Joel Bratcher has been the director of the Aggie BSM—Baptist Student Ministry—at Texas A&M University since 2002. From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on collegiate ministry. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated minister to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
Where else have you served in ministry, and what were your positions there?
• San Jacinto College, campus evangelism coordinator
• Midwestern State University, campus evangelism coordinator
• Eastfield College, part-time BSM director
• Tarrant County College Northeast, BSM director
• Dallas Baptist University, BSM Director
• University of Texas Arlington
Where did you grow up?
How did you come to faith in Christ?
My parents and home church introduced me to authentic Christianity. I made a real commitment to follow Christ as a teenager.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
• Wayland Baptist University, Bachelor of Arts degree in history
• Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Master of Divinity
• New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Doctor of Ministry
Why do you feel called into campus ministry?
Campus ministry and my own BSM director significantly impacted my understanding of God and ministry. During college, I felt a strong inward desire growing to be part of extending God’s kingdom. I began praying that God would lead me into a career where I could serve him most effectively.
Over the span of several years, God began redirecting my career plans. I began to understand how strategic collegiate ministry could be. The Lord also helped me recognize how my interests, gifts and sense of calling were a good fit for collegiate ministry. Gaining experience as a BSM intern served as a strong confirmation of how God was leading me.
What is your favorite aspect of campus ministry? Why?
Seeing students—both Americans and internationals—come to faith and become fruitful Christians. It is incredibly exciting to watch God change a student’s life. It has been especially faith-building to see students come to Christ out of Islamic and Hindu backgrounds. Each time I watch this, I am reminded of God’s heart for all people groups and his power to change lives.
What one aspect of your ministry gives you the greatest joy?
Personal relationships with staff members and students. Watching others grow and change.
What would you like more people to know about campus ministry?
God literally has brought the nations to American colleges and universities. Many students come from countries officially closed to Christianity. There may be no more strategic place to do missions than on campuses in the United States. International students who come to Christ will return to their home countries as missionaries.
Campus ministry is also a fantastic way to disciple and equip American Christians to reach their peers and do effective cross-cultural ministry. American students who get a taste of this type of ministry are impacted profoundly. Their perspective on what it means to be a Christian often is changed.
Describe a situation or event that provides an insight into collegiate ministry.
Erika is a student from Japan who began reading the Bible with our students this past fall. She came to Christ this semester. A number of Erika’s Japanese friends came to her baptism a few weeks ago and heard her testimony. She recently returned home to Japan. She is the first Christian in her family. We are praying she will have great influence as a witness for Christ with her family and friends. The ripples of collegiate ministry are far-reaching.
What priorities or goals guide your ministry?
Helping students come to know Christ, grow as disciples and be used to make other disciples.
What is the most exciting or joyful thing that has happened in your ministry?
This year, it has been exciting to see students from the United States, China, Japan and India come to Christ through the influence of our students and staff.
What is the most heartbreaking thing that has happened in your ministry?
Seeing students who have walked away from the faith.
Based upon what you have observed from campus ministry, what do you think about the future of our country and/or world?
As many facets of life seem to be unraveling in our country and world, I believe people become more aware of their own vulnerability and spiritual need. Christians who are in tune with God’s Spirit have great opportunities to point others to the hope and security found in relationship with Christ.
Based upon what you have observed from campus ministry, what do you think about the future of the church?
I believe the future is bright for churches who love well, have a servant mentality and consistently introduce people to Jesus and the Bible.
How has your ministry or your perspective on ministry changed?
Ministry must be personal to be effective. Authentic community is a vital key to both effective evangelism and discipleship. As ministries grow larger numerically, they also must continue getting smaller and finding ways to help people connect to one another in Christ-centered relationships.
If you could launch any new ministry, what would it be? Why?
Our Hispanic student leaders are launching a new outreach to Hispanic students beginning in August. This is a growing population at Texas A&M. Many Hispanic college students in Texas have grown up with a respect for God but simply never really have engaged with the Bible. These students often respond positively to the gospel.
Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your ministry.
1. Ministering to a large and diverse student population.
2. Helping American students move beyond cultural Christianity.
3. Helping students with their challenges—mental health, family and addiction issues.
What key opportunities will campus ministry undertake in the next 10 years?
1. Beginning work on college campuses without a vibrant Christian witness.
2. More effectively ministering to and reaching students with varied world views.
What key issues face college or university campuses today?
1. High percentage of students struggling with mental and emotional health issues
2. Sexual identity confusion
3. Cost of college and student debt
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
My parents Charles and Tommie Bratcher, Alan Cornelius (high school football coach), David Kemerling (college BSM director), Bruce McGowan (former Texas BSM state director). Each of these individuals helped me gain an understanding of what authentic Christianity and ministry look like.
What is the impact of your ministry on your family?
Baptist Student Ministry is all my sons have known. They have enjoyed hanging out with college students since day one. They both have had great math tutors from the BSM! Jordan, my oldest, is now in college and involved in BSM. He had the opportunity to serve as a BSM summer missionary last year and had a great experience. My wife Judy has loved BSM and has been a huge support to me.
Name some of your favorite non-biblical books or authors and explain why.
Good to Great by Jim Collins is a classic leadership book that has been very helpful to me.
Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton introduced me to the Strengthsfinder profile, which has been a helpful tool for me in working with staff and student leaders.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
Romans 8:1-11 promises that those in Christ are greatly blessed. Not only is our sin no longer held against us, but we also have God’s Spirit within who brings life and peace.
Other than Jesus, who is your favorite Bible character? Why?
Barnabas. He was faithful, wise and understood how to build up others.
If you could get one “do over” in ministry, what would it be, and why?
I would have been more effective in the basics of evangelism and discipleship early in my work as a campus minister.