Pinelake Church is one church in multiple locations across the state of Mississippi. Its vision is to see Mississippi changed one life change story at a time. Though Mississippi is perceived as being a very churched state (in the buckle of the Bible belt), the reality is that 72% of Mississippi is not a part of an evangelical church. Pinelake Church’s five campuses are located in Flowood, Madison, Clinton, Starkville, and Oxford. Four of its campuses are located near colleges and universities, which places it in close proximity to 101,558 of Mississippi’s 182,712 college students. Even more fascinating, 2,400 international students attend a university near a Pinelake Church campus. These students are primarily from China, India, Nepal, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and Nigeria.
We asked Pinelake Church’s Director of College and Ascend Ministries, Linda Weir, to share about the church, its college ministry, and the challenges and opportunities she sees in working with college students. Here’s what Linda had to say.
BCMLife: Tell us about your college ministry and mission.
Linda Weir:College students are super involved in Sunday worship. Our pastor, Chip Henderson, is an incredible Bible teacher—practical, a great storyteller, and true to God’s Word. Elevate is our weekly college gathering, which meets on Wednesday nights. It includes worship, student stories, brief teaching, and small groups. Small groups are key to our college ministry, as it is where students are known and loved and where Bible meets life. Approximately 1,090 college students are involved in 111 small groups with 136 small group leaders and apprentices. Among other exciting things are that 73 college students were baptized this year alone. We love these stories of life change! There are also 300 college students serving at Pinelake through guest services, kids, student ministries, and more. There are even 158 students who went on Spring Break missions this past year—serving our mission partners in Boston, Dubai, Dominican Republic, Matamoros, Indianapolis, and Honduras.
BCMLife: What do you sense are the challenges facing today’s college students?
LW:Transition issues would rank at the top, including making sense of their new environment while processing their former environment. Students are trying to find their place at the university and in this big ole world. They also are processing their family of origin, as they see it differently once removed from it. Other challenges are time management on a whole new level, academic pressures, and health issues. Students may suffer from anxiety, depression, and addiction for the first time in their lives.
BCMLife: Are there any prayer needs for your ministry that others in the network could pray about?
LW:I would say connections with Freshmen across Mississippi that result in life-change.
BCMLife: As a college ministry leader, what is the most rewarding part of your role?
LW: I love seeing students experience ongoing life change. The rapid growth in students like Will Dunn, who became a Christian his Freshman year at Belhaven University in Jackson, is amazing to watch. After Will gave his life to Christ, he immediately began to grow through a small group and found opportunities to serve at Pinelake. Will is in his second year as one of our Ascend summer interns. He leads students in such a natural, honest way. Although Will came to college on a golf scholarship, he mixes it up on the basketball court with high school guys— earning relational equity so the gospel is both seen and heard. Will has said “yes” to a ministry calling and will graduate college in December. It’s so fun to work alongside students like Will!
BCMLife: What have been some great opportunities for outreach with your college ministry, either within your church and/or in your community?
LW:The Mississippi Delta is a region in Mississippi known for hardship. God has opened doors for Pinelake college students to serve the amazing people of the Delta. As students serve, they get a vision for how their lives can be used to impact our state by bringing hope to the Delta.