, and many people in this church and community played a pivotal role in my spiritual formation. I have a lot of fond memories throughout those years of living in Jefferson City.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was in grade school. I was very involved in the church and learned well what accepting Christ meant through involvement in our youth group, Sunday School, Girls in Action and Acteens.
I also was very involved in the choir program and each summer attended Youth Choir Week at Windermere Baptist Assembly, which was our state camp. It was there during the summer of my junior year in high school that I sensed the call of God on my life as a Christ-follower hook, line and sinker. I knew at that point whatever title or path I followed from then on, I wanted to be known first as a Christ-follower.
That commitment was instrumental in my life as I began to understand the magnitude of this through life decisions, such as where to attend college, how I could and should be a productive community member, how to serve well in my church, discerning my vocational call, and through relationships.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
I graduated from William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., with a bachelor’s degree in history and education with the goal of working toward a master’s degree in counseling. After teaching for two years, I received my master’s degree in counseling from the University of Central Missouri. I then felt God calling me to pursue a Master of Religious Education degree which I completed from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo.
Why do you feel called into education?
One of my top five strengths on the StrengthsQuest assessment is “learner.” I love to learn, which I feel allows me to communicate with young adults in current and relevant ways.
I am hopeful for our future students with whom I have been chosen to “do life” at Houston Baptist University. There are a lot of great opportunities for each of us to learn and grow through each other and live out Proverbs 27:17—“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”
Our mission at HBU is to help students, faculty and staff to grow, teach and learn what it means to live out the Lord’s vocational call, with our central confession being “Jesus Christ as Lord.”
I am so grateful God has called me to live this each day as I learn and grow with our students, faculty and staff.
How does being a Christian influence your work in education?
My hope is always that my Christian influence is a seamless experience, meaning my walk with Christ is infused in everything I say and do, whether I am on or off campus. I want to be as genuine and honest as possible, reflecting Christ through my words and actions for those around me.
What is your favorite aspect of education? Why?
I love building new relationships with students, faculty and staff. I feel like we are blessed with great students who come ready to grow and are hungry to learn more of who Jesus is and what this means for them as young adults. They are fun, love to laugh and can be serious at the same time.
Our faculty and staff are wonderful colleagues who love the Lord and aren’t afraid to be vulnerable in their journey with Christ, as well. Many of my colleagues have challenged me to a new level of growth in my walk with Christ and, at the same time, are willing to walk side by side with me in the process.
I continue to learn a lot from our students, faculty and staff and enjoy each day on campus.
What one aspect of education gives you the greatest joy?
One of my favorite aspects of education that brings me joy is seeing students recognize their potential. It is so hard in today’s world to see and hear the “good” a student might share because of the world in which we live. I enjoy being on the cusp of this realization and seeing how the light becomes brighter as one understands all that God has for them to experience in our world today.
Through our Kaleo discipleship program, it is a joy to see many of our faculty and staff volunteer to disciple students and let them have a peek into their journey with Christ and what it means to live daily for him. These relationships bring me joy as I hear the stories and see the investments being made on both sides of the table.
What is your favorite class to teach? Why?
I am grateful to be able to teach a freshman year seminar each fall semester. It is a class all freshmen are required to take and focuses on acclimating into the academic world. We talk about topics like time management, setting goals, the difference between a worldview and a Christian worldview and developing study habits.
This class comes at such a critical time of transition for the student and provides a special community with others who are possibly facing the same questions and adjustments.
Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing education.
Four of the major challenges are:
Discernment—There are so many choices and voices in front of students today, and it is hard to distinguish truth from falsehoods.
One of the verses I use a lot with students on our campus is Isaiah 30:21—Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Truth and trust are very important today and being able to discern these sometimes is a challenge.
Kindness—We live in a world where it feels like we have forgotten what it means to be kind to others.
Micah 6:8 tells us the Lord requires us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Christ is our model of kindness as he shared, lived and loved those around him. In this passage, sandwiched between “do justice” and “walk humbly with your God” is to “love kindness.” I hope kindness will become a natural experience as we practice living in a Christ-centered place.
Discipleship—I think we forget how important relationships are in our world today.
I love this description of discipleship: “Discipleship is friendship with a vision.” Discipleship is learning to be Christ in all that we say and do. As we are called to “do life” with others, we are challenged to live the fruit of the Spirit in such a way that people will leave us saying, “I have just seen Jesus,” through their interaction and experience.
Rest and wonder—We are such busy people that we forget to rest and recognize the wonder in our world.
Richard Swenson said, “To know him is to trust him; and to trust him is to rest in him.”
I am challenged every day to slow down and look with intentionality to see the wonder and blessings from him.
What do you wish more people knew about education?
I wish more people would see education as a privilege and not assume this is available to everyone.
We have so many faculty and staff who are teaching and leading in our world today who are doing this because it is a call on their lives and not because they are seeking to be wealthy or famous.
Many of us today have no idea what a blessing it is to have faith-based educational institutions available where souls of the future are cared for through faith and a Christian education.
Why are you Baptist?
I have been a Baptist all of my life. I learned about God, how to love others as he first loved me, how to live in community with others because of the sacrifice God gave with his Son, and how to be discipled and to disciple others throughout my years of being a Christ-follower.
I am grateful for those God has put in my path to help me grow as a woman in ministry, to understand and celebrate what it means to live in the priesthood of the believer, and how we are called to be productive followers in community.
What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?
I believe we need to be learners continually in what it means to live out Micah 6:8—“to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.”
My understanding of what it means to be the church is we should strive to practice every day. We have trouble loving each other in the church and forget about forgiveness and restoration as Christ taught us. It is easy to talk about but more difficult to act with intentionality each day.
What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?
I would love to see us continue to work on becoming more understanding with those God puts in our path every day. I am a firm believer he orders our steps; therefore, each person and their journey are an ordained experience by God.
Charles Spurgeon told the story that, as he was walking in the countryside, he came upon a weathervane inscribed with the words, “God is love.” He asked the farmer, “Do you mean to say that God’s love is as fickle as the wind?”
The farmer smiled and said: “Not at all. I mean to say that no matter which way the wind blows, God is love.”
I hope we as Baptists will remember God is love, and He has called us to love as he first loved us, whatever the circumstance.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
I have been blessed with many mentors and disciplers who have helped me understand more of what it means to live and move and have his being.
Leslie Hollon served as my pastor in my first position on church staff. He was so patient and such a great leader. I learned so much from him how to lead a congregation graciously, how to be true to my call as a woman in ministry, and how always to seek God in my journey of faith. I also learned from Les the importance of intergenerational relationships and of leaning into shared wisdom.
Connie McNeill served as my local supervisor in Kansas City in Baptist Student Ministry. She stretched me to be more creative in ministry, how to serve students and congregations in a metro setting and what it means to be authentic in my relationships.
Ann Bradshaw is a retired professional who worked outside the church and has served as a testimony to me in living her faith in the midst of a very competitive business world. Her continual commitment to Christ is a beautiful picture of what it means to live with intentionality and gratitude.
Duane Brooks is my current pastor and continues to stretch me and help me to learn more and more about the word of God and how this applies to my life. He is creative, a good listener and a great friend.
Randy Hatchett is one of our faculty members at HBU and a dear friend. He continues to teach me how to love students where they are and enjoy the moment. He is so good at what he does and provides a lot of laughter in my world.
What is the impact of education on your family?
My family has always been a huge proponent of the education process. It was not a question of if we would attend college but where. I am grateful for them modeling the importance of reading and being such advocates of the classroom.
Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.
Love Kindness by Barry Corey. I have enjoyed reading and leading studies on this book. Corey is creative and thoughtful in helping us to remember the lost art of kindness.
The Rest of God by Mark Buchannan. This book has been so important to me in understanding what it means to rest in God and how to make this an active part of my life.
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers is a very well-known devotional book I have used multiple times in my daily journey of faith.
In the Heart of the World, Thoughts, Stories and Prayers by Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa is such a wonderful model of care and compassion. This book gives insight to some of her experiences and how she lived the gospel every day in the midst of everyone.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
This changes as I move through seasons, but right now, it is Psalm 118:23, which says “This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous to see.”
As we continue to see the Lord working through our Kaleo discipleship program, this verse is what always comes to mind. Lives are being changed, and it is nothing we have done, but all through the grace and love of God. I am grateful to be a part of his work.