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Q&A with Brady Bobbink

January 8, 2018
“Brady Bobbink has probably discipled more university students than anyone in history. Understanding that the secular university is the most strategic mission field in the world, Brady has resisted the temptation to “move on to bigger things,” staying at Western Washington University, transforming the university, the marketplace and the world. His impact on university ministry worldwide is veritable and deeply appreciated.” –E. Scott Martin

How long have you been at Western Washington University?

I came as a student in the fall of 1969 as a non-believer. I came to faith in fall of 1970 through a fellow student.

A group of us, all students and young believers, started the college ministry in the spring of 1972. I graduated at the end of fall quarter in 1973 with a BA in Secondary Ed. and returned in the end of winter quarter of 1974 as a campus minister.

I’m in my 44th year in a paid role, and 46 years if you take in the student years. I’ve been with the ministry my entire adult life.

What prompted you to become a missionary to that campus?

After I graduated from WWU with my Secondary Education degree, I had a very unexpected encounter with the Lord.

I worked late nights in my janitor business. Over three nights as I was driving alone, the Lord was very present to me. The third night, this mental picture came to me of Western all lit up on the hill it sits on overlooking Bellingham.

Then Jesus’ words about “a city on a hill could not be hidden” entered my mind and left me with the question to the Lord, “Do you want me to go back to Western?” It was an idea I had never thought of doing.

I wasn’t raised with much church background. I didn’t even know about seminary. I was just a Jesus person. I was planning on teaching. I was going to bring people to faith through teaching.

The Lord said yes to my question. I had a deep sense of peace at that moment. But how does one go back? I told the Lord, “If You open the door, I will go back.”

The following Sunday I was invited to visit a church I had never attended. Following the service, the pastor (Richard Ellison), whom up to that time I had not met, asked me out for a burger. He was aware of the campus work and my involvement.

Pastor Ellison shared with me that the Lord had put me on his heart a couple of weeks earlier, and he had gone to his board and received permission to approach me to see if I was interested in returning to campus and if so the church (Hillcrest Chapel—a church of about twenty members at that time) would be willing to help make my going back possible.

So I became the Wednesday night service teacher, and an offering was taken to help me be a campus missionary. I went back that spring term.

What are some of the keys to your longevity?

  1. Continuing to breathe and staying put in the same place will do it.
  2. Don’t move because of positive or negative traumatic events. Move because you are fully convinced you are called by the Lord to move. I heard him call me to WWU, and I have continued in that call. There have been times of review and consideration of other invitations, but only in the attempt to discern if I am to move. So far no new orders have come.
  3. Reject false assumptions. One of my favorites was the assumption some had that because I was successful as a campus pastor I should cash in that reputation and get a job as a lead pastor of a local church. Assumption: real pastors lead local churches. Another is that older folks can’t do campus ministry. It may be true that we will need younger men and women partnering with us, but my campus has a significant number of professors who are in their sixties or beyond. Oftentimes they are the folks with the greatest impact in their departments.
  4. Keep the Sabbath. The central concern is not which day of the week I take as a day of rest. But I do believe that not having a minimum of 24 uninterrupted hours each week works against our spiritual, mental, and physical health over the long run.
  5. Surround yourself with people of prayer, insight, truth telling and shared vision.
  6. Keep your inquisitive learning spirit alive. Be a perpetual reader of thoughtful and broad topics related to your faith, as well as to the culture and world you find yourself seeking to make a difference in.
  7. Campus ministry often feels fast and furious. The feeling of redundancy can press folks to look for something that has a longer lifespan than 30 intense weeks and perpetual transition of a significant number of your community each year. I have found it essential to remind myself that while the questions oftentimes are the same from each entering group of new students, and I have heard my answers to them many times before, this new young student in front of me may have never heard a helpful answer before and certainly not in the environment of the secular university. This awareness on my part keeps my mind and heart fresh and thankful for the opportunity to be strategically placed to impact another life that finds him/herself searching for answers to the great questions of life. I may help them keep their untested faith in the test of the university, or I may sow a seed that will germinate and grow into a later commitment that will impact the person’s earthly legacy and their ultimate destiny.

How many students would you estimate have passed through the Chi Alpha ministry since you have been there?

What a difficult and bothersome question. Why do we count? I think the main reason we count is because it’s how we can measure influence and report success.

Counting can validate us to those we report to or who support us, but it also tempts us to see our value and impact simply in terms of numbers. This can corrupt both how we do ministry and why we stick with it or move on.

My guesstimate is upwards of seven thousand individual students have passed through the ministry, whether we had them for a year or five years.

Historically our small mentoring (discipleship) groups have had more participants than our large group, so maybe more than that. But if I take all those who have been influenced by our students and staff, then I have no idea. Only the Lord knows. A drop in the large bucket of humanity, but a rather happy influential drop.

How many students would you estimate have been discipled through the ministry at WWU?

I think of discipleship as entailing everything from the first words we say to a nonbeliever all the way through to where a person is able to grow toward maturity and intentionally helping mature others. As one friend put it, disciples who make disciples who make disciples.

Evangelism is a form of disciple-making. I think that number might be a large number if we talk about who comes to our main group; a larger number if just small groups. It’s an even larger number if those who attend the small groups talk to people in their classrooms.

I think of our whole community as a “making disciples community,” that wherever we go, whatever we’re doing, we are about making disciples.

We probably have had a couple thousand small group leaders we have discipled intentionally.

The people who have left here who have made disciples and those disciples have gone and made disciples. We are four or five generations deep. We have children of CCFers come here and next year one of my grandkids may be here.

The philosophy of ministry is more important than guessing our impact. I can never know my lasting impact, I just need to be faithful to His commission in my life.

How many Chi Alpha missionaries would you estimate have come from the ministry at WWU?

I know that 139 have come out of the internship (the great majority having done their undergrad at WWU) who served in campus ministry at least three to five years stateside, or in my case a whole lifetime.

We have at least eight who were first generation leaders who didn’t go through the internship and preceded our joining Chi Alpha.

Overseas missionaries focused on university students would probably add another ten to fifteen who served multiple years. Some of them are now long term missionaries to the universities of the world.

How many other missionaries?

We think every student is a missionary, but then we contradict ourselves because sometimes we talk about people who do it as a paid role in the world, as a career, for lack of a better word.

How many are career missionaries? Then we’re probably talking about forty if you count the Chi Alpha folks mentioned above. But if you’re talking about people who are pastors, church planters, or teaching English out of culture, then the number would be significantly higher.

But if you talk about people engaged in the marketplace, the public schools, and government who are living out their lives as Jesus-followers and sharing their faith intentionally—then it’s thousands. It’s all about how you define a missionary.

If you could lend any wisdom or advice to those in campus ministry today, what would it be?

Avoid religious fads. Religious fads are the latest cool thing.

Do the good and hard work of being a plodding faithful mentor. Major on the lasting transferable qualities of being a Jesus-follower. We are just a moment in people’s lives, but what we do has to clearly last.

What are the foundational and fundamental things students need to be a disciple and make disciples?

My job is to help them study the Bible, my job is to help them learn how to pray and communicate. My job is to equip them to be a disciple-maker for the rest of their lives.

What do I think are the truly important things to do? Figure those out, and then do those with most of my time.

Empower others.

Over the years, I have given away many of my foundational and favorite roles so other people can grow in them and a new generation can step up and grow up in the Lord.

Keep your inquisitiveness alive.

Read! Read! Read! Read broadly from the Scripture, commentaries, histories, spiritual life, and books that press out your leadership abilities. Leaders are readers.

Learn to discern and laugh at absurd ideas.

I hear people say, “I just need to do what gives me life,” so they are looking for a job that gives them life. But I don’t obtain my life from my work; I obtain my life from Christ. I think we’ve gotten that confused, and it’s absurd.