Sunday, December 1, 2013

December Update

Things are winding down for the semester already. Due to Thanksgiving falling on the last Thursday of the month and finals starting at UNT this week, we will not be able to have a big group meeting on campus before the Christmas break. Fortunately, we do have a few more opportunities to engage with the students before they go home to their families for the break:
- Our leader team will be having a party Monday. The primary purpose of that time is to bring our team together, worship God as a body, share encouragements with each other, and fellowship. These students have worked hard this semester.  
- We are having a Christmas party this Friday off campus. The venue isn't very conducive to having a stage or much sharing, but we will sing some worship songs and prepare some various interactive stations to encourage the students to think deeper about the spirituality of this season. 
- The last Discipleship Class for the semester will be this Friday also. We weren't planning on meeting this week, but the students were very excited at the idea of doing so to catch up for missing a week earlier in the semester.
Please pray for these events as well as any one-on-one times the staff will have with students before the holidays.


One thing to note from this past month was we had an event called Pizza Theology. This is a longer teaching time (4 hours) with a break for dinner in the middle. This year's topic was "Breaking Free from the Chains of Addiction and Compulsive Behavior." Our guest speaker was Eddie Traughber who is a professional Christian counselor in our area (his website is http://faithwalkcounseling.com/). Our ministry has developed a relationship with him over the past year and we have grown to really appreciate him. The lecture was very insightful and I've heard a lot of positive feedback from the students. Feel free to listen to the recording by clicking the topic above!

A word from one of our student leaders at Texas Woman's University:

Albert Rodriguez
"Being part of the TWU plant has been quite an adventure. The semester started out with a lot of prayer and planning, not really knowing what to expect. But God has blessed and is still blessing our efforts. 
The second week of school 3 freshman initiated the idea of a small group and asked me to lead it. So I did! This wasn't expected to happen until spring semester but the hunger for learning was there. So now there's a guys core with 9 guys that meet in the dorms, and they have been very consistent! 
Contact evangelism on campus has also been a blessing. I have met a few students who are curious about God and some that have even wanted to meet up to talk about it more. I think the effort of putting God's presence on campus is slowly growing. 
With men being scarce on campus it really has been a challenge to find some that do care for a friendship, let alone about God, but for the small amount that I have been able to reach, God has blessed them. 
One thing I learned about going into the semester was that 'quality is better than quantity' and that I had to trust God with that. But I didn't know what that looked like in starting a campus ministry until it happened. Had I been focusing on quantity I would be a little discouraged at this point. But as far as quality goes, the guys I meet with regularly have been so responsive and reciprocal to our friendship. We value each other and our words very much and I think that's where the kingdom starts. We share things about life that allow us to grow and I feel that's what true quality is. 
Overall God is doing big things at TWU and I feel that things are only going to get better. It's starting off small, but I know God will make it grow! He is too good."


Prayers needed, especially over the Christmas break:

- That the momentum in students' lives from Friday night fellowship, core, and one-on-one studies is not lost from time spent away from the body.
- That all of our students will go to Winter Camp in January.
- Clarity to the staff for planning events, sermons, etc. next semester.
- Student leaders and staff will find time to rest purposefully.


Thank you, as always, for your support. Your money, prayers, and encouragement all go toward building God's kingdom on the college campuses. May the Lord bless you with true riches for your generous gifts.


Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Friday, November 1, 2013

November Update

October is gone.  November is here.  I hope this isn't news to you!  We are now a little over a month away from the semester being over...and it seems like it only just started.  Anyway, here are a few things we have been up to lately:

Campus Outreach

One of the initiatives we have assigned to the interns this year is driving evangelistic outreach on our campuses.  The Denton interns have come up with a really neat plan for UNT and TWU campuses that is
 focused on increasing the number of conversations people have about God.  The first week they asked people who they thought God was and had suggestions, like Father, Judge, nothing, etc.  We want to know where others are at!  It confused a lot of people because they didn't understand why Christians would be asking what they thought instead of only preaching what we believed.

For the past couple of weeks the question has been, "Does God care about..." with several signs encircling it with topics like science, the American dream, humor, homosexuals, social justice, women, and politics.  We had several engaging conversations with students and faculty as they walked by!  Here are some photos:





Discipleship Class

We just had our fourth class meeting today, which meets weekly.  The point of this class is to provide a place for anyone in our ministry to grow in their faith and understanding of how to study scripture.  Our ministry puts a lot of effort into developing leaders.  Without them nothing would get done!  Jesus developed the disciples into leaders and left them to continue his work on their own.  Leaders are what we need to bring the Kingdom of God to the world around us.

That being said, we invest most of our time into our student leaders who have committed to serve on the leader team for the year.  These guys and girls are some of the people I am most devoted to.  Outside of that group of 39 students we don't want to neglect to impact the other students in our ministry with a passion for discipleship.  This is where Discipleship Class comes in.  The student leaders are also welcome to be there, but we already ask a lot from them so we don't expect their attendance.  The class is structured around the book of Mark, looking closely at the ministry of Jesus.  Our main goal is to help them see who God is and how to relate with Him.  That starts with understanding what Jesus said.  He said a lot of confusing and difficult things to understand or even grasp.  If we don't understand what Jesus' main points were in what He said, then how can we know what it means to follow Him?

Leadership Conference

Last Saturday our family of churches held a conference for anyone who leads in our ministry in any capacity.  It was an all-day event (8:30am-5:30pm) so I won't go into detail, but I do want to touch on it.  Our family of churches includes fellowships in Garland, Wylie, Denton, and all of the FOCUS campuses.  It's amazing to see how God has allowed us to plant so many separate ministries.  We try to have the best of big and the best of small by having our bodies all function independently, but work together.  One of the ways we maintain a unified sense of values and devotion is through events like this conference.  It's also a fantastic way of getting our student leaders more involved and integrated with the churches.  This is important because oftentimes the students who aren't members of our church (we didn't have a church in Denton for a long time for the UNT and TWU students to attend, so they are already members of other churches in the area) don't understand how much the other churches have invested into them or how much they are currently investing in them.  The FOCUS ministry really is a cutting edge ministry that's reaching young people before they go out into various parts of the world in influential positions.  What a natural way to develop and send out disciples!  In this sense supporting the FOCUS ministry is a mission of the Northeast church.  They aren't a big, rich family, but they are a people devoted to God and other people.  That's powerful.

Break Every Chain

We concluded our Break Every Chain sermon series this month and I wanted to share an activity that we did at our big group meeting.  I talked about how God has broken our chains to sin, setting us free to truly live.  The problem is we often aren't living as He intended.  It's as if our chains were broken and we clung to them instead of leaving them behind.  It's not enough to break the chain; we need to have a vision for where we are going to go now.  After the sermon I invited anyone who wanted to come down and share a chain that God had broken or one that they would like to break free from.  I asked them to write that on one side of a large sheet of paper, then on the other side write what they want to be transformed into or moved toward to replace that chain.  With that sheet of paper they individually showed both sides to the group to read.  It sounds very simple, but I assure you it was a very powerful experience.  I wish you could have seen it.  Unfortunately, there are no pictures!

Please be in prayer over the various things we have going on.  Check out the prayer requests on the left.  Thank you very much for reading this and for your support of this ministry.  I appreciate the fact that you are even interested to know what God is doing here!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October Update

This  month has been a little rough because I got a sinus infection and was trapped in bed for a couple of days and two weeks later I rolled my ankle bad enough to need crutches (still recovering from this, but off of the crutches!).  Those things in themselves weren't big deals, but they slowed me down from doing what I normally was able to.  There was good that came out of it of course.  Our first official Friday Night Fellowship happened during my sickness so the interns had to take charge and make sure everything ran smoothly during the service.  That was a great experience for them.  Fortunately, one of the other senior staff from Collin College was able to come preach for our group on such short notice.  God is good!

Our biggest event this month was Park Day on September 21st, which if you remember what day that is (and you live in Texas), you'll know that was probably the perfect day for this event.  It had just rained the previous day for the first time in a while so the overall temperature dropped considerably and since the sun was shining bright, all of the rain dried up!  It was beautiful...

Anyway, the goal of this event is to bring our whole UNT/TWU community together and invite all of the new people we've met to welcome them in; it's to help build new friendships so they are well rooted.  We started the day out with some goofy games to help everyone learn each other's names and get more comfortable around the others.  After that we had them split into pairs and do "walk and talks" with someone they didn't know very well.  The prompt during that time was just to share their history and ask each other questions to learn more about the other person.  Then for the next three hours they were free to pretty much do whatever they wanted.  There were several optional games that the staff planned, but the point was that our body was integrating the new people into our fellowship.  We had a delicious dinner of hotdogs and smoked pork and concluded the day with a short service.  Along with singing some worship songs that night we asked four students to share what they valued in the community in order to show new people what they could expect to find if they were a part of it.  Here are some pictures of the event so you can get a small sense of what it looked like:

Rock, Paper, Scissors battle


Bananagrams Tournament!  Very intense.

Our corefas have been very busy lately meeting with their core members and starting one-on-one Bible studies.  Please pray for the student leaders as they lead those studies and for the students they are teaching, that they would truly see Jesus in their study of scripture.

This Friday morning we are starting a discipleship class which will be open to our entire ministry.  It will be a study of Mark, but the primary goal is to help the students grow and be challenged in their faith.  That class will be led by Garrett, who is our campus director at Collin College.  I am really excited about this class, because it allows the students who aren't in leadership for various reasons to be able to step up into a higher level of responsibility.  We like to give our students ample opportunities to not be passive!  Please pray that God uses this to really move in the lives of our students.

The interns have been working on a weekly outreach project that will be on UNT and TWU campuses.  With the help of our student leaders, the aim of that is to get people talking about who God is, regardless of their beliefs, and ultimately make that a much more common conversation in the campus life.  The mission statement is to "Stir up an atmosphere of curiosity and exploration of God's character so that people get personally invested in the question of who God is."  Please pray that our students will be bold as they engage in conversations with a variety of people, that it would be successful in making them think about who God is.

Also our TWU ministry will have its first ever large group meeting this Wednesday!  Sarah, one of the UNT interns, will be leading that meeting.  She would appreciate your prayers in that and you can probably read more about it on her blog.

Please keep in mind that you are welcome to come visit on a Friday night any time you would like.  Just contact me and I will make sure you know all of the details.

Thank you again and again for your partnership and support!  May God continue to bless you.


Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September Update

The past month flew by.  Everything is fast paced at the beginning of school and there is a lot to do.  I'm just going to touch on the highlights:


UNT/TWU Corefa Prep

On August 17th and 18th we gathered the UNT & TWU small group leaders, known as corefas (core facilitators), and prepared for the start of school.  (UNT =University of North Texas; TWU=Texas Woman's University).

We started things off by introducing the theme for the year: Break Every Chain.  Click here to read a little about our theme meaning.  I read all of Psalm 107 to the group because it gives a fuller picture of how over and over God delivered his people out of the suffering that they brought upon themselves.  Still today we make decisions that bind us to ungodly things, preventing us from having a full relationship with God.  To help illustrate this point for the student leaders we tied bricks to their arms for most of our Saturday session (so for about 8 hours).  Then at the end of the day we cut each other's ropes to signify God using us to break each other's chains.  When someone cut another's rope, they looked them in the eyes and said, "The Lord has snapped your chains!  Let's give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and the wonderful things He has done for you and me!" (Psalm 107:14-15 NLT, adapted).




That weekend was primarily targeted on Welcome Week to equip the leaders to meet and develop friendships with as many other students as possible.  It was so neat to hear the group of student leaders share about their excitement to reach out to their classmates.  I like to have a discussion of strategies and advice sharing so that the upper classmen can share what they've learned with the new leaders.  Plus hearing so many of their fellow leaders share about their willingness to devote their first two weeks to meeting as many people as possible is simply inspirational.  Wouldn't you feel much more encouraged to do something after hearing a room full of your peers say they are on board with it?  That speaks a lot louder than anything I can say to them!

The other major goal of the weekend was to get the leaders thinking about their visions for the year.  I asked them to think through what our mission here at UNT and TWU is.  The mission is to offer our best attempt at making and maturing disciples to the glory of God.  Then I asked them to think through all of the fears they have; what are the things that prevent them from working toward that mission?  After giving them some time to write these down, I asked them to answer another question: "What would it look like if you weren't afraid of any of those things?"  I think this helps them to visualize themselves personally trying to make disciples, with the added thought that they are doing it despite any personal obstacles normally in their way.  What would it look like for them to conquer their personal fears?  During worship that evening, after we broke each other's "chains", we had a time where we shared these visions with each other.  It was very cool.

One more thing that really impacted me that weekend is seen in the following photo.  This was taken 30 minutes after our 10 hour day of meeting, which concluded at 10pm and we were going to meet again the next day.  It amazes me how even after sitting together for that long and being mentally exhausted through discussion and lecture, they still want to spend time with each other.  I wanted to take a picture of it for you to see.




Welcome Week

Welcome Week was INTENSE.  It is the most exhausting week of the year.  It is also arguably the most important.  The universities both put on various events each year for the new freshman and transfer students to integrate into the campus communities.  For the most part our students just attend those events to meet new people each year.  FOCUS plans a couple of events on top of that when there aren't any university events planned.  So the staff, student leaders, and many of the other members in our ministry try to cast our nets wide during this time full of opportunities.  It's all about meeting people, attempting to purposefully develop a friendship with them, and seeing what God does next.  A lot is revealed over the next few weeks and months.  If we aren't diligent in making friends during Welcome Week, the door of opportunity closes quite a bit.  Not that it's impossible, but it is a lot easier to make friends at the beginning of the year when everyone is specifically looking for new friends.  That's when the soil is most fertile!

Anyway it seems like our students did a great job this year.  I can't wait to see what comes out of their hard work.  I look forward to hearing stories of changed lives later in the year!


First FNF

Last Friday was our first official big group meeting for the year.  I'm not exactly sure how many people were there, but I saw a lot of new faces.  Afterward I was able to meet many of them too which was really exciting.

During the sermon time I talked about the history of our ministry and the original vision that Ronnie, a pastor of the church family which supports us, had in 1989 to plant a college ministry at UTD, which led to the ministry plant at UNT.  I shared some of our core values with them like our unity being built on "Jesus is Lord", our mission of making and maturing disciples to the glory of God, some of our major discipleship tools being core groups (titled as such because they are the core of our ministry and a great way of developing Godly community) and one-on-one Bible study.

I also introduced the theme to them, but I think I've already sufficiently explained that to you!



All Corefa Retreat

This past weekend on Sunday and Monday we had a corefa retreat for all of our campuses (UTD, Collin College, Richland College, UNT, and TWU).  It may seem odd to have this two weeks after our previous "Corefa Prep" where we gathered the student leaders together.  While the purpose of the Corefa Prep was to prepare for Welcome Week, the purpose of the All Corefa Retreat was to prepare the hearts of the student leaders for the whole year.  Our philosophy is that if we invest a lot into our student leaders, they will be much more successful at ministering to their peers.  They can do far more ministry than our small staff can do, especially if they are adequately equipped both mentally and emotionally.

We packed a lot into this retreat so I won't go into all of it, because it would easily double what I've already written.  Here is a quick summary though:

  • We listened to some TED talks by Brene Brown on vulnerability and shame.  She explains how necessary it is for us to be vulnerable to each other despite how uncomfortable and unnatural it feels, especially as leaders.  Overall I think this resonated with the students the most.  I would encourage you to check out the videos as well if you have a chance!  They may prove beneficial.
  • We set up 10 "Heart of  Leader" stations around the room that involved various activities to help them think through different aspects of leadership at the heart level.  The list includes: Humility, Going Deep, Being a Servant, Submission, Genuine, Forgiving, Taking Action, Courage, Compassion, and Loving God.
  • We had some other talks focusing on being a disciple-maker, thinking evangelistically toward non-Christians, and the cost of discipleship.  
  • A large chunk of time was spent going over core planning, various resources, and other practical advice on being a successful leader.

--------------------------


So going forward things will be starting to settle into a routine.  This week our core groups will be starting so please be in prayer over that.  Specifically pray that God will work through the student leaders to minister to whoever shows up to their group.  Soon many of the corefas will be starting up one-on-one Bible studies with the students they've met.  Also coming up on Sept. 21 will be our Fall Park Day.  The purpose of this event is to invite all of the new people in our ministry and try to better incorporate them into the whole ministry.  Usually they will have only really developed friendships within their core or they may have only been attending our big group meetings on Friday nights (which are not the best place to develop close relationships with others).  The students will be simply spending time together playing games and hanging out for the bulk of the time.  Of course we will ask our corefas to use that time purposefully to connect new people with other people in the ministry.  The day will be concluded with a cookout, worship, a few students sharing about the impact the ministry has had on their lives, and an extended communion service where we share with each other some thoughts about Jesus.  Please be in prayer over that time, because it usually is the time when new students will decide to get serious about their involvement in FOCUS, core, their one-on-one study, etc.

Thank you so much for everything you do to make all of these things possible for the students.  I couldn't make nearly as much of an impact without your support, even if it's just your thoughts and prayers.  I appreciate it when people just take the time to read my blog!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Thursday, August 8, 2013

August Update

I've been slowly working on this post for the past week in the midst of our crazy August schedule.  This month is the busiest part of the year in campus ministry.  So many things to prepare for with school starting on the 28th.  And things only get busier as the end of the month approaches!  Despite all of that, it's the most exciting time of the year as well because of the influx of new students on campus.  I'll come back to that later though.

August 1st marked the end of last year's internship and the beginning of our 2013-2014 internship!  It's sad to see our interns from the past year leave, but the time we have had with them has been awesome.  They have grown so much and brought a lot to our ministry.  UNT FOCUS has been blessed to have Melissa.  Without her we simply could not have been successful.  I personally value the support she gave me in leading the UNT ministry and also the friendship we developed through being on mission together.

Orientation for the new interns started that morning and lasted most of the day.  It's a very exciting time of the year!  We have added a few new parts to our internship this year in order to improve their experience and growth potential.  The main differences are additional classes taught by each of the staff and weekly evangelism projects (we changed the internship to a full-time model rather than part-time).  One thing we have the interns doing this week and next is to read through the entire Old Testament.  Several of them lack exposure to much of it so getting a good overview would be a great foundation for many of their studies for the year as well as the ministry they will do.  Our main focus with the internship is to help them become better ministers so each year we tweak things with that in mind.  Anyway, I'd like to introduce the new UNT interns to you.  I've included a little bio for each of them below.  The quotations are their response to why they decided to do the internship with FOCUS this year.  You can click on their names to visit their blogs.

Sarah King
"I have a heart for college students. I think they are the place where lives are the most changed, and I want to be a part of the kingdom work that's happening there!"

Sarah joined FOCUS at Collin College as a sophomore.  She led a core (what we call our small groups) there and did a summer internship.  She transferred to UNT and helped plant and grow that ministry during its first two years.  She facilitated a core there at UNT and her senior year she mentored other small group leaders.  After graduating in May 2012 with a degree in Developmental and Family Studies, she mentored student leaders at Collin College for a year.  Along with working at UNT this year, she will be spearheading the TWU ministry plant.


Matt Wills
"I really care about people and I've been wanting to challenge myself to allow God to use me, and I really felt him calling me toward this opportunity."

Matt joined FOCUS at UNT in 2010 (right after the ministry was planted) as a freshman.  He facilitated a core and had other leadership roles over the last three years.  This December he will graduate with a degree in Radio, Television, and Film.


Danielle Rodriguez
"I decided to do the internship because I felt a strong call from God to go to Denton...I thought it had to do with the Denton Church at first. Once I was a peer team leader at UNT though, I realized how much I loved campus ministry and wanted to see if it was something I could be involved in long term. Once I had prayed about doing the internship God started opening doors and giving me many opportunities to pursue it. Now I am certain that this is where God wants me to be, at least for now, and I'm so excited to get on campus and minister to students again!"

Danielle joined FOCUS at UTD in 2007 as a junior.  She was on the service and prayer committee one year and facilitated core for two years at UTD while a student.  She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology in 2009 and a master's degree in Communication Disorders in 2011.  Last year she mentored student leaders at UNT as a peer team leader.


Grant Trotter
"I've come to deeply appreciate and value campus missions, so getting another 10 months to invest in that was a big deciding factor. But the main thought that pulled me in was just how well the internship would equip me to go into the rest of my life and minister to the people around me, be that in a ministry or business vocation."

Grant joined FOCUS at UTD in 2009 as a freshman.  He facilitated core for two years before graduating this year with a degree in Arts & Technology.


Friday, August 2nd, we went out to Mineola, TX, for our Fall staff retreat.  This is one of the few times a year our individual campus staffs get to spend quality time together as a full staff (20 people total).  It can be difficult to get a meaningful conversation out of a group that size, but our sessions were quite productive.  Friday night we shared the history of FOCUS from each person's perspective.  It was so neat to see how God has worked in all of our lives individually and collectively, especially to see how the decisions of a small group of people several years ago majorly affected each person in that room.  The next morning we spent time in our new campus staff groups to get to know each other a little more and start planning things for this coming semester.  Saturday night we shared the visions that God has given us for this year.  My vision is that the students on the UNT leader team will deepen their conviction for reaching out to people and discipling them.  I really see this school year as the time for that to take place.  Please be in prayer that God works powerfully in the students' lives in that regard.  Sunday morning we had a communion meal while sharing qualities of Jesus that we admired and wanted to see more of in ourselves.  I think of Jesus' complete submission to God.  We often try to draw from our own power and end up falling into fear or pride.  Jesus gave up his fearfulness by wholly trusting in God and when he was bold it was never prideful, but flowed from his obedience to God.

I just want to say that I'm very thankful for the staff I get to work with.  I can see God working in their lives.  Spending a few days with these people this past weekend and getting to laugh and cry together has been wonderful.  Now we get to go out and change lives on the college campuses!

Coming up on the 17th and 18th of August is our UNT student leader retreat.  Please be in prayer about this.  My goals are for the new student leader team to grow closer as a body of believers, prepare logistically for meeting new students during Welcome Week on campus, and develop a deep sense of conviction to advance the Kingdom.  I spoke with a new student leader today about his time commitments.  I was concerned he may get overwhelmed with work, school, and being a small group leader.  He said if it somehow became a problem he would quit his job and look for another one with less hours so he could keep his commitment to the leader team.  He gets it.  And I'll say that's a God deal, not a FOCUS deal.  Just think of what God can do with a guy like that over the next 50 years of his life...

Please also be in prayer over Welcome Week.  This is really our most important time of the year to sow spiritual seeds.  The school puts on several events all week long and our ministry tries to meet literally as many people as possible and, most importantly, follow through to form real, lasting relationships.  We encourage our students to get phone numbers of people they meet and invite them to everything.  If they can work hard for just two weeks (welcome week and the following week), they will have a great harvest of people to disciple over the coming year.

Also please pray for our room reservations for the year.  UNT's reservation process has been increasingly difficult for us, especially as we grow and while they are doing construction on the Student Union over the next two years.  Please pray that God will work this out for us so we can get the reservations we need.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your prayers and support!

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Monday, July 1, 2013

July Update

The summer time tends to have a more consistent pace than the rest of the year for me.  I guess that's probably the opposite for most people.  The consistency allows me to slow my mind down and reflect more on what I've been learning.  One of the books I'm currently reading is So, You Want to Be Like Christ? by Chuck Swindoll.  I've only read the first two chapters so far, but they have been pretty insightful, talking about intimacy and simplicity.  Chuck quotes Richard Foster from another book: "The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people."  That is so true and something I struggle with.  Often I feel a need to be impressive to other people.  Sometimes I start thinking too much about how people perceive my LinkedIn account or my Facebook timeline cover.  When preparing a sermon I get stressed because I want to be able to say something original and enlightening.  Or I'm too concerned with sounding deep rather than being deep with God.

This summer I've also been studying 1 and 2 Samuel while listening to the audio recordings of a graduate level theology class at Regent College.  I've learned a lot about how to read Old Testament narrative, the significance of Samuel, Saul, and David's stories, how the Israelites and surrounding nations perceived God, the purpose of several parallels to the Exodus or to Samson, etc.  The professor of this class, Rikk Watts, even pointed out that the original Hebrew manuscripts of these scriptures didn't have vowels.  So we can actually change around the vowels (if you know how to read Hebrew) and sometimes there is a different possible meaning in the text.  There are so many intellectually complex things about the Bible and they can be very helpful to know.  If we allow it, they can also get in the way.  Something the senior pastor at our church in Garland has told me several times is every time you read scripture ask yourself, "What does this teach me about the heart of God?"  If our study of scripture ever becomes about how much we know rather than a way to see the heart of God, we have missed the point.  The point is to come into a deeper relationship with God.  We can't simply study Him like we do the rest of our world.  It's in this simplicity that we can find intimacy.


I'm almost done with building our student leader team for next year at UNT.  For the past few weeks I've spent a lot of time on the phone and meeting with various students to talk through which ministry role they would be most successful in this year.  That process has been such an encouraging time as I get to talk with so many different people (my list has about 65 students on it!).  It looks like we will likely increase our number of core groups from 9 last year to 16 or 17 this coming school year.  God has really blessed us with some solid guys and girls.  I would say though, one of our strengths is that we aren't afraid to be small if necessary.  Whatever number of committed leaders the Lord provides us with is enough.  And our staff is very thankful for the quality of students we get to work with!  It's totally a God deal.


Also, several members from the Garland and Wylie Northeast churches (the churches that support the FOCUS ministries) have been meeting occasionally throughout the summer to plant a church in Denton.  The vision of our churches is to plant churches across the metroplex wherever they are needed, a lot like our vision for FOCUS on the different college campuses.  The Denton church will be a huge support for the UNT and TWU campuses in regard to mentorship.  Currently, the FOCUS staff and students who live in Denton travel an hour to Wylie for church each Sunday morning.  That's not a big deal for once a week, but it's hard to integrate the college students into the larger community with that much distance.  That being said, the Denton church will be very much a college church at first.  There are a few families and older members moving up to Denton to help with the plant, but not enough to compensate for the number of college students who will likely attend.  So one goal for our college students now is to be reaching out into the community to pull in more adults and families.  Please be praying for this as it will make a huge impact on our college students and be a great opportunity for us to reach out to our community.  We plan to kick off our first official meeting at the end of August or early September!


One last thing I would like to share:
Two of the girls involved in our Collin College ministry went through a tragic event that ended up being a tremendous blessing.  Their house caught fire and was destroyed last Thursday (please be praying for their family!).  Both girls have been involved in our ministry as leaders and will be transferring to UNT this coming school year.  The older sister (Sarah) will be an intern.  The father attends a different church in the area.  Their family's response to this devastation has been incredibly encouraging to our family of churches.  If you have some time, I encourage you to listen to what Sarah and her dad shared at our church meeting this past Sunday.  It's pretty inspiring:
The King family sharing at Wylie Northeast


Sunday, June 9, 2013

SICM Testimonials!


I wanted to share with you what some of the UNT students have to say about their SICM experience.  It's really encouraging to see the impact that trip had on these young people!



Carmen


For me, SICM opened my eyes to how most discipleship is done through relationships whether that is through campus evangelism and taking an interest in their lives and views, or small groups and one-on-one conversations. I saw how we are to use Christ as an example of how to conduct our relationships and how to love. It is through that love that we enrich other people's lives, challenge them, and help them grow as we learn from them and grow ourselves. Discipleship is about the time we invest in others and how we spend that time.


Elizabeth


There are so many things that I learned at SICM, but that would take all day.  Something that really stood out to me was learning why we do so many one-on-one and small group studies.  Learning how much Jesus had real RELATIONSHIPS with his disciples.  They were his friends and he spent meaningful time with them, which is what we should be doing as disciples.




Joey


SICM was a very encouraging week for me.  I feel better prepared to talk to people about Jesus and about all of the great things He has done in my life.







Kurt


SICM taught me that there is no better time than the now to be a disciple.  In college, time is so precious, and I must make the most of every opportunity God has given me.  SICM taught me how to be more intentional with my relationships, and in turn be faithful to Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations regardless of how fruitful our endeavors may be.




Natalie


When I first came to FOCUS, I was amazed by how much people really wanted to befriend me. Suddenly there were these great people in my life who really discipled me. At SICM, I learned so much about that and how to do it Jesus style. Now I feel like I can be that person in someone else's life. Having people there for me in this way has been so incredibly important in my life as well as my relationship with Jesus, and because of SICM, I know I can go out and be a friend to someone in the same way.



Ryan


SICM was a week that represents what I would wish everyday life could look like. There was worship and constant community shared with a family of believers, lessons that take active listening and thought, and opportunities to go out and evangelize and apply what you've been learning right away. This is what our lives should consist of all the time!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

June Update

One week ago we returned from our trip to SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry) in Bellingham, WA.  That's the leadership conference we take our potential student leaders each year.  As usual, it was such an enriching experience for the students and the staff.  It's really cool to see these up and coming leaders start to understand why we have been doing certain things the way we do.  Up until now most of them have just been participants in things like core groups or one-on-one Focus on Jesus studies.  All they had to do was show up.  Now they see how much purpose goes into those things and the importance of reaching out to their peers.  Even more, they are excited to do so.

The UNT group
Our entire group from Texas (UNT, UTD, TWU, Collin, & Richland)
My host family and the guys who stayed there

On Wednesday we had our first summer FOCUS meeting at UNT.  It was an introduction into our series over the book of James, focusing on practical Christianity.  After briefly framing the historical context of the book, I asked the students to stand up while I read the whole letter to them.  The father of the family I stayed with in Washington had told me he was impacted by a guest speaker at his church who talked about reverence for scripture.  The speaker read a large chunk of scripture to the congregation and had them stand up as well.  This resonated with me and seemed like the perfect way to start our study of James.  First of all it helped us be better engaged in the letter by delivering and receiving it the way it was originally intended.  Also, reading the words of James (most likely the brother of Jesus) carries more authority than anything I could say on top of it.

I have asked some of the older student leaders to prepare sermons for the upcoming weeks.  We like to give students an opportunity to be challenged in their ability to teach and also let the students hear from each other.  The summer seems to be the best time for this.  I'm looking forward to working with them on those lessons and seeing how God uses them to affect the community!

Update on TWU:
We missed the deadline for registering as a student organization at TWU, but we should easily meet all the necessary requirements by September when the fall semester begins.  The last registration deadline for the year just happened to be before we had a chance to register.  Unfortunately, that means we won't be able to be at the orientations over the summer for new and transfer students.  That really shouldn't be a big deal and to make up for that we intend to plan some unofficial hang out events on campus to meet new people.  Our goal is to start developing a small community over the summer so we have a solid foundation to build on once school starts.

Thank you so much for your support!  Keep us in your prayers, and let me know if there is anything we can be praying about for you.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Update

The school year is coming to a close.  We will have our last Friday Night Fellowship this week at UNT FOCUS.  Our plan is to meet in a gazebo on campus, have "unplugged" worship, and listen to a few of the upcoming interns (those graduating from UNT) share some thoughts on purposefully planning for the summer now that the year is over.  Next week is finals and then it's summer time.  Most of the student organizations shut down over the summer.  We don't, but it's for a few specific reasons:

1) Several students usually stay in town over the summer.  Some students have jobs in Denton or their home is too far away to travel to.  If their primary body of believers stops meeting during that time, they are basically deprived of their community for about three months!  Our ministry does take a break from meeting for a few weeks at the beginning and end and we change things up a bit for summer.  We just don't want to give up gathering together for such a long period of time!  One interesting thing about Summer FOCUS is that all four of our campuses meet together from late May to early August.  Now since Denton is so far away, most students don't like to travel to the big group meeting in Richardson (near the other three campuses).  So we have our own UNT Summer FOCUS in Denton.  It's neat because it allows us to have a low-key smaller meeting since most of our students are out of town.  Last year we had about 30-35 people each week instead of the 120-130ish people we had during the school year.

2) Since all of the universities we work at are secular, we provide theological classes each summer called School of Ministry.  We like to give the students an opportunity to study the scripture at a deeper level and be challenged to think about it.  Most of the books or lectures we use are graduate level.  The courses change year to year, but this year we are offering three different classes: a couple of audio lectures (from Regent College) about the topics of 1st & 2nd Samuel and the Sermon on the Mount as well a book study on "Simply Christian" by N.T. Wright.

3) When most student organizations go dormant for the summer, people are much more likely to show up at the meetings of groups who are still active.  This makes summertime a great opportunity for us to meet new people, especially those who may not have normally come to our meetings.

Please be praying over our summer activities, that they will be successful in providing community to those staying in town over the summer, furthering our students education of scripture, and bringing new people into our body that might not have come during the school year.


Another thing quickly approaching is SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry).  As many of you probably remember this is the conference we take our upcoming student leaders to in Bellingham, WA for an intense discipleship training seminar.  It's an experience that can't fully be explained, but essentially the students are in a week-long class learning about how to lead small groups, study one-on-one with other students, what it means to be a disciple, how to engage in spiritual conversations with other people, etc.  It's also a great time for the staff to get to know the new student leaders better and for all of them to grow closer as a team.  Please pray that the students will learn a lot and go into the next year fully equipped to advance the Kingdom.


Then going in line with our theme for the year of "Everything New" we will be ending the year with plans to plant a new ministry at TWU (Texas Woman's University) for next school year.  TWU is right next to UNT in Denton and will be a part of the UNT FOCUS ministry for a few years as they develop on the TWU campus.  Currently, we are working on registering as a student organization so we can be at orientations over the summer and kick off the school year strong in August.  Please pray that we will be successful in establishing a ministry at TWU and building a strong Christian community at a school where campus life is fairly sparse.


As always, I want to thank you so much for your contribution to this ministry whether prayers, money or even just reading my blog and being aware of what I'm up to.  It means so much to me.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Update

What a busy month March was!  All of our interns have been selected (9 in total; 4 at UNT).  We had an incredibly successful week of evangelism on our four campuses with the students from Western Washington University.  Now the end of the school year is closing in quickly with just over a month remaining.

The main thing I want to tell you about is what we did with our visitors from Washington.  They came to Texas for their spring break trip to evangelize on our campuses at UTD, UNT, Collin College, and Richland College.  Each campus had a separate campaign geared toward initiating conversation with students.  On top of that we paired Washington students with Texas students/staff and walked around our campuses talking to people about spiritual things.  At UNT we planned a campaign called, "I'm Sorry."  The goal was to apologize on behalf of Christians for the damage we've done in the past in hopes that we could develop real relationships with non-Christians.  And let me tell you, it was an awesome experience!  I'd like to summarize what we did each day and highlight a few things throughout because I want you to really understand the magnitude of it.


Monday and Tuesday we had two large marker boards set up and asked the question: "What is your biggest complaint about Christians?"  We had a lot of people answer the question and recorded their answers so we could apologize specifically for those things.  More than that, we were able to have conversations with these people about their complaints.  Just think about the first step in restoring a broken friendship.  It's talking about it and usually someone taking responsibility and apologizing.  That's how I envisioned this campaign.  Satan has done a great job of ruining relationships between Christians and non-Christians, but we can overcome that through building real relationships like Jesus had.  Jesus accepted people for who they were and He truly understood them.  He didn't see the sin, but rather the person behind it, and He loved them.  How Jesus loved them so.  Isn't it exciting that we have opportunities to love people similarly?

Wednesday and Thursday we posted our written apologies (about a few hundred).  We also asked two new questions.  We wanted to emphasize personal and specific instances and continue to have engaging conversations with people.
  1. How have you been personally hurt by Christians?  
  2. Christians, what are you personally sorry for?  
It was VERY interesting to see the responses.  Some of the hurtful things made me cry.  One girl had written that she lost two babies and her pastor told her they went to Hell.  Another guy I met, who was the president of an atheist group on campus, said that a kid threw a Bible at him in high school for being bisexual and an atheist.  The first response to our second question was from a Christian who was upset that we were "demanding" them to apologize to us.  We had to make it more clear that we were also Christians!  Something further in that regard was that Christians tended to be offended at what we were doing until they talked to one of us more to get a better understanding of our purpose.  One girl told me her Christian friends didn't like it because it made Christians seem like terrible people.  I explained to her that all humans are terrible people and we just wanted to break down the misconceptions about Christians being self righteous through taking responsibility.  Nearly every single person we talked to genuinely liked our efforts once they understood fully.




On Friday we wanted to shift to a more positive note.  We asked two new questions that produced similarly engaging conversations:
  1. What good experiences, if any, have you had through knowing a Christian?
  2.  Christians, what are you sorry for on behalf of the Christian church?

The main result from this week-long attempt at evangelism was our group made several new relationships with non-Christians.  These relationships weren't formed under false pretenses nor were the people lured in by sneaky tactics.  They were genuinely interested in friendship with someone they know is a follower of Jesus.  My prayer is that we can diligently maintain those friendships and reflect Christ to those people without turning them into a project or watering down the gospel.  The only people we seemed to offend were Christians because they either didn't like that we made Christians look like terrible people or they thought we were wrong to apologize because Jesus never apologized.  Like I said earlier, almost all of them changed their mind when they understood our intentions fully.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of this as well if you have any.  I also encourage you to think of ways to engage the people in your workplace with similar questions.  Or at least attempt to get to know them on a deeper level.  One thing I kept reminding students who were intimidated by talking about spiritual things with non-Christians was that spirituality includes a lot more than "religion".  I think Rob Bell hits on that concept pretty well with his movie called "Everything is Spiritual."  There aren't really spiritual things and non-spiritual things.  You can find out someone's beliefs about life simply by asking about their family background and what it was like growing up.  That breaks the ice so you can drill down into other areas by asking more questions.  It's an important skill to be able to lead conversations with people.  That's one of the main reasons we do campaigns like this on the college campuses.  It obviously has a good impact on the people we encounter through it, but the experience for our students receive is even more valuable because it equips them to better reach out to the people around them for the rest of their lives.  We really try to give them a vision for not just their college years, but also their post college years.  What will it look like for them to remain a disciple of Christ after graduating and finding a career?  After moving away from their Christian community?  Getting married?  Having children?


Please be in prayer for us as we finish up the semester and move into the summer.  The summer time usually has a lot going on with SICM (that's our student leader training conference in Washington), School of Ministry (we like do teach some form of graduate level theological class since our students all go to secular schools), and just our summer FOCUS big group meetings.  Also we will need to start figuring out student leadership for next year and think through how to utilize the interns in a way that is best for them to be successful in ministry.

Be in prayer also for one of our students.  His name is EJ and he has a cancerous tumor in his neck.  This tumor has already disabled his vision some and caused him to have severe headaches nearly all of the time.  Currently he is waiting to be scheduled for surgery (which needs to happen soon!).  After that he will have to undergo three treatments of chemotherapy.

Thank you so much for all of your prayers and support!  It does make a difference.  You have made an impact on the UNT campus.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt


Friday, March 1, 2013

March Update

We are about to enter into March madness.  I'm not talking about basketball here.  There are just a couple of big things happening this month for our ministry.

The biggest deal is preparing for our internship next school year.  This has recently been a source of much excitement for me!  Our staff will be interviewing the 11 applicants this weekend and we will be making final decisions within the week.  This is such a big deal because it shapes what we will be able to do next year.  Plus one of our most important goals for the internship is to make it a beneficial experience to them.  Please be in prayer over this whole process as we decide who to accept.  As soon as the decisions are made on March 8 we will kick into high gear on preparing the new interns for starting on August 1st.  The majority of this will be training them for raising financial support confidently and successfully.  That is commonly the most stressful part of the internship so please be in prayer for them as they reach out to friends and family for support.

The other "big thing" in March is Student Spring Impact (SSI).  A group of about 20 students from Western Washington University in Bellingham, WA will come to visit our ministries for various types of on campus evangelism.  If you remember me talking about SICM in my previous post, these students are sent from the ministry that hosts that conference.  Their ministry's name is Campus Christian Fellowship (CCF).  Anyway each of our campuses has a different outreach planned for the SSI students to join us in.  At UNT we have planned a campaign called "I'm Sorry."  Christians have done a lot of damage to Christ's name over the years and sometimes all we can do is apologize.  So we will have a marker board set up for students passing by to write their complaints about Christians.  This gives us an opportunity to apologize personally and hopefully start meaningful conversations with people.  We will only need to have a handful of students around the marker board, so the others will walk around campus doing conversational evangelism.  That simply means starting conversations with people by asking them questions about their beliefs and only sharing our own if asked.  That gives people the option of getting out of the conversation whenever they want.


So now I'd like to look back on a few things that have happened recently.  First is Parent Night/Open House.  Every year we invite any parents, family, friends, spiritual mentors, etc. of the students to visit our large group meeting.  The goal is to give parents a snapshot of what our ministry is all about.  We also love to use that time to honor the parents for raising their children so well!  What makes Parent Night so special is getting to hear the parents speak about the change they have seen in their child since being a part of our ministry.  However, in no way do we take any credit for that because it's truly a God deal that He works through us.  Here are a few pictures from that evening:






The other thing I wanted to share with you is a baptism of one of our student leaders.  This is one of the sweetest guys in our ministry and a special moment in his life.  We had been trying to plan this baptism for a while now and finally made it happen.  Check it out!



I have a few prayer requests as well:
1) Please continue to pray for Austin Gage's mother and that family.  I had mentioned her situation in my January Update.  She is terminally ill and the doctors are giving her until summer.  She is a believer in Christ and she is at peace with everything.  Austin is doing okay emotionally but his sister and father are having a hard time dealing with it.
2) Please pray for our internship as we decide who will be accepted and as they prepare for 12 months devoted to campus ministry.  Also pray for our staff as we guide them throughout that process.  Pray that we can provide the necessary mentor support to ensure they have a successful year learning and growing in discipleship.
3) And be in prayer for our SSI group coming the last full week in March.  Pray for God to teach those students through a meaningful experience while here in Texas and to touch our campuses through the outreach events we have planned.

Again thank you so much for your support and prayers.  It's a blessing to be able to share my ministry with you.  May God continue to bless you.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Friday, February 1, 2013

February Update

Winter Camp was excellent this year.  As I mentioned last month, Geoff Mumley came down from the Northwest to speak on the New Kingdom (you can listen to the audio recordings from camp by following this link).  He asked the question, "What is the central message of Jesus?"  In Mark 1 it seems that Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God and call people to be a part of it.  He talked about a kingdom that was here and yet coming still.  John, who came before Jesus, preached about the coming kingdom and Messiah.  John's main message was to prepare for the coming kingdom because the people weren't ready yet.  Fast forward to today and what does all of this mean for us?  Well, God's Kingdom is still advancing and we (yeah, you too!) need to get involved.  Wherever we go let's be people who advance the Kingdom.  That doesn't mean you have to give gospel presentations to everyone you see, but be a beacon of light and help people see the goodness of our God.  Glorify God to people.  Make disciples.
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
- Jesus
Here are some photos of the UNT group at camp:






And here is a picture of all four campuses!



Since camp we have had one large group meeting at UNT (called Friday Night Fellowship).  I continued our theme for the year (Everything New) and added on "Growing up in Christ."  God has made us new, but we start out as spiritual infants.  We can't remain there.  What I want to do is challenge each student's thinking and help them see that they have a need to mature in their understanding of Christ and their faith in God.  In Heb. 5:12-6:1 the author writes to Hebrew Christians at the time, "Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings of Christ and go on to maturity."  Let's remember the fundamental teachings of Christ, but use them as a foundation to build on rather than a safe harbor.  It's time for us to grow up.

Around this time each semester we start thinking about new leadership for the following year.  Currently, we are having discussions about who has stepped up and exhibited leadership characteristics.  We are looking for FAITHful people.  Here is a simple way of explaining it:
Faithful - Can be counted on and is consistent.
Available - Can prioritize their time.
Initiative - Takes responsibility w/out being asked; already leading others.
Teachable - Open to learning, criticism, and advice.
Heart - for God and other people.  This ultimately trumps the others.

Each year we try to pinpoint our prospective leaders for the next year in time to invite them to SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry; Geoff Mumley is from the ministry that hosts this conference), which is a week-long leadership conference for campus ministry.  We ask our upcoming leaders to go through this training in order to better prepare them for effective ministry as a small group leader and 1-1 disciple maker/mentor.  The sad thing is we are increasing the number of students that we would like to send every year but there are only so many people that volunteer to host students in their homes.  This has forced us to be much more selective in our process of inviting students to SICM.  Last year in May we sent about 50 students between our four campuses and we made up over 2/3 of the students at the conference.  So the point I'm trying to get at is please pray for our discernment in this process!  

Please also pray for Amy and our ministry as she transitions out due to her pregnancy.  It has been such a blessing getting to work with her this year!  I will surely miss having regular time with her and I know the students will be sad to see her leave.  Another thing to be praying for is the next group of FOCUS interns.  We are having a meeting this Sunday afternoon for students interested in applying and will making final decisions on that in March.  Please pray for guidance for the senior staff in this process and the students who are considering the internship.  There are a few other prayer requests on the staff updates page.

Thank you again for everything you do to advance the Kingdom through our ministry.  

Yours for the Campus,

Matt

Monday, January 7, 2013

January Update

Well the new year has come.  I hope you enjoyed the holidays and were able to spend time restfully with your family.  So sorry my update was a week late, but I just made it back home to my house in Denton last night for the first time in a few weeks.  My various plans over the holidays had me traveling all over the metroplex, but I got to see so many different friends and family!

This past weekend was our winter staff retreat.  It's one of my favorite times of the year when the entire FOCUS staff (now 13 of us) comes together to discuss several higher level ministry topics and enjoy fellowship with each other.  We rarely have time together like that during the year and it's something that we consider important for a team to function well.

One of our biggest events is coming up on January 18-21st: Winter Camp!  This year we will be going out to Sky Ranch in Van, TX.  All four of our campuses will be there, likely totaling over 300 students.  It's a very exciting time to experience our whole ministry at large and I would like to invite you out there for a day, evening, etc.  Let me know if you would like to drop by and I can give you details on the schedule.  Winter Camp is also an opportunity for us to do some longer, in-depth teachings to the entire ministry.  Our speaker for the weekend, Geoff Mumley, is from a ministry in Bellingham, WA, that we have had a relationship with for many years now.  Their ministry has actually taught us a lot of what we know about campus ministry and we have been sending our potential leaders up there just about every year for a campus ministry leadership conference called SICM (Student Institute of Campus Ministry).  Geoff will be speaking on "The New Kingdom" which will include what God's kingdom is, what it has looked like in history, what it looks like now, what it produces, and what all of this means for us as disciples.

I would also like to point out a need in regard to Winter Camp.  We, as a staff, always want every student to make it out to camp regardless of money issues so we offer scholarships to those who need them.  Due to the size of our ministry we aren't able to offer as many scholarships as necessary so if you are interested in providing a scholarship for a student, please either let me know or visit our donations page.  Even feel free to do this after camp is over as many students sign up at the last minute and we collect most of the payments afterward anyway.  The cost for camp is $135.

Please pray for our four campuses as the semester starts.  Pray that our students will engage with their classmates purposefully creating relationships with them.  Pray that our staff is spirit-led and focused on God's mission.  Pray that God gives me the strength necessary to lead the UNT ministry.  And lease pray that we will see a lot of transformed hearts this semester.

I have a special prayer request for one student’s mother.  She has several marble-sized tumors in her brain and a few smaller tumors in her lungs.  She has dealt with cancer for around 6 years now and has fought it off twice already.  She originally decided not to do any chemotherapy or radiation, but recently she changed her mind.  The doctors are pretty confident that they will be able to put the cancerous tumors into remission, but that family needs a lot of prayer.  Austin, her son, is one of our small group leaders at UNT.  He had actually written a student testimony last year so I wanted to share that with you in case you would like to connect this request with a face:

(Click on image to enlarge)


Thank you so much for all you do.  You make this ministry possible.  You are advancing the gospel.  May God bless you.

Yours for the Campus,

Matt