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Cultivating Christian Virtue
as Spiritual Formation



by Patrick Mays, Ph.D.

From the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, through the formation of the early church until today, Christian disciples have recognized the need to be intentional in cultivating Christian virtue.

The witness of Scripture and voices in the history of the Christian church have called followers of Christ to corporate worship, private devotion, and service to others. These activities of the head, heart, and hands help the transformed life cultivate Christian virtue, which is one of the goals of the LeTourneau University educational community.

Christian spiritual formation is the process of being transformed into the image of Christ, to have the same mindset as Jesus (see Philippians 2:5-11) and to assume certain characteristics of an intentionally godly life—goodness, self-control, perseverance, mutual affection, love (see 2 Peter 1:3-7). This commitment to Christian spiritual development in our students is an essential element of LeTourneau University’s DNA.

LeTourneau University was conceived as a Christ-centered institution; it remained one as it grew through the years; it will continue to be one into the future.

Therefore, the spiritual formation program administered through the Office of Spiritual Life is central to the educational experience of each LeTourneau student.

LeTourneau University is intentional on the Christian spiritual formation of students.

The chapel program is the most visible expression of LeTourneau’s core emphasis on Christian spiritual formation. Several times each week, students, faculty, and staff gather for corporate worship, singing, praying and hearing the Word of God together as a community through laughter, tears, joy, and praise.

Life Groups, small discipleship groups led by faculty and staff, enable students to share the ups and downs of spiritual growth in a more intimate setting.

Also, each dorm floor has a Spiritual Life Assistant (formerly called chaplain interns), who are students who provide spiritual leadership by leading weekly floor devotionals and initiating spiritual conversations.

Additionally, LeTourneau Student Ministries (LSM) enables students to put their faith into action through service activities including Sunday Evening Prayer & Praise, an Over the Fence Ministry, Spring Break Outreach trips, Habitat for Humanity, and Kidz Club.

 

COMING FULL CIRCLE

Becoming the new campus pastor this year has been the fulfillment of a 20-year journey for me.

Growing up a Longview kid, my family lived on 14th Street just east of the LETU campus.  My dad worked at the LeTourneau manufacturing plant. I learned to swim at the old, round outdoor swimming pool that used to sit on the campus. I used to beg my mom to drive me through the campus because, as a kid, I was fascinated by the barracks.

After graduating from Pine Tree High School, I got my undergraduate degree in secondary education at University of Texas at Tyler, I married a Longview girl, then I went to Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky to get my Master of Divinity degree and, later, my Master of Theology degree, majoring in missions. I worked in youth ministry in Louisiana and Alabama then moved back to Kentucky to get my Ph.D., majoring in Intercultural studies.

For nearly two decades, my family and I traveled around the U.S. and the world pursuing ministry opportunities.  From 1999 to 2003, I was an academic missionary in secular universities in Prague, Czech Republic before returning to Longview in 2003 as a theology faculty member at LETU, where I launched LETU’s Christian ministries major. I was happy and thrilled.  I loved it. Interacting with students and teaching in the classroom has always been amazing to me.  And in my role as campus pastor, I am still faculty and still teach in the classroom. I teach one class this semester: contemporary world missions. 

 At 57, I’ve been a youth minister, camping minister, and missionary.  I’ve worked with college students in a variety of situations across denominations.  Throughout my life, my education and life experience abroad equipped me to help students develop ministry across cultural barriers and engage with popular culture with a missional focus. My goal is for students to be global minded.

I’ve worked with The Seed Company in Bible translation efforts in Nigeria, enabling students to travel with me and participate in translation projects. Some of my students on campus didn’t even have to travel to gain hands-on experience online in back-checking Bible translations for accuracy and clarity.

When I was working on my doctorate at Asbury, in 1997, the position of chaplain at LETU was advertised and I applied for it but wasn’t selected then.  I think it is interesting now that I was first asked to consider the campus pastor position in 2017, exactly 20 years after I originally sought the job.

I was asked repeatedly over the past two years about considering the role of campus pastor but was totally happy to be faculty. I wasn’t interested, yet the repeated questions planted a seed.  When I was at a national youth workers convention last November, one that I routinely attend, I felt a refreshing in my heart to pursue this role of campus pastor.

Since we had brought in six candidates in a national search and had not found one, I began to think maybe what we needed to consider was an insider who already knows LETU. I was announced in February, but the role didn’t feel real until the students arrived in August. I’m loving the position. I feel it is a great fit for me and others are telling me the same thing, so I feel affirmed.

Now, I’m meeting with the big group of students in chapel, so I’ve got over 1,000 people on my brain, to make chapel vital to their lives.   Chapel needs to address their spiritual and pragmatic needs. I constantly think about, what can we do to make it vital?  That is on the forefront of my mind. You’ve got a lot of students from churches, but I’m always aware of students for whom the Christian life is periphery.  One of the things I studied when I did my doctorate was reaching unchurched young adults.

My role now is being both a disciple and an apologist for Christianity. That shapes who I bring to speak in chapel.  One student recently told he didn’t want to always hear from “old, bald-headed white guys over 50.” I pulled off my ball cap and pointed out to the student that he had just described me.   We both laughed, but I understood what he was saying.  My goal is to bring in more women, more people of color to speak to students.  As a university, we need to put people in front of our students who are role models from a variety of different vocational callings.

As campus pastor, I also have personal discipleship interactions with spiritual life assistants, helping them with leading devotionals with training, encouragement and prayer.  The SLAs lead floor devotions and meet one-on-one with all the students on their floor at least once a month.  They are on the front lines of personal spiritual interaction with individual students, yet, if a student wants to come directly to me, they can.  I just can’t know all the students on campus on a personal level, but I can invest my time in 25 to 40 students who have daily and weekly interaction with students where they live.