EDINBORO (BRN) — In baseball, there is an element of timing that can make or break the game for either team. A second too long in the pitcher’s hand and the velocity and motion of the ball is no longer in favor of the defending team. A second too slow bringing the bat through and you’re out – game over, strikeout, nice try. However, when the grip on the ball is released in a nearly divine fashion and the bat is muscled through at just the precise moment – well, then you get a ball game worth watching.
This concept of flawless timing is no stranger to Robert (Robbie) Mays, newly appointed Next Gen pastor at Edinboro Community Church (ECC). Mays has been an avid baseball player for most of his life, and has recently watched his career path align in an equally divinely timed manner.
Mays came to ECC after attending McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland, for four years, and serving as an intern at First Baptist Church, Columbia, in South Carolina. At McDaniel, he studied computer science and was a pitcher for the college’s baseball team. He was also involved with Intervarsity Campus Ministry, Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), and led a men’s Bible study his senior year.
“Through this organization [FCA] and deepening my faith – leading Bible studies [and] having events – I discovered that I enjoyed doing college ministry, and later felt called to it in June of 2019,” said Mays.
Through a series of interviews and discussions with local pastors and campus ministers, Mays followed this calling to First Baptist Church, Columbia, for the 2019-2020 school year. There he served as an intern, doing college ministry at the University of South Carolina (USC) through the church. Mays accredits his experience in South Carolina as preparation for his position at Edinboro Community Church.
“[There was] a lot of Bible study, personal devotion, getting to know students and having to be extroverted by going and meeting them.”
He continued, “As somebody who doesn’t really like reaching out to people – they’re not going to reach out to you. You have to be the one to reach out to them. Learning how to do that, and do that efficiently and effectively, has definitely helped in moving to ECC.”
Mays was initially connected with Edinboro Community Church and its senior pastor, Brad Wingler, back in November of 2019.
“Being a church plant, we weren’t ready to hire someone full-time, but did desire to have someone come and partner with us at the church and serve in more of a missionary type role,” said Wingler.
“I had talked with Robert Turner and a few of the BRN Next staff across the state, and shared with them [that] we would be interested if they knew of anyone who would be willing to do college ministry in partnership with a local church.”
As Mays’ passion for college ministry aligned with ECC’s vision for reaching college students, he continued to follow his calling to Edinboro in Northwestern Pennsylvania.
“The reason I wanted to be in college ministry with a church is that once college students leave the campus or they graduate, there is nothing specifically tailored for them. So, many of them will end up leaving the church as a whole.”
Mays continued, “So, as a member of the church community for college students, I want them to be involved in the church as much as possible. Where we differ from a campus ministry is that we are bringing students into the church and training them in righteousness through the means that we, as a church, have access to.”
Mays was officially hired in April of 2020 to partner with ECC and do collegiate outreach at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Edinboro is one of 14 schools within Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education and, during a typical school year, has an average enrollment of nearly 5,000 students. Counting Edinboro, BRN Next collegiate ministry is supported on 12 campuses across the region.
“The community of Edinboro is roughly 33% college students,” said Wingler.
“In the first two years of the church we had a good deal of college students come, but have not been able to provide consistent and specific ministry to meet the struggles and concerns their unique life stage brings to the conversation.”
Along with striving to provide that desired consistency and specific ministry to students, Mays is also challenged with doing so amidst a global pandemic – a challenge many campus pastors and colleges never anticipated.
“Having only 175 students on campus has been very difficult to be focused on, or even aware of, outreach. Instead, it has been much easier to focus on discipleship and spiritual maturity with the students who are already around the church.”
Mays said his lifelong goal is “to consistently and continuously build relationships with those students as they mature in Christ. The goal is to not only meet people and lead them to Christ – if they don’t already know Him – but to build relationships and disciple those students through relationships.”
Pastor Wingler echoed the importance of this relationship building amongst college students, by saying, “The consistency provided to these college students and young adults allows them to have a place of their own where they can ask honest questions, develop deep relationships, and truly grow in their relationship with Christ and commitment to Him.”
Wingler also stated that, while ECC has not necessarily seen an increase in the number of college students attending, there has been an increase in “the relational depth of those college students who attend.”
Currently through ECC, college students and young adults can partake in off-campus events, such as game nights, hikes, movie nights, and Sunday brunches.
“This [Sunday brunch] is a great time for students to come, bring friends, eat a meal, and talk about the sermon – what all was said there, what questions do they have, how do we actually apply what was said to our everyday lives, and what does that look like on a college campus.”
Although his responsibilities may have slightly shifted going from the mound to ministry, Mays has applied a similar understanding of building a strong foundation, encouraging momentum and careful timing to the goals he hopes to accomplish while at ECC.
“[The] number one goal is to be good church members. I want those students to understand what it means to be a part of a church family [and] what it means to be involved in a church,” said Mays.
“I fully expect that not every student will remain in Edinboro and, because of that, I want to make sure that they are trained and equipped to be good church members, and for some of them good church leaders, wherever they may go.”