Since 2006, Stephanie Gates has served the students of the University of North Texas in Denton as director of its Baptist Student Ministry. From deep in the heart of one Texan, she shares her background and thoughts on ministering to college students. 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 in ministry, and what were your positions there?
I served at First Baptist Church Cleburne, Texas. I was the youth intern from 2004–2005 and the preschool / children’s minister from 2005–2006.
Where did you grow up?
I am originally from Oklahoma but grew up in Arlington, Texas. We moved to Cleburne, Texas, for my last two years of high school.
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I grew up in church and came to faith when I was seven years old. I understood my simple need for Jesus and talked to my parents about what that meant for me.
As I got older, my understanding for the gospel deepened, and it was in college that I truly started to pursue personal growth in my faith.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
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I attended Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee and received a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, specializing in Music Business. Following graduation from Belmont, I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and graduated with a Master of Divinity degree.
Why do you feel called into campus ministry?
While serving at FBC Cleburne, I was able to help start a singles ministry at the church. During that time, I noticed how much I loved investing in young singles and how conversations about life in college kept coming up.
My time in college was extremely transformational for my faith and spiritual growth, and I continued to see how pivotal that life stage was for many of my friends. Because of that, I started having conversations with people who were investing in my life about feeling a pull toward college ministry.
One of the pastors I worked with encouraged me to look into BSM, and he helped connect me to the collegiate ministry staff at the BGCT. During the interview process, my excitement for the opportunity continued to grow, and it became more evident that God was leading me in that direction.
What is your favorite aspect of campus ministry? Why?
I love getting to walk with students as they figure out who they are and what they believe and helping them wrestle with difficult questions. I love getting to talk with students about the gospel.
What one aspect of your ministry gives you the greatest joy?
I get to serve as the chaplain for the UNT women’s basketball team. I lead team Bible studies, provide player care and invest in the coaching staff. I have been able to share the gospel with many of the players, was able to baptize a player and I get to walk with them through whatever life brings their way.
The coaching staff has invited me to participate in everything that the team does, so I get to build relationships with them through attending practice and team gatherings, traveling with them to away games and invest in relationships with their families when they attend games.
What would you like more people to know about campus ministry?
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. There are so many great opportunities to invest in college students and to help share the gospel on our college campuses.
My prayer is that churches located near campuses would strategically look for ways to engage students with the gospel and develop a mentorship structure to intentionally invest in the students who attend their church.
What priorities or goals guide your ministry?
The mission of our BSM is “We Know Him to Make Him Known.” Everything that our ministry does has to help us pursue that mission, which means everything we do has to provide an opportunity to share the gospel with students.
We also emphasize the importance of getting students connected to local churches, helping our students understand how they are gifted and how they can serve the campus and the church using their gifts, and to better understand theological truths and spiritual disciplines so that they can better grow as disciples.
What is the most exciting or joyful thing that has happened in your ministry?
The most exciting and joyful thing that happens in our ministry is when a student comes to faith in Christ.
What is the most heartbreaking thing that has happened in your ministry?
I think one of the hardest things for our ministry is raising financial support for staff salaries, which has made it more difficult to add the additional new staff members needed for our ministry as it grows.
If you could launch any new ministry, what would it be? Why?
I would develop resources and trainings to help churches better connect with college students. I continue to see how difficult it can be for local churches to know how to engage students on campus and to know how to best invest in them when they attend church.
Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing your ministry.
- Relationship skills with students: Technology and social media use is having an impact on relational and social skills in students. Many students today do not know how to make friends and struggle having deep conversations with others.
- Biblical literacy: You can no longer assume that students who were raised in church have a good understanding of what the Bible says. We have restructured the way we teach and do small groups to help our students to know how to study the Bible. We also teach through books of the Bible to help students become more familiar with the text.
- View of Christianity / the church: We have noticed a shift in how students view Christians and the church. Students have shared that they do not feel like the church is a place where they can struggle or ask hard questions.
What key issues face college or university campuses today?
There has been a significant increase in students wrestling with mental health issues on campuses over the past 5–10 years. We have seen an increase in students struggling with anxiety, depression and coping with difficult situations.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
One of the most influential mentors in my life was Sada, a friend who welcomed my family into her family. She became a grandmother to me in every way imaginable. Her entire life was centered on opening up her home to tell others about Jesus.
She taught multiple Bible studies each week in her home and over the phone because she had so many people interested in learning. God taught me so much through observing the ways she loved people and how she invested in my life.
Three other people who have invested in me are Brenda Sanders, Beth Smith and Shawn Shannon. These ladies have invested in my life in so many ways. I am thankful that I get to serve in Texas BSM alongside them.
What is the impact of your ministry on your family?
I am single, and most of my family live at least four to five hours away from me, so my ministry doesn’t have very much of a direct impact on them. My family is supportive of my ministry, and they pray for what we do and UNT students.
Name some of your favorite non-biblical books or authors and explain why.
Some of the books that have been the most helpful to me in BSM ministry are:
“Gospel-Centered Discipleship” by Jonathan K. Dodson: This book is a practical guide to discipleship and has been a very helpful resource for our staff and students.
“One-Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson: This book is a great resource on how to lead other people. It has helped shape the way our staff invest in our student leaders and ministry teams.
“Christian Beliefs, Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know” by Wayne Grudem: We use this book every year to help teach foundational theology to our students. It makes systematic theology easy to digest and is very user friendly.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I am a struggling perfectionist. I need a constant reminder that God extends grace in my shortcomings, even when it can be hard for me to give grace to myself.