Flying in a Tight Formation
About the Guest
Ben Stuart, the director of Breakaway Ministries who has lead thousands of Texas A&M students through weekly Bible study, talks with Dennis Rainey about the spiritual hunger on today's college campus.
Ben StuartBen Stuart is the pastor of Passion City Church, Washington D.C. Prior to joining Passion City Church, Ben served for eleven years as the executive director of Breakaway Ministries, a weekly Bible study attended by thousands of college students on the campus of Texas A&M. Ben earned a master’s degree in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Ben and his wife, Donna, live to inspire and equip people to walk with God for a lifetime. They live in the District with their three k...more
Ben Stuart talks with Dennis Rainey about the spiritual hunger on today’s college campus.
Flying in a Tight Formation
Ben: That is one of the premiere issues for college students today is pornography. It's attracting to young single men and women, to some degree, and it is everywhere all the time. It's very difficult to get away from, and the ones that I've seen find victory do it because they get a Christian community as fast as they can – some people they can get honest with.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, August 16th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. There is a lot of life that goes on outside of the classroom on college campuses. We'll talk today about how parents can prepare teenagers to face the challenges and temptations that will come.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. I think we've made the decision to just home-college the rest of our kids, you know what I mean?
Dennis: Home college?
Bob: Yeah, you know, you've got homeschooling.
Bob: Well, I'm just thinking instead of sending them off to college, we'll home college them …
Dennis: And then what are you going to do with them when they graduate from college? Are you going to home home them?
Bob: That's a fair question. Here's the thing, though.
Dennis: You can't always hedge against all the bets, Bob. Parents want to.
Bob: You and I have talked about the book, "I Am Charlotte Simmons," by Tom Wolfe.
Bob: It's now paperback, $15, and I can't bring myself to spend $15 to buy a paperback book, so – and I'm not sure I need to read it, anyway, but it's apparently a book about life on the college campus, and it's not a pretty picture.
Dennis: It really isn't.
Bob: It is a lot of drinking and a lot of sexual behavior, and a lot of stuff that you just don't want to send your sweet, high school senior son or daughter off into.
Dennis: Well, we're going to have someone help us navigate those challenging collegiate days – a gentleman who is becoming somewhat of an expert on the college campus. Would you say that, Ben?
Ben: I don't know if I'd say it just yet. I am learning quite a bit. I will say I'm in the learning experience.
Dennis: Ben Stuart is the director of Breakaway Ministries at the – well, should I refer to it, Bob, as Texas A&M University or the University at Texas A&M?
Bob: Well, I think those who attend call it the University of Texas. They know there's another one that goes by that name in Austin.
Dennis: This is going to bring letters.
Bob: But A&M is THE university now.
Dennis: And your daughter went there.
Bob: She is a graduate of Texas A&M.
Dennis: We're going to reveal our bias.
Bob: I just heard listeners whooping all over the country.
Ben: Oh, yeah.
Dennis: Yeah, there you go. Well, Ben is the director of Breakaway Ministries. He and his wife, Donna, live there in College Station and give leadership to a little Bible study that you hold there – is it Reed Auditorium or Reed – is it – Arena?
Ben: Reed Arena, that's the name of it.
Dennis: How many collegians come out to your Bible study there at Reed Arena?
Ben: Well, it varies. When the semester begins in the fall, there will be about 5,000. And then it shakes down to about 3,500 to carry through.
Bob: That's a pretty big Bible study. I mean, you know what I'm saying? There are churches that are going, "That's your Bible study?"
Ben: Right. It confused me when I first went as a student. People kept inviting me to this Bible study. I was thinking 10 of us on couches, and when I was a student, it was around 1,000, and I was, like …
Bob: You weren't ready for that?
Ben: You and I define Bible study differently apparently.
Dennis: Is it electric in there? I mean, truthfully, to get 5,000 students out to study the Bible on a college campus. There has to be a great anticipation every Tuesday night when you roll this thing out.
Ben: It's phenomenal, particularly at the beginning of the semester, because so many freshmen come, and they're seeing for the first time you can be a Christian at college. You see all their eyes just bugging out, looking around this basketball stadium, and they're freaking out, and the energy is always high. It's phenomenal.
Dennis: Now, help us out here. Take us into the college culture and help us to kind of see – help the parents to realize those who are raising young men and women in junior high and high school who are going to soon release their arrows, to send them off to the university. Help them understand what they need to anticipate. What's it look like?
Ben: Right, well, I would say the good news is there's always a remnant. I mean, any campus you go to, there's a group of people who God has brought to Himself, they love Him, and typically they find each other and can move together and get into community and every campus you go to, they may not have thousands grouping together like we have at A&M, but there's always some group that is not just going through the motions religiously. They love the Lord, and they're gathering around to encourage one another in that.
I've found the students that are most successful in college are the ones who get into that community quickly. The ones who visit a church here and there, kind of sit in the back, or sit in there and don't connect into the community, don't move through that awkwardness of trying to meet some new people, they don't make it.
And so I've found that the greatest advice parents can give students is "Get plugged in. Get into community."
Bob: Are you talking about a local church, a campus ministry, either, both? In fact, that's one of the issues for kids on the college campus. Some of them just make the campus ministry. They make Breakaway their church.
Bob: Is that okay during the college years – to make your Tuesday night Bible study what you do as church? That's your community, that's where you go?
Ben: We strongly encourage them not to. And we do that a number of ways. I'll say it from up front, "This is not your church. We want you to be involved in church." The second Breakaway of the year, every college minister in town comes to Breakaway, and they set up a booth with their information, and we try to plug students into them, and then we have a place in Breakaway every week where students can go and just talk to students about churches. We have a table set up there, information there, and they can learn about the groups they can get involved in.
But I've found that that's – when I talk to students who come to me, and they say, "Man, I want to walk with Christ. My roommate's not a Christian. I've sort of fallen into a community that's not – I had a kid come up last week, Tuesday, and just say, "Man, I know I should be living different. The community I made, man, we're at bars every night of the week." He's, like, "I'm out of control, what do I do?"
I said, "Are you going to church." He said, "No." I said, "Do you know of any campus ministry?" He was, like, "Well, I've heard of Campus Crusade." And I said, "Go to Crusade and sign up for a small group. Just do it. Pull the trigger on it. You're not going to know a soul, that's fine. Nine out of 10 guys in the group might be weirdos, but one of them could be a buddy for life." That's what happened to me.
Dennis: That's right.
Ben: And then those guys start shaping me into a man – getting me into a church and getting me involved and …
Dennis: Paint the picture for what it looks like, though, for a young college freshman, a young man entering the campus. He goes to live in a dorm, and he's got a buddy who may not have and is likely not going to have a Christian worldview.
In fact, I have to tell a story here – a friend of mine's son went to the university, and his bed actually faced the computer screen of his roommate, and the computer screensaver that the guy had was pornography. I mean, the young man he was living with was a porn addict. I mean, he was always on it, always looking at it, and this is his roommate, all right?
What's a young man supposed to do in that situation?
Bob: Home college, that's my suggestion here. Just bring the young man home – I'm kidding.
Dennis: No, but …
Bob: But you feel like that, at that time, as a parent, don't you?
Dennis: You really do.
Ben: Well, you know, in some situations that extreme, the dorm might have a setup where you can go and talk to someone, file a grievance, or sometimes they'll just bounce you to a different roommate, if you and yours just can't handle it. And so I would say if it's a weaker Christian situation, where you're, like, "Man, this guy's got it, and I'm going to be looking at it," then get out of there.
Bob: But if you're a guy going to college, you are going to run into the prevalence of – whether it's in your dorm room or in the next-door dorm room – I mean, it's pretty hard to keep your eyes bounced all the time on the college campus.
Ben: Yes, and it is – that is one of the premier issues for college students today is pornography. It's just an enormous business, it's attracting to young single men and women, to some degree, and it is pervasive.
Bob: And the college is providing the high-speed Internet access, so it's free of charge, it's right there, it's unfiltered, have at it, right?
Ben: Yes, and it's wireless and so everywhere, all the time, it's very difficult to get away from. And the ones that I've seen find victory do it because they get a Christian community as fast as they can – some people they can get honest with and just say, "I'm struggling with it in this place. Somebody come around me and talk with me about this."
Dennis: At your Bible study?
Ben: We don't do that.
Dennis: Have you talked about this issue in your Bible study at Breakaway?
Ben: It's coming, it's coming. Because I'm mentioning it in my applicational part of my sermons, probably every other talk. But I'm gearing up to give a full talk on pornography, because I just assume it. When I start meeting with guys to do follow-up, we'll talk about who is Jesus, what is Christianity, let's talk about your porn addiction. And I've never had a guy go, "Man, I just don't know what you're talking about."
Every single guy I've met with says …
Dennis: Isn't that sad?
Ben: It gets me here. Oh, it's incredibly sad, and it's pervasive. I really – I don't know that I've met a young man who hasn't had contact with it that's just lodged shame into his heart and dealt with him, but the guys I know – we had students – I'll give you an example. A guy I would meet with weekly at a coffee shop, I was talking to him about the glory of God and what it means to live for Him, and he just – I kept sensing this resistance, and he said, "You know, man, I'm hooked on porn." And I said, "Where does it get you?" And he said, "My computer, my bedroom at night, there's no one else there." I said, "Can you get your computer out of your room?" He said, "No, my parents bought it for me. They'll ask me about it, and I don't want to have that conversation with Mom." It's like, 'It's a porn thing, Mom, no big deal." He was, like, "I'm just not ready to do that."
And I was, like, "Man, I don't know what to tell you. We've got to do something." So he's trying to put passwords on there, but he can just take them off. So finally one day he just walked into my office with his Internet cable, and just handed it to me and said, "I'm done with this." And I don't want this to own me.
But what made him successful is the very next day his best friend walked into my office, held out an Internet cable and said, "I heard you're collecting these." He put it on the table and walked off.
Bob: These are guys who take seriously if your right eye offends you, take your Internet cable and hand it over.
Ben: Yeah, take it out.
Bob: Let me ask you a different question, and I know we're focusing kind of on guys, and I'm sure before the week's done, we're going to talk about the challenges that young ladies face on the college campus. But guys who may say, "Okay, I'm going to deal with this, I'm going to be accountable, I'm going to hold to this standard." The thing they're facing today that I didn't face when I was in college, is girls who are aggressive and who are open – not only open but inviting casual sexual relationships with boys.
Home college, you hear what I'm saying here? This theme keeps resonating with me.
Dennis: Do you see any of that, Ben, at A&M?
Ben: You do. I mean, it is a massive cultural push. You see, I was looking at iTunes the other day – the top 10 downloaded songs, and at least five of them were very sexually intense songs sung by girls that described sexual activity in detail, and you're, like, "Wow, that's different than what I" – we had that kind of stuff in the '80s and '90s but not at this level and, yeah, it's getting pushed into the culture in terms of thinking this is normal and expected.
Bob: So here is my good-lookin' college freshman son, new on campus, being friendly, and I'm wondering, "What's he going to do when a young lady comes up and say, 'Hey, what are you doing tonight?'" and he's thinking, "Well, I'm not doing anything, you know, want to go to Taco Bell", you know, and it's not Taco Bell she's interested in.
Ben: Yes. You know, I think, more than ever – well, I don't know whether I should say more than ever, because there's nothing new under the sun, but students today have a wonderful model in their New Testament of what it means to be a Christian. I mean, you can look at Paul and say, okay, he was traveling to Corinth. I mean, what a train wreck of a city in terms of sexual promiscuity and some of the things they were into. Even the things he's telling them they need to stay away from, you're, like, "Oh, my gosh, these people are sleeping with family members, and this place is broken."
And in walks Paul but never alone. There's always going to be Timothy right there. There's always going to be Luke or Mark or Barnabas or Silas. "Man, I'm moving with a crew into this place."
And so I tell students all the time, when they come and talk to me, I'll say, "Do you have a church you're plugging into?" And that's the first question I ask them. Then I say, "Who's your community, who is your crew?" And they'll tell me, and they'll say, "Man, I've got these buddies of mine, and they're into this and that," and I say, "Man, you need to have friends who are just as lost as gooses" – or geese – "you need friends that are just completely lost, and you're influencing them for the Kingdom, but they can't be your inner core, you know." I'll say, "Get you a core" – and I tell them "That knows you in and out but isn't impressed with you. Get that guy in your world."
Dennis: Fly in a tight formation with a few who are kindred spirit with you about pursuing God and making a difference for Jesus Christ.
Dennis: I'm thinking of a young man at the University of Arkansas who entered the campus much like you described – kind of looking around, kind of his eyes open, thinking about his options and, for a period of time was on the fence.
And a young lady, interestingly enough, kind of got in his face, called him off the fence, and today, a year later, this young man is making an impact for Christ. He is leading his buddies to Christ, but he has got some soul partners – that few that he is flying in tight formation with and, you know what? I had them when I was in college. There was, actually, Barbara, who became my wife, and another guy were my best friends, and you know what? We stormed the campus together.
But there was great strength in that accountability between the three of us as we sought to make a difference for Christ.
Ben: You know, I'll tell you, if I can, two fun stories like that. We had, in one small group situation, I remember two guys in a group with me came up individually and told me, "Hey, we struggle with depression." And I asked both of them, "Have you ever told anybody about this?" They said, "No," they're just not in a place where they wanted to share it, they thought their buddies wouldn't understand, they'd make fun of them.
And I said, "Man, I just don't think you should wrestle with something that difficult in the dark just alone." And for some of them it was particularly bad. These two guys, it would be debilitating at times.
And finally one day, we were in a small group situation, sitting around in a room just talking, and one of them just finally leaned forward and looked around at eight or 10 guys' faces and said, "I wrestle with depression. Sometimes I can't get out of bed, and I just felt like I needed to say that."
And then the next guy leans forward and says, "I do, too," and they kind of made eye contact, and when the meeting ended, they prayed together, they ended up becoming roommates together in college, and I loved seeing one of them pull up at church, because he was kind of a quiet guy, inward guy, deep guy, but when he turned that light inward, he could really get himself depressed, but, man, when he had that healthy network and those guys who knew him and care for him, knew his struggles but were walking with it through him, he'd call them when he was struggling.
I watched him over the next couple of months – he'd pull up at church, and 10 kids would come falling out of his car because he was in a healthy place spiritually and a place where he could minister from. He had planted his feet in a position of strength and now he was becoming a minister on campus.
We had another guy, a student who is an evangelist at heart, joined several Christian organizations at A&M, and was just realizing, "I don't know any non-Christians and that was bothering him." So he decided, "I need to join a fraternity. I'm going to go for it." But he didn't do it alone. He grabbed four guys, they went through it together, they didn't preach, really, during rush. They just kind of went through, went through their pledgeship. When they got through their pledgeship, these tight group of guys, people admired what they had, and they stepped forward to their now fraternity brothers and said, "Hey, we're going to start not one Bible study, we're going to start four. We're each going to start one, and we'd love you guys to come out."
Over that semester, they saw over 20 of their fraternity brothers come to Christ, and they're having this enormous influence. But the reason they are, like you said, "storming the castle" in college, and they're doing it as a crew.
Dennis: And to parents right now who are listening who want to home college their kids like Bob's been laughing about.
Bob: I can put together a diploma in Microsoft Publisher that will look just as good as the one they'll get from their campus.
Dennis: With a whole lot less danger.
Bob: And it would cost a lot less money, too. I can send it to you for $14.95, that's all the address you need – Bob Lepine, send your check, $14.95, I'll send the diploma.
Dennis: I want to make two points coming out of this. Number one, don't be fooled as a parent to think, "Okay, we're not going to send them to the secular campus, we're going to send them to Christian colleges and universities," and, Ben, you're shaking your head. You know exactly where I'm going, don't you?
Ben: Yes, I do.
Dennis: It's no different, is it?
Ben: No, it is not.
Bob: Now, wait, it's no different?
Ben: I can't speak for every Christian college in the country or anything like that, but I know the experience I've seen of students who go to Christian colleges in the area. Often, what happens in Christian colleges that I've seen in the area, they go to classes where a professor will particularly point out their Christian faith and shoot holes in it – almost more directly than in the secular experience.
I know a number of students who have gone to Christian schools because their parents thought this will be a safe place, and have become jaded and disillusioned. Now, not every Christian college is that way, but I certainly wouldn't look and go, "Well, if the name 'Christian' is in the title, then we're safe." It's still going to come down to, "Is my child in love with the Lord? Is he one of God's kids?" Because God's going to work with him, and do they have a good community of friends?
Dennis: And I'm glad that's where you went, because the point is not to put Christian colleges down, because they're trying to do a good job of providing a Christian atmosphere, to teach about Christ in a Christian worldview. The point is, you want your child, when they graduate, whether they go to the secular university, the Christian university, or where they go to work or to service, you want them to come out at the end of that period of time, that season of their life, with an infectious love for Christ. And that, to me, is the most important point that parents need to be focused on, because they're never going to remove all the dangers.
We're going to always be parents, our hearts are always going to be for protecting our character but, you know what? As they grow up, they have to make their own choices, they have to be able to press into the culture, they have to be able to take the message of Jesus Christ and the Scripture that they understand and know and apply it to the choices they make.
Bob: And I think we've got to make sure, as parents, that we have done what we can do to help equip them to make those choices, to make sure that we have pointed them in the right direction, but we can't make the choices for them, and I think that's your point.
You know, I'm thinking about books that I've had my children read as they've been in their teen years. I've actually paid them to read some of these books because I want to make sure that they're thinking rightly about things like relationships and about issues like pornography and what they're going to be facing when they are making their own decisions on the college campus.
And, Ben, on our website at FamilyLife.com, we've collected a group of what we refer to as "purity resources" for teenagers and young adults. Books like Josh Harris's book, "Sex is not the Issue, Lust Is," or Fred Stoker's book, "Every Man's Battle," that helps guys understand the issue of pornography and how you get a game plan together so that it doesn't become snare for you.
I want to encourage our listeners, go to our website, FamilyLife.com. When you get to the home page, there's a red button on the home page that says "Go." It's kind of in the center of the screen. If you click that button, it will take you to the area of the site where you can find out more about a variety of resources that we have available to help you, as parents, equip your sons and daughters for the choices they will have to make as they head off to college.
Again, the website is FamilyLife.com, click the red "Go" button in the middle of the screen, or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329 – 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can let you know about these resources that are available, and let you know how you can have them sent to you.
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You can make your donation online at FamilyLife.com, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and in either place you'll be able to issue a challenge as well, and let me just say in advance, we appreciate hearing from you, and we appreciate your financial support.
Well, tomorrow we're going to continue to talk about life on the college campus with Ben Stuart. We're going to talk particularly about issues facing young women as they head off to college. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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