HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (BRN) — “Change the university, you change the world.”
A profound statement originally written by Lebanese diplomat Charles Malik in 1982, but later became the motto and mindset for BRN Next Collegiate Ministry Director Robert Turner.
Turner first joined the Baptist Resource Network in 1992, but got his start in collegiate ministry much earlier in life.
“I was in the counselor’s office. I’m a junior in high school, and I wanted to meet with her… I was thinking about college. She said, ‘Okay, while you’re waiting, here’s a career book, just look through this and see what gets your interest.’”
Turner continued: “I remember thumbing through it and architecture was first. I thought, ‘I’ll turn the page back’ [but] I didn’t turn the page back. I kept going. I got down to ministry, or clergy, and I turned the page back.”
From there, Turner pursued this interest in ministry. The summer after high school he participated in a summer missions program in New Mexico and enrolled in Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas.
During his sophomore year of college, Turner signed up for a semester mission with the then-called Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board).
He ended up going to Ohio in the winter of 1977 to start a Baptist campus ministry at Xavier University.
“That was really different,” said Turner. “I was there for a semester, was planning on coming back, but my supervisor asked me if I could stay for the summer. I knew, after some prayer, that that’s what I needed to do.”
It was during that time that Turner really felt the Lord call him to collegiate ministry.
“I felt like God [was] saying, ‘This is what you’re to do…that’s what I want you to do,” he shared.
Over the years, Turner’s passion for equipping campus ministers and guiding young adults in their walk with Christ grew.
“This chapter in the life of a young person is so important, and I think that’s why I’m so passionate for collegiate ministry. I mean, it’s cool hearing all these young people, but you have the ability to leverage influence in the life of a young person at a crucial time in their life,” said Turner.
“Being present in the university context with students is just amazing for shaping the future… the future leaders are all there.”
He also shared how God used his personal experience with college ministry, during his university days, to influence this passion.
“I think [about] how something impacts our life when we’re young. [It] influences so much of what we want to be. So, I would say that there’s no doubt that God really used collegiate ministry when I was a student myself to shape my life. Those years are huge in the development of a young person.”
Along the lines of development, Turner has also witnessed how the approaches and tactics towards college ministry have evolved over the years.
“So, I think for collegiate ministry, when I started out, we definitely were more of a, ‘You’re the director of a program of student ministry,’ and I’m not saying this was not good. I’m a product of that era and there were good things that happened.”
He added: “But I think, if you know what I’m saying when I say the, ‘Missional Movement,’ there’s a lot of talk about what it means to be a missionary and to be on mission with God.”
Turner went on to explain how this missional mindset has shifted the perspective of many university ministers.
“So, I think the biggest change I’ve seen in collegiate ministry, over my lifetime, is that it used to be that a campus minster saw him or herself as, ‘My job is to start this group on campus, so what is it going to take to do that?’ That’s important, but I think now the question is different, the question is, ‘What’s it going to take to reach this campus for Christ?”
Concluding this thought, Turner explained, “I think campus ministers now think more as missionaries, they approach their campus more as a missionary than they do as a program leader.”
Throughout his years at the BRN, Turner has also been instrumental in coordinating mission efforts, transitioning the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey into the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, and serving as a collegiate ministry consultant for Lifeway.
“I’ve been here for three decades, and mostly – mostly – been able to kind of be not micromanaged, like people trusted me to do these crazy things that we’ve done over the years – we’ve done a lot of out-of-the-box stuff. I need to work with that kind of freedom, and I’ve been given a lot of freedom over the time I’ve been here… Praise the Lord.”
Now, after nearly 30 years of collegiate ministry with the BRN, Turner is preparing to step down and enter retirement, beginning June 30, 2021.
“Serving on the staff of the BRN here…I can’t tell you how fantastic the support has been over the decades. Working with our team of campus ministers here is the highlight. We’re like family,” he said.
“God’s given me the privilege of working with some of the best – best! – people in the Kingdom. I mean, some of the greatest people work in this ministry, but here in Penn/South Jersey, the people who have come through on our team, are just fantastic…just wonderful people I’ve been privileged to know.”
Stanley Williams, long-time collegiate minister serving the Philadelphia area, will serve as BRN Next’s Director, effective July 1.
Listen to the podcast interview:
The “50 Stories of Transformation” series, told in honor of the Baptist Resource Network’s 50th anniversary, highlights the many ways God has moved throughout Pennsylvania, South Jersey and beyond. Your generous support of the Cooperative Program makes this ministry possible and fuels evangelism and outreach in our local churches and all over the world! Thank you!