Shannon Rutherford has been the director of the University of Houston Baptist Student Ministry since 2016. From deep in the heart of one Texan, she shares her 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?
• Part-time Baptist Student Ministry director, Temple College, Temple
• Minister to collegiate students, University Baptist Church, Baton Rouge
• Baptist Student Minister, South Plains College, Levelland
Where did you grow up?
El Campo, Texas
How did you come to faith in Christ?
In 2nd grade, my pastor Rick DuBroc shared the bridge illustration, and I thought, “Of course, I believe that.”
When I was in 5th grade, I went to a preteen retreat where the pastor talked about salvation as a gift that we have to receive. Something in that clicked for me, that there was something for me to take hold of, not just know. That is when it was a more deliberate decision to follow Jesus.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
• Houston Baptist University, Bachelor of Arts with majors in psychology and Christianity
• Truett Seminary, Master of Divinity
Why do you feel called into campus ministry?
I have always had a list of things I enjoy doing. In high school and college, I was involved in multiple clubs and activities. I enjoy the variety of interacting with multiple groups and exercising different gifts. Collegiate ministry lets me do that. I get to plan worship, teach, walk alongside students in their lives, interact with church ministers and members, engage with faculty and staff, and cook meals.
My favorite part is watching a student grow from a timid freshman to a graduating senior who will impact the world for the kingdom of God. Our team gets to provide a “safe” environment for them to try out their feet in God’s work, “safe” because we really do push them outside of their comfort zone.
What is your favorite aspect of campus ministry? Why?
My favorite is when a staff member or student shares something with another person that I know I got to teach them. It is my favorite because they have taken it as their own. I also love when they try something they have never done before—like sharing their faith—and they realize they can do it.
What one aspect of your ministry gives you the greatest joy?
Watching students grow closer to Jesus in a way that impacts their lives.
What would you like more people to know about campus ministry?
It is a vital part of the church. We are not the church, but if you want students to be active and thriving members of your church one day, campus ministry is a vital piece to that.
What we can offer in the forms of discipleship is impacting the world and our churches. We are training them where they are so we get to teach them day-to-day how to live out this faith, have leadership, share the gospel, be teachers, read scripture and follow Jesus. When they leave college, they will take all that into the church they will be members of or ministers in.
What priorities or goals guide your ministry?
Jesus told us to make disciples and teach them to obey. The staff and students are taught to share the gospel so we can make disciples, and we are providing opportunities for them to grow in their faith through Bible studies, worship, mission trips, community and accountability.
What is the most exciting or joyful thing that has happened in your ministry?
This last year, in particular, we had 10 salvations. Three of those came in the last three weeks of the school year and were initiated by the people who were saved. It reminded us that God is at work even when we might not be able to see and that we need to be available for the harvest. Sometimes, you are plowing the ground, and sometimes the fruit is falling from the tree.
What is the most heartbreaking thing that has happened in your ministry?
Last school year, we invested so much energy into the freshmen class. We were at every event and meeting students everywhere. When Harvey hit, we lost all that connection. Students weren’t available when we returned. We missed an entire class we could never regain no matter how hard we tried. That was heartbreaking.
Based upon what you have observed from campus ministry, what do you think about the future of our country and/or world?
The students at the University of Houston are stunning! They are inventing things I never thought of. They are doing research on cancer and discovering new things about organisms. I am really proud of our students. I believe they care about spiritual things but don’t always know how to talk about them. They also are so connected to the whole world. It isn’t a crazy thought to get on a plane and travel to an unfamiliar country. They are doing that during their breaks so they can share Jesus.
Based upon what you have observed from campus ministry, what do you think about the future of the church?
Well, I guess it depends on what the church seeks to do with the amazing students we send them. Every year, Baptist Student Ministry graduates an amazing class of ready and willing students to be in your church and serve as lay leaders. I pray churches take advantage of it.
Each year as we send out students, they are ready to impact the world in creative and bold ways. I am hopeful for the church.
How has your ministry or your perspective on ministry changed?
What the students need is different. Gen Z is very different from Millennials of Gen X. They have been more coddled and have grown up in a world more uncertain. We spend more time trying to fight anxiety and fear with faith and the certainty of Jesus.
Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your ministry.
Honestly, denominational wars and finances. Our BSM staff are raising support to fund their salaries. Having to do that takes away time from ministry.
What key opportunities will campus ministry undertake in the next 10 years?
For Houston, we have 300,000 college students in the city. We are seeking ways to reach the ever-growing community colleges around us. Also, with the shift to online classes, we will figure out how to minister to the students who aren’t on campus as often as before.
What key issues face college or university campuses today?
Lack of real community due to technology and the insecurity of being able to talk to people.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
Shawn Shannon was my first BSM director. She gave me opportunities to serve as a freshman and continues to invest in my life and ministry to this day. She was the first person to ask me if I ever had thought of being a BSM director and helped me get my first position as a BSM director while in seminary.
Colette Cross was my BSM director and boss after Shawn moved to the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor. She gave me leadership roles and stretched me to get to know people in my classes. She has cheered and supported me along the way.
Duane Brooks was my pastor in college and now is my pastor and friend since I moved back. He has been an advocate for me in Baptist life as I figured out my calling as a female minister. He continues to teach me what being a shepherd of a flock looks like.
What is the impact of your ministry on your family?
I am not married, nor have children. My family has been so supportive, and each time I moved, they embraced where I was serving. They knew my people and what I do. I am grateful for that. They have shared me well with others.
Name some of your favorite non-biblical books or authors and explain why.
- John Grisham, because I love a good mystery, but I do have to pace myself.
- Anything by Calvin Miller because he was a pastor who was an amazing storyteller.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
1 John 3:1—“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is because they did not know him.”
I love the imagery of being lavished in love, almost smeared all over you, so much so that we get an identity. At all of our cores is this basic need to be loved that much.
Other than Jesus, who is your favorite Bible character? Why?
The woman who had the blood issue and reached for Jesus’s cloak, for two reasons:
- When I was in college, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I get her desperate yet quiet need for Jesus.
- She wasn’t showy about it, but she was willing to risk just touching him. She believed being that close matters. I hope I grow in my risk taking to continue to draw closer to Jesus. I, too, think it matters.