OKWU Venture: The Future of Summer Ministry

Ministry Team Photo, Bozeman
A 2013 Camp Team unites with the Venture Church Plant Team in Bozeman, Montana.

Oklahoma Wesleyan University has an impressive reputation for pairing students with opportunities that exist outside of the institution itself.  Whether it’s a partnership between the School of Business and post-graduation internships, or the network of volunteers and interns that funnel into local churches, OKWU excels at connecting students.  With a multitude of organizations and positions available both on and off campus, students are encouraged to find an area that fits their skills and passions.

Growth opportunities exist even beyond the traditional school year. Assistant VP for Student Development, Ben Rotz, and Women’s Resident Director, Sheresa Grate, discuss a few of these opportunities for the upcoming summer of 2014.

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What can students expect to see regarding OKWU Ministry Team opportunities for 2014?

Ben Rotz: We’ve undergone a re-branding of our ministry initiative as far as students are concerned.  Students may be aware that we’ve done things in the past under the umbrella of OKWU Ventures: backpacking trips, ski trips, kind of outdoor leadership stuff.  And what we’ve done is taken that OKWU Venture and we’ve really broadened that out into our outdoor leadership development.  And so, yes, it includes still the backpacking trips, the ski trips, missions trips that we may plan in the future overseas, but also our summer ministry teams now fit under that umbrella.

And so, our whole outdoor leadership development program is now called OKWU Venture, and underneath that are your traditional camp teams, which are now called Element – sticking with the nature-driven, organic ministry that is there. And then Plant – our church plant teams that we send out across the country every summer.  And now we’ve started a new summer initiative for students called Switch.

Where did the name Switch come from?

BR: Switch is based off of the Romans 12 idea of being transformed, the idea of that switch of mentality.  And that team is made up of students who will be trained in recreation, ministry, and worship, and then they will travel throughout the summer primarily to local churches.

2012 Camp Team, in South Dakota
The 2012 Camp Team goes adventuring in South Dakota.

What are the separate roles of each Ministry Team, and how do they differ?

Sheresa Grate: We have Camp Teams which travel to different camps in the west over the summer – these are camps like Iowa-Minnesota, Dakota, Colorado-Nebraska, Kansas, etc.  We also offer Church Plant teams, which pair two to three students with a newly established church plant in one location across the country.  These students are free interns to the church, but then the students learn from the pastors and learn what it looks like to be part of a community and a lay person in the church.  This year, we’re actually starting a new program that we’re calling Switch.  Switch is a new addition that sends a group of about seven students to different churches from South Dakota to California.  Through this experience, they will lead worship, participate in rec, and there will also be a team speaker who prepares and delivers sermons.  So this is essentially like a mini-OKWU experience, and we’re anticipating Switch getting us into churches, and making connections with other bodies that maybe would not be represented at youth camps.

Does the school provide any sort of financial compensation for the students who are selected for Ministry Teams?

SG: Yes. Traveling expenses are covered, and the students are compensated monthly.

What is the purpose of sending students out on various Ministry Teams? 

BR: The purpose for all of these teams is really threefold.  The first one is to serve.  We believe in Wesleyan youth camps, we believe in Wesleyan local churches, and we believe in Wesleyan church plants across the country.  As a Wesleyan entity, and because we believe in the heart and soul of the Wesleyan Church, we want to come alongside and serve those different organizations.  We build relationships with middle and high school students through camp teams and through Switch, we let them get to know who we are, and we serve them and build relationships in any way that we can.  We minister to them.

The second thing is it’s about OKWU.  If we can build relationships with these churches, with these youth pastors, with these middle school and high school kids, it makes sense for us to say, “When they think about school, we want them to think about OKWU.”  And so you can talk to any number of students on campus and ask how they heard about OKWU, and they might say, “Oh, well I remember when Ashleigh Johnson was at my camp, and that’s how I first got interested,” and so it’s a chance for us to connect with potential students about OKWU.

The third thing I would say is it’s a chance for us to develop leaders on campus.  These students that we send out to camps, to Switch, to plants – they come back.  And the lessons they’ve learned over the summer – underneath the leadership of a church planter, or, traveling around with fellow students, or a message that they heard from a speaker at camp – that’s good for our community too.  It gives us a chance to help develop them as leaders so that when they come back to campus, they’re a better leader than they were before the summer.

What is the time commitment for OKWU Ministry Teams?

SG: Camp Teams are 10-12 weeks, depending on the number of camps we are a part of, and the Church Plant Teams will be about 10 weeks.

How long have Ministry Teams been around?

BR: Camp teams have been around since, I believe, the Paleo era. . .

Since Pilgrims Holiness College?

BR: Yes.  Around 1492.  No, but camp teams have been around for a while.  They’ve morphed over the years, but they’ve been around for as long as I’m aware of.  Our Plant program started about six years ago, when Kyle White and I had a conversation about how we could connect students to what the Wesleyan Church is really about.  The Wesleyan Church has a beautiful history of social justice, social equality, gender equality, social action, that so many students, because they’ve lost the Wesleyan tradition or because they don’t come from the Wesleyan Church, they don’t get it.  So we sought to reconnect students with that.  And so, our idea was, why not church plants?  Church plants are at the cutting edge of social pioneering, they are seeking to make a radical difference in their community with the Wesleyan message, and they are passionate about training and gifting young leaders.  So this really became a great fit for us.  Over the past six years, we’ve worked with about 27 church plants in the United States and around the world – we’ve actually worked with one in Central Asia.

Central Asia Church Plant
Amanda Barlow and Austin Blain during the 2012 Church Plant in Central Asia.

What kind of students do you typically seek out for Ministry Team positions? 

SG: For Church Plant teams especially, our goal has always been to help students understand that it’s not just for ministry majors.  Churches may need help with the business side of things, or with the children’s ministry side of things, so maybe Business or Elementary Ed majors would be good fits in certain locations. We’ve taken Communications majors to help with designing and marketing the church websites, and Music or Worship majors are helpful, so really there’s a spot for any type of student.

I know specifically from my experience back in 2010, when I was a student, the church that I was a part of requested a business major, an education major, and a ministry major to help with different segments of the church.  They also had a lot of non-profits associated with the church, so it wasn’t just a Sunday morning type of establishment, which is something that you’ll consistently see with church plants.  They typically offer a lot for the community and seek to pair people whose strengths are in line with their mission.

So, as I understand it, the application process is complete for this summer, and you’ve formed the 2014 Ministry Teams.  Is that correct?

SG: Yes, that’s correct.

If a student has missed this year’s summer Ministry Team opportunity, how can they still get involved in upcoming ministry opportunities with Oklahoma Wesleyan?

SG: Actually, this month we will be releasing Student Mentor and Resident Assistant applications, and this is a chance for students to serve on campus throughout the school year.  We’ll be looking for next year’s student leaders that way, and if you are interested in next year’s summer opportunities, be sure to look for those.

What kind of students are you looking for when you’re seeking student leaders?

BR: Great question.  When we look at leadership positions, we look for students who are committed to the mission and vision of the university, who are committed to upholding the values that the university is founded upon.  That’s first and foremost.  Secondly, we’re looking for students who want to stretch their ability to lead – who want to grow as a person.  The third thing I would say is, we want students who are willing to get out of their comfort zone.  And that looks different for different students.

A lot of times students assume that because they’re introverted, there’s not a place for them in leadership, and that’s just not true.  So for that student, maybe the best thing they can do to get out of their comfort zones is just to stretch themselves and meet new people, and not let their own insecurity define their interaction.  But also for students who may be more extroverted, maybe for them it’s being quiet and serving in a way that doesn’t give them all of the attention.  And so, that’s what we’re looking for: students who are committed to the university and its values, students who want to grow in their leadership, and students who are willing to get out of their comfort zone to lead in some capacity that maybe is not natural for them.

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Applications for Student Mentor and Resident Assistant positions will be released on February 17th, and will be available for download on the OKWUeagle website, as well as in hard copy at the La Quinta Mansion front desk.  The applications will be due back to Ben Rotz, Sheresa Grate, Chris Breiland, or Aaron Bunker by the end of February.

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