Ben Trueblood serves as director of Student Ministry for Lifeway Christian Resources. He has twenty years of student ministry experience, thirteen of which were spent in the local church as a student pastor. Ben is the author of Student Ministry that Matters and is involved in training, consulting, and speaking to student ministries across the United States. Ben and his wife Kristen have four children: Jonathan, Avery, Josiah, and Adrienne.
Brian Mills serves as the college pastor at Cross Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which reaches over 1,000 college students and young adults each week. Brian also serves as one of the chaplains for the University of Arkansas football team. He has authored three books and travels the country as a communicator of the gospel. He has led some of the largest student ministries in the country, along with serving as a teaching pastor since he began in full-time ministry in 1999. Brian is happily married to Jennifer and they have two awesome children, McKenna and Parker.
Ben and Brian’s latest book is A Different College Experience: Following Christ in College. For many, the college experience is defined by drinking, sex, impulsive decision-making, and a journey of self discovery. It’s packaged as a consequence-free zone to have the “best time of your life.” But the reality is that what happens in college doesn’t stay in college. There are real, lasting consequences to your decisions. You don’t have to have that kind of college experience. Fortunately, just as the gospel redeems all of life, the gospel redeems the college experience. It tells us there is another way. In this book, Ben and Brian provide a biblical and practical guide for how you can have a fun, joy-filled, and spiritually enriching college experience while avoiding the pitfalls that have captured so many before you.
We had a chance to talk with Ben and Brian about their new book and how they hope God uses it in the lives of students and ministry leaders…
What prompted you to write this book? Who is this book for?
As Ben and I were together at a conference we began to discuss my first couple years of college ministry. Ben then asked the question, “After almost 20 years of youth ministry and now a few years of college ministry, if you could go back and be a youth pastor again what would you do differently?” That question sparked a conversation that lead to A Different College Experience. We truly believe that someone’s college years can be a catalyst for spiritual maturity, that students can live for Christ during this time and that living for Christ can lead to an incredible college experience.
A Different College Experience is meant for high school students making the transition to college, their parents and those who are at the beginning of their college journey.
What, specifically, is “different” about the college experience you advocate for in this book?
For many, the college experience is defined by drinking, sex, impulsive decision-making and a journey of self discovery. It’s packaged as a consequence-free zone to have the “best time of your life.” But the reality is that what happens in college doesn’t stay in college. There are real, lasting consequences.
Fortunately, just as the gospel redeems all of life, the gospel redeems the college experience. It tells us there is another way. In this book, we provide a biblical and practical guide for how you can have a fun, joy-filled and spiritually enriching college experience while avoiding the pitfalls that have captured so many before you.
The beginning of this book is essentially a presentation of the gospel. Why is it necessary for students to hear and truly believe the gospel if they’re going to have a different college experience?
It is the gospel that shows us a different way. Once a person, at any age, understands what the gospel is, how it defines who they are, and how it sustains them for the journey of life, they will truly begin to live differently, which leads to true joy in life. We also recognize, even hope, that some who read this book won’t have a relationship with Jesus. We wanted to have an opportunity to share the gospel with them with clarity in the hope that they would place their faith in him. Additionally, we know that many who leave student ministry struggle to articulate how the gospel truly impacts their lives. This is one of the areas that Brian and I originally talked about from that “what would you do differently” question mentioned earlier. We felt it was absolutely necessary to take the time to help someone build a foundation on the gospel and then build lifestyle application upon that foundation.
Both of you have a wealth of experience ministering to young people. How have you seen a typical college experience bring destruction into individuals’ lives?
I think in two ways. One would be the way that most people think about: the partying, sex and unhealthy relationships that come from living in a supposed consequence-free season of life meant for experimentation. The baggage from this kind of college experience is carried into adulthood and is affecting marriages, education, career opportunities and personal development.
The second is with spiritual stagnation. There will be some students who don’t fall deeply into the things mentioned above, but who live these years without God on their minds at all. We know that 66% of teenagers active in the church during high school will no longer be active in the church during their college years. This can have a destructive impact because it isn’t possible to just hit “pause” on the Christian life. Spiritual muscles atrophy, wisdom gained from Scripture at an early age will begin to erode away and opportunities to live a life of spiritual impact as Matthew 5 describes (salt and light) are lost. This begins to build the pattern of self-centeredness that leads further into life and begins to impact all areas of life.
What do you hope readers glean from this book? What would you hope they do after they finish it?
We hope they grasp a real sense of the gospel, their identity and how God sees them leading to a life of transformation through Christ. We truly believe that when a person embraces these truths it leads to what we hope they do: live a different college experience maturing in Christ through these years and setting a solid foundation for adulthood.
At a very practical level, we would desire for them at the end of each chapter to pause and reflect on what they have read. Stop and journal how they can do life differently. We all have areas in which we can change, but we will never recognize those areas if we don’t pause and reflect on our life. One of the greatest ways to learn does not come from experiencing; it comes by reflecting on your experiences.