Monday, April 3, 2017

Matt's April Update!

Spring just began but it's hard to believe that it isn't Summer already. Soon enough school will be out for the Summer break, though. The last day of classes at UNT this semester is on May 4th, with finals happening over the following week. The last big group meeting we'll have with the Denton ministry is on April 30th. In one month we'll have wrapped up another school year.

Spring Student Impact (SSI) week


These are the students (with my staff) from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA who visited us last week during their Spring Break to do outreach on the college campuses in Denton.


Each day during SSI week we took the Washington students up to our Denton campuses to reach out with our students to whoever was willing to talk. Some questions we discussed with people throughout the week (see photo above) were, "Christian's, how can we best represent Jesus to our world?" and, "What would you like to see Christians do differently?" The goal was to engage people with humility in discussing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences regarding Christianity. But we didn't want to neglect having meaningful conversation with Christians so we had a question each day that was geared toward helping our brothers and sisters in Jesus reflect on their own portrayal of Him to those around them. Below you can see a snapshot of what this looked like. There were many times that we had so many little conversations going on that we had to move people off of the walkway so others could still pass through to get to class!


SICM

SICM stands for the Student Institute of Campus Ministry. I've talked about it many times before, but if you haven't heard of it, I just want to say that it's the most impactful trip that we take students on. SICM is a week-long conference for training college students how to minister to their peers. Much of what we do in FOCUS has been learned from Campus Christian Fellowship at Western Washington University (yep, that's the same ministry that our SSI students visited from!), who hosts the conference. They have been doing college ministry for over 40 years now.

We have just over 90 students from all of our campuses registered to attend SICM this year. That is so exciting to think about this many students showing potential to lead in our communities. Please be in prayer for them as they raise the money to cover their trip costs, prepare mentally and spiritually for the intense week of learning, and that God will use that week to reveal to them His vision of our world being made new.

Students in a class at SICM last year


Spring Showcase

The Showcase, in case you haven't heard before, is a fundraiser we put on annually to help our potential new leaders go to SICM. I'm sure you can imagine sending 90 students plus staff to Washington state isn't cheap. We believe the cost is worth every penny so we host a big concert showcasing many of the talented performers from our community. Even just as a concert, it's an amazing experience because of how many talented people perform! I'm not sure how much money we raised, but take a look at how many people we had in attendance!


Audience at the 2017 Spring Showcase



Thank you for everything you do to support the good work that God is doing here on college campuses in the Dallas - Fort Worth metroplex. Your prayers, money, and time are making a tremendous difference in countless lives by reconciling young men and women to our Lord. Thank you!

Yours for the Campus,
- Matt


Monthly Student Testimony

Click on the image to make it larger.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Matt's March Update

There are a few really neat things I'd like to tell you about this month!


First let's take a look back...

Pizza Theology: "Let's Talk About Race"

Pizza Theology this semester was POWERFUL. Our topic of race was carefully chosen based on the building conversations on race and ethnicity in our country. The core teaching was centered around God's desire from the beginning (and consistently seen throughout scripture) to bless all people. We also looked at some of the major factors in determining what races have power in our world (geographical advantages being number one). The most impactful part of the night was hearing from 13 different people in our community about their various experiences with race and their challenges for us in how to think about race. The main message I walked away with was that I need to listen and understand a person's story before I can pretend to know anything about them. It's too easy to generalize anyone based on how they look outwardly. Taking a quick look at Jesus' interactions with people we see him consistently looking past these deceptive appearances. We see him touching the unclean, befriending the unloveable, and humiliating the "good" people.

Family Night

This is one of my favorite nights of the year! Many of our students' parents and family members visited and we nearly packed out our room that seats just over 300 people. Two things happen on this night.

  1. We get to honor the parents and thank them for all that they've poured into their students. I love getting to talk about students with their parents. It's encouraging to both parties!
  2. Parents and family members get a better sense of who we are as a community and a staff. We get some of our students to share how God has changed them through the FOCUS community and then ask a couple of parents to share how they've seen God change their child during their time in FOCUS. Aftward, we do something mildly dangerous and have open sharing for any other parents to talk about what they've seen. That's when the magic happens - parents are emboldened to stand up and share some of the most touching things. By the end everyone has shed at least one tear. And throughout the whole time we get to worship our God for the great things he has done in these students' lives. It's awesome.


Now looking forward...

Spring Student Impact

SSI is actually a trip that our friends up at Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA take to visit a few of our FOCUS ministries. The students come during their Spring Break (Mar 18-25, one week after ours) to do evangelistic outreach on our campuses. It's a really neat week where we get to develop close relationships with the students and interns from Washington as we share the Lord with each other and students/faculty in Denton. The days are long but valuable. It's especially neat that two months later we will get to see many of them again when we take our potential new student leaders to SICM (the Student Institute of Campus Ministry, a week-long training for student leaders in a college ministry), which is hosted by their ministry.

Our community is really looking forward to receiving our friends from Washington though. We love getting to host them - it's always a treat for us.

Here's a video that the SSI team made to give you a sense of who these people are! Please be praying that they are blessed by their experience with our community and reaching out on our campuses.


Apprentice Decisions

We've decided on our new apprentices for next school year! I'm very excited about the group we have coming in. There will be 7 across all of our campuses, but we'll have 3 in Denton this year. I'm really looking forward to this because we haven't had more than one apprentice the past two years and there's something really neat about getting to train young ministers.

Dawn and Rhett are graduating from UT Dallas so they'll be new to the Denton community. Kristen has been a student at UNT for the past few years. Please be praying over these three and the other four apprentices as they start fundraising soon.

Dawn
Kristen
Rhett


Thank you for your continued support of what God is doing through the FOCUS ministries. It's such an honor and a blessing to have people like you to work alongside for the sake of the Kingdom!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt



Click photo above to enlarge

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Matt's February Update

I've got some exciting news!

This last Saturday was our first FOCUS fellowship at SMU! If you haven't read my last update, I briefly mentioned that God has been providing connections with many influential people along the way to make this whole thing happen (faster than we had anticipated). If you're interested in reading more about this story or what we're doing at SMU, check out Laurence's blog as he is our staff minister that is heading up that ministry plant. What's extra special to me is that Laurence was a student at UNT and a roommate of mine when I first started pastoring our Denton ministry. It's really exciting to see how the Lord has grown and developed him for this new role!

FOCUS Winter Camp a few weekends ago was one of the best yet. We had just over 600 people in attendance, which is our largest group yet! In recent years we have invited a guest speaker from other ministries/organizations we have relationships with, but this year we decided to let our own staff deliver the sermons. We were pleasantly surprised by how much our students connected with them.

Here's our group from camp!


I've included a video below that one of our NCTC (a community college in Denton) students made. There's an interesting side note I'd like to tell you about as well. Since the NCTC Corinth campus is fairly small and there are only a handful of student organizations we have been able to develop a great relationship with the student life director. She has been such a blessing to work with because of how much she supports us ministering to that student body. In fact, she even posted this video on the student organizations page of the NCTC website - how amazing is that?!


It's just a small glimpse of the experience. More than the sermons, worship, and fun our students are impacted by the sheer quantity and quality of time spent in spiritual community. I was talking to a student I meet with weekly about one of his past Winter Camp experiences and he was telling me how a single conversation in the bathroom one night helped him to move leadership to a higher priority in his life. It's funny how something so unexpected and informal can have such a powerful effect in changing the course of a person's life. But that's just the way our God loves to work - in unexpected and unimpressive ways!

Family Night & Open House is coming up this Saturday for the Denton FOCUS community. It's essentially our normal weekly large group fellowship meeting (but not on Friday night) and the students invite their parents, siblings, mentors, etc. to come and see the community that they are involved in. Leading up to this night is often stressful to me due to my fear of speaking in front of parents! Of course, my fears are mostly unwarranted since many parents aren't coming to nitpick. In actuality, this yearly experience has always been incredibly encouraging to my staff and me. The best part is when we let parents share about the changes they have seen God make in their children over the last several months - just thinking about it now makes me so excited!

I'd also love to invite you out to visit this weekend. It would be a great opportunity to hear the experiences of students/parents and see a little more of our community. We'll be meeting on the UNT campus on Saturday, Feb 11th, from 5-7:30pm. Let me know if you're interested and I can give you more detailed information!

One last thing I wanted to update you on is the result of our Keep FOCUS Growing fundraiser. We ended off with $48,429! Thank you SO much if you donated to the KFG!

And regardless of your participation in the annual fundraiser, I want to thank you for your support of the FOCUS ministry in general. Even if you are merely reading this month's blog post, thank you for taking the time. It's amazing what God will do with the tiniest of investments.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt




"Before coming to college, I was in a desperate search for friendships. I had been the unfortunate recipient of a drug-induced fight. One night, people who I thought were my friends got high on cocaine while we were hanging out. All it took was a dispute over petty differences to send one of them over the edge, and it ended with me getting choked until I passed out. Thankfully, God brought me through that alive. However, this incident led to bitterness, rumors, and the loss of mutual friends. So, I ended high school not having many people that I considered friends. After all that, I was ready for college.
Going into my Freshman year at UTD, I made it a priority to seek out friendships and Christian community. I found out about an event that FOCUS was having during welcome week and went to check it out. There I met Sagar Gandhi who, after just one conversation, invited me over to his house to play FIFA (a soccer videogame). I was taken aback by this generous invitation and willingness to invite me into his life when he knew very little about me. I decided to go to Sagar’s Core and get more involved in FOCUS, where I developed strong friendships. Praise God for Sagar Gandhi’s invitation, the friendships I have made, and for how much leaders in FOCUS have taken time out of their busy schedules to pour into a broken and unimpressive sinner, like me, ever since!"
- Josh Carpp (Senior, University of Texas at Dallas, Mechanical Engineering)


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Matt's January Update

Happy New Year! May the Lord bless you in 2017 by revealing more of Himself and deepening your trust in Him.

The new year brings in a new semester. Students in Denton will be starting classes next Tuesday so please be praying for them, especially because transitioning to a new campus in the Spring semester is more difficult. Be praying for our communities to show any new or transfer students a welcoming spirit - we want to help anyone looking for community get plugged in somewhere on their new campus, whether that's with FOCUS or another organization.


Winter Camp

This is one of our biggest events of the year. Typically we bring in someone as a guest speaker, but this year our staff will be speaking on various aspects of what it means to be God's people. More important than the sermons, it's a time when our community gets to be together for a longer duration of time to deepen old friendships and develop new ones. It's a chance for our students to catch a bigger vision of what God is doing as they see students from all 9 of our campuses. It's a place for students to be encouraged, ministered to, and spiritually prepared for the semester to come. For many students, this weekend is a turning point in their commitment to God within our community. Please be praying that our students' hearts and minds are open to the Spirit working this weekend!

Our group from last year's camp!


Update on the Keep FOCUS Growing fundraiser

So far, we've almost reached our goal with a whopping $46,050! Thank you so much if you sent a gift! It's not too late to donate still if you haven't. Investing in college students' spiritual growth is one of the most strategic investments in God's kingdom that you could make. These young men and women will become the future leaders in our world. We want to equip them for this and teach them how to lead in the context of following Jesus.

anyfocus.org/kfg

Here are some of the students you're investing in!


Pray For Our Potential Leaders

Speaking of tomorrow's leaders, we are currently thinking through potential new leaders for next school year. Please be praying for guidance as we make decisions regarding who to invite to our upcoming leadership training conference this summer (SICM, the Student Institute of Campus Ministry). And be praying for God to work powerfully in preparing these students for ministering to their peers.

Thank you for your faithful commitment to God by supporting campus ministry. You are playing a significant role in changing our world at a foundational level!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt




I'd also like to share one of our student's reflections as she wraps up her time in school and looks forward into life after college:
Before college, I spent a vast majority of my time at church, from volunteering to mission trips. After graduating, I was nervous about what Christian community would look like now that I had to find it for myself. I prayed for a group of friends who cared about me. I was at the gym six weeks into my freshman year and while I was working out on the treadmill, something made me turn around (while running 80% speed) and I saw a banner for FOCUS. I visited that Friday night and stayed because people sought out His Word, ways to practice His teachings and made Christ-likeness a lifestyle- specifically, Autumn Priestley, a senior at the time I joined FOCUS. I constantly asked myself “why would someone who’s about to leave college want to spend time with me”? She spent time with me because of the lessons she learned through FOCUS. As I make my transition into the “real world” and becoming a teacher, I will remember to seek to understand then be understood when working with students, parents, and other teachers. I will look at my students and love them. I will consider their needs and provide for them, whether that means that I attend their sporting events or support them through tough times. I will show them who Jesus is through my teaching, patience, and discipline on and off the podium. It’s because of my involvement in FOCUS that I am able to know what it looks like to be a disciple in the “real world”.
Chiazo Akagha (Senior, University of North Texas, Choral Music Education)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Matt's December Update

One of our UTA students recently made this very touching video for a class. As I watched it, I couldn't help but agree that our ministry really has been a family for me too. For those students who don't have a good example of family, this is vital. That doesn't lessen the value for those of us who have a loving family, though. The relationships I've experienced within FOCUS have helped me to develop deep friendships that aren't out of obligation but founded on the unity we have in our Lord. In our world friendship seems to be walked away from at the slightest conflict, but Jesus showed us a friendship that embraces conflict. The culture which God has developed in our community has had a profound impact on many people, including myself. In turn, this has helped me to appreciate my own family even more. So take a moment to see what the students have to say - I hope that you find it encouraging!



Annual "Keep FOCUS Growing" Fundraiser

This year our goal is to raise $55,000 to set us up for the next 20 years of college ministry. Reflecting on what God has done through our ministry over the past 20 years, we are convinced his vision for us is to continue planting vibrant, intellectual, outreaching, Jesus-loving communities on every college campus in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and to be a resource for the world, equipping and sending campus missionaries.


One of the most exciting things on the horizon is expanding to SMU (Southern Methodist University). Despite the many obstacles of starting a ministry at a private university, we have had several opportunities in the past few months to meet various influential individuals so that the possibility of a FOCUS community at SMU this coming year is seeming more likely. It's a God deal for sure and we're excited to be a part of it!

Will you please take a moment to consider investing in college ministry? Every dollar will, in some way, go toward the development of committed Christian leaders in our world. You can click the image below to send a gift online. Thank you for your consideration!

 Click the image to give




I hope you're able to find some time to slow down during the busy holidays, be with family and friends, and remember our precious Lord and Savior. The biggest encouragement I gave to the students at our last large group meeting is to be purposeful over their break from school, in connecting with God and blessing other people. My encouragement to you is the same. There are likely unique opportunities for each of us during the Christmas season. What better way to honor Jesus than to strive for obedience to our Father's greatest commands? You might ask yourself:

  • What are some ways I could connect with God that I'm usually unable to? How can I love the Father with all of my heart, soul, and mind?
  • Who are some people I will be around which I don't see very often? How can I love them as myself (or as Jesus has loved me)?



Image result for merry christmas jesus

Thank you so much for your generosity and partnership with FOCUS as we work with God to change students' lives! Merry Christmas to you and your families!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Matt's November Update

Fall Camp report

Our group at camp!

This year's fall camp was maybe one of the best we've had, which actually surprised me a little. Our students really made it what it was, though. Their attitudes and intentionality during the 24-hour period encouraged me tremendously. Reflecting on that weekend, it's obvious to me how much God was at work. Seeing our community invite new students into their fun, their worship of God, their lives, etc. was clear evidence of the Spirit moving among us. I wish there was some way I could allow you to experience it for yourself. The best thing I can offer is a video one of our students put together of his own accord.




It may look like they spent the whole time playing games, but take note of how they interact. I know it's probably still hard to grasp the full effect without knowing who these people are. When I watch it, I see the development of their relationships, old and new, and know that God did that. The first time I saw this video I teared up a little because I was so touched. What a blessing it is to be the Lord's servant, witnessing His work first hand!


Pizza Theology

Our biannual Pizza Theology was this past Sunday! This event allows us to take 4 hours to dive deeper into a subject than we can in a 30-minute sermon. The topic this semester was about how to hear God's voice today. A special bonus was that we had one of our dear friends, David Knebel, from the ministry in Bellingham, WA fly down to speak. Many of our students know him from the leadership training conference (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) we send our potential leaders to each year. And in case you're wondering...the "pizza" part of pizza theology just means that we take a dinner break halfway through to eat pizza - yum!


Alex & Mitchell

Alex, me & Mitchell
Another two student leaders that I get to mentor on a weekly basis are Alex and Mitchell. Like Ben and Bradley, they have decided to prioritize learning how to lead and develop disciples during their few years in college.

Alex was a student leader last year and started out very quiet. His leadership potential was shown in the initiative that he took, his response to challenges, consistent investment in the community, and his concern for others. He has developed a great deal of boldness during that time, though! I'm always blown away by what God can change in a person who is willing to grow. One of the most impressive things from Alex is his self-management. When I assign him things, he does them. Often when asked, he has already done it. He doesn't wait around for me, as his mentor, to tell him what to do - he takes initiative. This is what we need in our Christian leaders!

Mitchell is one of the sweetest guys I know. He is simply a genuinely kind person. This is his first year on the leader team, but he almost rejected the invitation! When I talked to him this summer to talk about the possibility, he told me that he wasn't sure he was really being called into leadership. My question was a gentle nudge: "Do you think that maybe me calling you on the phone and asking you to be a leader might be from God?" I gave him some time to think about it, but the next time I talked to him he was actually pumped about stepping onto the leader team and thought it was exactly what he needed to do this year. I was actually a little surprised! What impresses me about Mitchell is his consideration of things he doesn't necessarily want to believe. He is eager to learn rather than protect his current beliefs and biases.

These two young men are encouraging to me on a weekly basis. I'm so excited to see what God does through their obedience this year!


Closing Thoughts

Danielle and I have been married for just over 3 months now. It's been a great experience so far. I'm so encouraged by how our relationship has developed as of yet. We have pretty strong personalities, we are a little more set in our individuality being married at 29, and have the added layer of working in ministry together (I'm her boss! And ministry is a 24/7 thing). Some might immediately think we set ourselves up for hardship, but I'll tell you that it's been nothing but a blessing. God knew what he was doing when he led us into this relationship. We so often think that blessing comes from pleasant and comfortable things, but it also comes from suffering, hard work, and discipline. That's not to say that I'm suffering in my marriage! I'm merely making a point. Danielle and I knew going into this that it wouldn't be easy, and at times it has had its challenges, but we are certainly better for it. Our relationship is stronger because we've talked through so many of our miscommunications. We have more concern for one another because we try to make time every day to share how we're doing. We grow as ministers as we sharpen one another in the strengths we have over the other. We grow in our understanding of and relationship to God as we learn more of what it means to be one as two individuals. In these ways, and many more, marriage truly is an awesome gift from the Lord.




Thank you for taking the time to read through this! And thank you for your dedication to investing in college ministry. The impact is incredible - God will take these young men and women, who have been trained to lead others in the way of Jesus, to go out into the world and make His name known. That is the greatest ROI this world will ever see!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Matt's October Update

This month is packed full of great things and I'm already off to a rough start. I'm just now recovering from being sick since Friday, but I'm thanking God that it's neither the flu nor strep throat! Anyway, I'd love to tell you a little about what's coming up this month.


FOCUS 20 Year Celebration - Oct 8



The 20 Year Celebration is this weekend! I'm sure you've already heard about it by this point, but just in case you haven't I want to quickly describe what we'll be doing. We will have a reception from 4-5pm before the main event with refreshments specifically for people to socialize with old friends or people from other generations of FOCUS. This event isn't just for alumni though! We want to invite anyone who has been involved in FOCUS in any way, even if only indirectly. Our main celebration will be from 5-7pm and will be a really cool timeline of how God brought about the FOCUS community and developed it over the last 20 years through various people. Lastly, we'll talk about where we are now and where we believe God is guiding us in the years to come. I really hope that you can make it! Here are the details again if you need them:

Reception 4-5pm
Celebration 5-7pm

Richardson East Church of Christ
1504 E Campbell Rd.

RSVP at anyfocus.org/celebrate20


Fall Camp - Oct 15-16

This is an annual event geared toward integrating newer students into our community and deepening relationships. It's only a 24-hour event, but it's packed full of silly games, thoughtful worship, and meaningful sharing of lives. The students who have attended this event know how impactful it can be. It's not anything that we, as staff people, do special; it's just God working amongst his people. My hope and prayer is that every new student who decides to be at Fall Camp will be connected into the larger community. Please be praying over this weekend as well!

I'll try to post a picture of our group on next month's update!


Leadership Conference - Oct 22

The Leadership Conference is hosted by our family of churches in the Garland, Wylie, and Denton area along with FOCUS. It's also an annual event, but it's specifically aimed at the leaders of our various communities. We bring together leaders from all of our teams to share, teach, encourage, and challenge one another to grow as leaders in God's Kingdom. Our goal is to grow in our leadership every year so that all of our communities are blessed.




The last thing I wanted to share with you is about a couple of the student leaders I get to mentor, Ben and Bradley. These two guys have made some really powerful decisions in their lives in order to follow God. It may not seem like much, but I'll tell you it's not been easy for either of them.

Ben came to UNT as the little brother of my best friend, but like many younger siblings, I could tell he wanted to find his own way. Thankfully God decided to bless Ben with a few friends in our ministry who consistently pursued him last school year. Over time and through their concern for him, they convinced him that being a part of real Christian community was better than working all the time. Ben is a work-a-holic by nature so it was hard for him to re-prioritize taking on responsibilities and leaving time for community. I'm really impressed by how much Ben has been willing to change certain parts of his life in order to lead others to Jesus. And God is still working in his heart and mind in major ways!

Bradley came to UNT as the "perfect son" who always made an A+ on every assignment (I'm not 100% certain, but that might actually be true!). When he was first asked to consider being a leader in our community, he declined because school was his first priority. Over the course of the next year, he started to realize how much God can do through the lives of obedient people - specifically in student leaders who had been investing in him. His decision to become a leader was difficult because it meant re-prioritizing school in his life overall. His decision meant he had to study less. All last year Bradley was able to successfully lead a core group, meeting up with some of the guys weekly for one-on-one Bible studies, and still maintain his 4.0 GPA and study for the MCAT (which he did exceptionally well on). And he is excited to be on the leader team again this year!

I'm really proud of both of these guys and am very excited to see the fruit of their labor this year!

Me, Bradley, and Ben at FNF

Thank you so much for reading! And thank you for your continued support of the work God has called me to here in Denton. Please keep us in your prayers and let me know if there's anything I can be praying about for you!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt