The View from 40 years in campus ministry, Part 3 of 5: The Heart of Road Work

Rick Mattson Apologetics, Leadership 10 Comments

The prior post on “The Heart of Your Calling” is here.

I’ve spent the last eleven years (of 40) as an itinerate evangelist/apologist (and evangelism trainer) to campuses around the country. Here are two observations from my time on the road that constitute the “heart” of road work.

Image by jodeng from Pixabay

1. Everything is not as it appears

I show up to one of my stops at XYZ Campus, usually in the Midwest or Southwest, though I get around to other places . . . and I hang out with local staff and volunteers on the ground.

They do most of the heavy lifting in this ministry. I’m the one who jets around the country (Oh — the glamour! SW Airlines, 38th row, middle seat. Corner table at Arby’s. Sleeping in staff/faculty basements) and lands on their doorstep, meets with their student leaders, speaks at their meetings.

What’s often different from appearances is the relative well-being of local staff. They thrive in so many ways, yet some are in pain, some doubt their calling, many are under-funded. Sometimes I end up with knowledge about them I cannot share.

Same goes with student leaders. It’s amazing what students will tell a stranger three times their age.

All this to say that I have a big heart for local staff, volunteers, and student leaders on their campuses. They do incredible work. Being in their lives is, surely, at the very heart of road work.

2. The Chump emerges

You’re probably aware that in our “Stump the Chump” sessions on college campuses, I serve as the Chump. Not exactly a term of endearment (chump: a person easily deceived), but of course it’s tongue-in-cheek and my brand of humor(?).

Before I go on stage I ask the Lord for wisdom. My worst fears are forgetting my lines, messing up the arguments, looking foolish in front of a dozen or a hundred students. Sometimes there are vocal detractors. At a campus in Wisconsin a large male in the back of the room began dominating the event, pressing me with multiple questions and objections. But usually the crowds are friendly, and hopefully my respectful manner elicits the same from them.

Paramount to Stump the Chump is answering students’ questions in summary fashion. That is, you can’t go on and on into a lot of detail. I aim to model for Christian students how to handle objections from their friends (say, about Old Testament violence, or gender and sexuality, or, “why there are so many denominations,” or “why your interpretation of the Bible is the right one,” etc.) in a concise way that invites further discussion. AND: one’s manner is just as important, if not more so, than the content of the answers.

When supporters are upholding me in prayer and the Spirit is thick in the room . . . when I am in my element as Chump and themes are coming together, somehow everything gets lifted to a higher plane — and, there we are, suspended between heaven and earth. Sometimes, between heaven and hell. I can’t explain these moments except to say with the apostle Paul, we preach Christ and him crucified, not with eloquent words or human wisdom but with the power of the Spirit.

For me, that is at the very heart of road work. And you can sign me up for another tour of duty when covid passes by!

Next post: 40 years in campus ministry Part 4: The Heart of Leadership and Wise Counsel

Comments 10

  1. Wonderful. I read the first three all at once, and saw Rick Mattson’s ministry emerge and grow and flourish, meeting needs within campuses around the country, providing opportunity for personal growth and enjoyment, and giving (I’m assuming) a deep sense of satisfaction time after time. Frustration too, I’m sure, but so many lives have been touched and changed through your ministry. Carry on!
    P.S. Just think of middle row as the chance to talk to two, not just one person!

  2. What an amazing, challenging, strenuous job God has chosen you to do, Rick!
    One you’re tailor-made by Him to carry out.

    You’re the nicest, smartest chump I know.

    Love and Prayers


    1. Post
  3. Rick, It has to be humbling and gratifying to look back over 40 years of ministry and remember how God has been faithful to lead you. Thank you for the hard work! God’s blessings to you and Sharon.

    1. Thanks, Pam. I appreciate the good word! Yes, looking back, God has been faithful. I didn’t always see it in the moment but my spiritual eyesight seems to get better with time :))

  4. I went to a funeral of a Godly man today that died at 65, but he and his family had touched so many lives. There were probably at least 200 people at the funeral and that was with a viewing the day before. It reminded me so much of the impact we can have on others when we put ourselves out there. And that is what you are doing. So glad to be a part of your ministry.
    Prayers for you and your family.

    1. Thanks, Shirley. I remember you volunteering with InterVarsity many years ago! And yes, let us invest in the lives of others . . . always.

  5. I have really enjoyed reading your series entitled, “The Views from 40 Years of Campus Ministry.”
    My prayer for you is that you continue to,
    “Put your abilities to work, throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone may notice your improvement and progress. Keep close watch on all you do and think. Stay true to what is right and God will (continue to) bless you and use you to help others.”
    1Tim 4:15-16 LB

    1. Ahh, David, thanks for those good words. And that is a wonderful passage from 1 Timothy. I wish I had all this experience under my belt but was still a young man like Timothy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.