COLUMBIA – Missouri Baptist Convention campus missionary Scott Westfall has begun this fall to replant a collegiate ministry at the University of Missouri here.
Through the years, the Missouri Baptist Convention has had a couple different ministries at the University of Missouri (Mizzou). The BSU was the official MBC ministry there until about 15 years ago. At that time, MBC reorganized its college ministry structure, and the BSU chose to become a separate entity.
Attempts have been made to bring the BSU back into partnership with MBCollegiate, but this does not appear feasible in the future for a variety of reasons. Missio Dei then became the MBCollegiate ministry but has not been functioning for a couple of years. Given that Mizzou is the campus with the highest student population in the state, it has been a high priority for MBCollegiate to replant a ministry there.
Called to campus ministry
Since the age of 14, Westfall has had a ministry calling on his life. The grandson of two pastors, he assumed the call to ministry meant he would have to be a pastor. But “it scared me to death,” he says. “I ran from my call to ministry until I was 18.”
When deciding where to play college football, he chose Southern Baptist University, thinking “I guess I better get a pastoral ministry degree,” he says. Neither youth ministry nor college ministry was on his radar. But God worked as God does. “God opened every door for me to minister to youth,” says Westfall. “I absolutely loved it. It wasn’t until then that I said, ‘Okay, God, I see this is where you’re leading me. Wherever you’re leading me, I’ll do it.’” God led Westfall to a variety of ministry positions working with students from 2002 to 2019.
Content with youth pastorship but willing to be obedient, God started stirring his heart when Gene Austen, Director of MBCollegiate, served as interim at Westfall’s church in 2019. Austen shared the need for a ministry at Missouri Valley College, a school of 80% athletes with no active campus ministries. “You’d be phenomenal to do college ministry,” Austen told Westfall. Four times, Austen invited Westfall to partner with MBCollegiate to start a ministry there. And four times, Westfall declined.
Finally, Westfall relented and prayerfully visited the campus. “I saw the opportunity,” he says. “The harvest was ripe and they just needed laborers. I heard the vision of MBCollegiate to multiply reaching unreached campuses. Coming to MO Valley, I definitely saw it. Much of the campus was unreached.” He realized that his ministry experience had prepared him for college ministry. “I could take my training and everything I’ve done and do it here.”
For the last three years, Westfall has done just that, starting a ministry at MO Valley from ground up. In that short time, despite the interference run by the COVID-19 pandemic, Westfall’s ministry, The Bridge Collegiate Ministry, has flourished. They’ve built rapport with administration and have partnered with the school on programs like Adopt-a-Student. They started with a 50/50 ratio of believers and unbelievers, but that ratio has shifted substantially toward believers because “God has saved so many in our ministry,” he says. At least 20 students have come to know Christ in the last three years. They’ve raised up an intern and brought on a ministry apprentice and an intern.
The ministry was flourishing, and Westfall had no intention to make a change. But once again, God threw Westfall a curveball. MBCollegiate Apprentice Caleb Yarnell had just finished his two-year apprenticeship at Northwest Missouri State University. He and his wife, Beth, were exploring opportunities to go to an unreached campus or join the staff of an existing ministry. After their visit to central Missouri, Westfall pitched the idea to Austen of bringing the Yarnells on staff with him at MO Valley. Through their dialogue, they saw a better Kingdom opportunity: the Yarnells would come on staff at MO Valley to help Apprentice Marita Avilez and Intern Cedric Davis keep that ministry growing. Westfall would go plant a ministry at Mizzou.
Westfall had thought before of expanding The Bridge ministry to other regional campuses, but “I didn’t have Columbia on my radar,” he says. Now he sees the harvest of opportunity. “There’s Columbia College, Stevens College, MACC, a CMU campus, a couple other campuses…they don’t have any MBCollegiate ministry. There’s a lot of potential in Columbia. I’ve already got talks putting bugs in people’s ear. We could really saturate Columbia with a good ministry.” Mizzou may be the launch pad, but it’s far from the end goal. Similar to what’s happening in Kansas City with Collegiate Impact, Westfall hopes to see a network of ministries and church partnerships reaching all the campuses in central Missouri.
Passion for local church drives new campus ministry in Columbia
As he prepares to launch a Bridge Collegiate Ministry at Mizzou this fall while still overseeing the ministry at MO Valley, Westfall can see how God has been preparing him for this unexpected change. He’s reconnected with some of his former students from his youth pastorships in Concordia, Mo., and Chicago, Ill., who are now attending Mizzou. They will help form a student core. Being able to launch the new student organization with a small team of students who know him and his philosophy of ministry is a huge advantage.
As for his philosophy of ministry, Westfall keeps it simple. First, he focuses on being relational the way Jesus was, earning the right to share the gospel with them. Second, he tries to build a community where people feel welcome and can ask questions. “Christian life is a shared life,” he says. “We won’t shy away from truth but want to make it a safe place where they can ask.” Third, he gives his students ownership of the ministry. “It’s going to be better when students own it,” he says. Ownership “teaches kids to get over themselves a little bit…realize that there’s more than just you in the world.”
Undergirding those three principles is a deep passion for the local church “I absolutely love the local church. I think it’s a win when my students leave ministry and start serving at a church,” says Westfall. “Getting them to go and launching them is the whole reason we do what we do. We’re a temporary parachurch ministry that is hopefully equipping saints in the church to be the church the rest of their lives…we’re discipling them to send out to be the church anywhere.” In that vein, he’s passionate about partnering with local churches as he launches the new ministry. “I need support from churches and the association,” he says. “I want to know how to partner where it’s a win-win for us, for college students, for churches.”
One of the things that excites Westfall most about college ministry is the opportunity to reach the nations. His youth groups always reached unchurched teens, but they still generally looked like whatever town the church was in. “Here we’re so diverse, Mizzou is so diverse,” he says. “ I love the fact that we get to have them for this little bit of time, and they could go back to Nepal to an unreached 10/40 window and engage their people with the gospel.”
As for what motivates him to keep pouring into college students, first a MO Valley and now at Mizzou, “life change is a huge motivator,” he says. “My life is devoted to this people group…I’m living every day to engage college students.”