By Sharon Mager
NEWARK, De. — Blake Hardcastle remembers the day he interviewed with the Delaware Baptist Association (DBA) for the Baptist Collegiate Minister position at the University of Delaware and he chuckles. Planning to meet then
DBA Director of Missions Jim McBride, he anxiously found himself in a room of ten people, all waiting to meet
and question him. That’s because seven others previously held the position over a ten-year period, Hardcastle explains. “This time, they wanted someone with ‘staying power’.”
They got that in Hardcastle, who has served in the position for 23 years. In 2015 he additionally took on the role as the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware Collegiate Ministry Consultant, overseeing the campus ministries throughout the convention.
A lot has changed over the years. Hardcastle and his wife, Jenny, have had three children—Nate, Jack, and Sam, now teenagers who will be old enough to attend college in the not-too-distant future.
Working with students, befriending them, caring for them, Hardcastle has watched as they’ve had to face evolving challenges, as technology permeates nearly every classroom, and as students increasingly long for moral truth. His ministry strategies have changed, but his determination to stand on the Gospel has only grown stronger as culture has shifted.
“I had no master plan at the beginning,” says Hardcastle. He visited churches and got to know pastors and other leaders, building bridges. “I just had grand ideas that God would bless this, and that dozens of people would show up.”
He was right; God did bless the ministry, but it took time and support from the association and churches to provide the foundation the ministry needed to grow.
Hardcastle says three events gave the ministry the momentum that has brought it to where it is today: getting a building, creating an associate’s role, and developing a ‘long view of discipleship.’
In 2000, the DBA purchased property on the Delaware University Campus, giving the Baptist Student Ministry (BSM) a physical presence. “When you have a building and a sign you move from the perception of being a ‘weird cult,’ to being ‘legitimate’ in the psyche of college students and the administration,” Hardcastle says tongue in cheek. Due to the new building, participation swelled almost immediately from a dozen to over 30 students.
Another huge help was the creation of a ministry associate’s role, working in partnership with Ogletown Baptist Church, in Delaware. Emily Troutman was the first associate in 2005. Hardcastle emphatically says that he didn’t know how much help an assistant would provide, especially a female who could relate and minister to the girls. “My wife could do a little bit, but we had kids, so it was difficult”
“Having someone here to speak truth into the lives of the young female students dramatically changed how we did ministry. It also changed my view of college ministry. I think at least two people, representing both sexes, should minister on campus.”
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
Hardcastle witnessed incredible technological changes over the decades. When he first started collegiate ministry, cell phones weren’t in use, and most people had AOL dial-up modems.
“AOL instant messenger was very popular,” says Hardcastle. It provided an opportunity to connect to students in a whole new way and opened many doors. When Facebook came on the scene it was only available to those with a .edu address, perfect for Hardcastle to build even more bridges.
“As technology adjusts, we have to adjust. Most of our communication is through Instagram and direct text,” Hardcastle says, adding he’s heard students say their grandparents are the ones on Facebook!
Technology is good and bad, he says. Regarding cell phones, they’re practical for keeping in touch but there are obstacles. “It’s the new smoking. If there’s a lull, they’re drifting toward their phones. It’s always in their hands, and they’re checking it. Students are with you, but not present,” he says.
“People cannot be alone; they cannot contemplate. They can’t do what the Psalms say—Selah.”
“That makes the personal connections even more important,” he says. Building one-on-one relationships bridges the distance between ‘hi,’ and ‘how are you’ to more in-depth, stronger conversations, leading to friendships, sharing the Gospel, and discipleship.
Adjusting to cultural changes is another issue. “I’m going to assume that students coming to the university, whether they’re Christians or not, are going to be personally okay with marijuana. They don’t see it as a problem – period. Marijuana in some ways is more common than cigarettes.”
Regarding sexuality, Hardcastle explains, “They may not have same-sex attractions, but they have a hard time seeing how it is loving to be against it. If you’re not conversant in sexual brokenness and framing a Biblical response, you’re missing out.
“When I arrived on campus in 1996, Internet pornography wasn’t much of a thing. Now, I assume from the beginning that pornography has had a significant impact on them.
“You can’t say, ‘just stay away from these sins’ and expect lasting change. You have to respond in a Biblical, loving way. We must move toward them in love and truth.
“In the 90s, the drinking parties were the places to be. Now not as many of them get plastered, but they will get high. Now alcohol is unhealthy; marijuana is natural.
“The kids have not become more sinful, they just shifted their sins, and they’ll shift again.” The Gospel remains the same.
EVANGELISM AND DISCIPLESHIP
“Evangelism has been a core part of campus ministry for 70 years,” Hardcastle says that ‘In the ’50s and ’60s, the strategy was, “tell the Gospel,’ then in the 70’s to the 90’s it was, ‘let’s show them how to live.’ Now, it’s balanced between evangelism and discipleship, he explains.
Students meet for Bible studies, worship, and they learn to share their faith through mentorship and experience. “Part of the process is talking over coffee, and then moving to, ‘let’s do what we’re talking about.’”
Churches’ investment in collegiate ministry is invaluable, Hardcastle emphasizes.
He stresses that those involved in collegiate ministry must take a long-term view of discipleship. He goes on to explain the three core values of the ministry: reaching students with the truth of the Gospel, discipling them to maturity, and connecting them to a local church.
Hardcastle compares the ministry effort to a certificate of deposit at a bank. He explains, “It’s like investing and investing but you don’t see a return until maybe the second year out of college.”
Ogletown Baptist Church (OBC), a strong supporter of BSM in Delaware, has done just that – they’ve invested long term, and now they’re reaping the interest. “A majority of their youth workers are former collegiate ministry students,” Hardcastle says. Also, one of their elders and some deacons were involved in BSM. “Curtis Hill (pastor of OBC) is reaping a return on an investment his church made years ago.” Hardcastle referenced Drew Landry, a former pastor of Ogletown Baptist Church, who led the church in committing to campus ministry and Hill continues that commitment.
“When a church accepts that they’re not looking at immediate returns, there is space for growth to occur. Roots are established. God blesses the collegiate ministry and the church and one day, perhaps even in heaven, they’ll see the harvest.
“You have to respond in a Biblical, loving way. We must move toward them in love and truth.”