• Baylor Chaplain: How spiritual formation works at a university of 16,000+ students

    Dr. Burt Burleson

    Baylor University is well-known for its distinctive mission and for the unambiguously Christian educational environment it offers — a place where students and teachers can examine issues and relate to one another through a lens of faith.

    At the same time, Baylor’s student body — now made up of more than 16,000 students — isn’t homogenous. Students come from all over the world, with different backgrounds, different ideas about God and religion (even among Christian believers), and at different stages in their spiritual walks.

    As university chaplain and dean of spiritual life, Dr. Burt Burleson, BA ’80, oversees Baylor’s Office of Spiritual Life, which provides resources, creates programs and meets one-on-one with students to help them “explore their spiritual gifts, God-given strengths and vocational calling.”

    What does that look like in a diverse student body? In a recent episode of “Baylor Connections,” Burleson discussed spiritual formation in the Baylor student body:

    “Things change when people leave the home of their founding faith. Spiritual formation is something that’s done to you until you’re about 18 — but then you have to choose. There has to be this intersection of a person’s desire and their experiences with teaching. I’ve come to deeply believe in that line, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher shows up.’…and we’re here. …

    “So much formation comes because people get close to a teacher, or through talking to a counselor and discussing the things that matter most. Faith is a huge part of that. Everybody who interacts with students at Baylor needs to be aware of this, and think about what it’s like to be a part of an individual student’s tradition at Baylor. That’s what opens doors for meaningful interaction. …

    “You’ve got a university where some people come from backgrounds where they might even be hostile towards the faith. Every time you stand up, you’re still trying to be compassionate towards that. It makes speaking to or counseling with someone a lot more interesting and complex. It can lead to very rich and rewarding conversations. I love talking to people on all different points of the journey — those who are getting curious for the first time, or those who are moving into a time of disorientation and deconstruction. Opportunities to talk to students in those places are very meaningful. The great gift of this job is that there’s a different kind of interaction every day. … 

    “Even as students sometimes deconstruct and get some distance from the faith of their mom and dad, they need to see someone saying, ‘I believe’ — that even though we, too, have asked the hard questions that they’re asking, we’re still here, still rooted. It gives students a sense of assurance there’s wisdom in those foundations that someone tried to hand and impart to them. …

    “In Chapel, we want to try to, in a broad way, take a handful of seeds and throw them out there. We are exposing them to the work, the witness and the worship of the church. We offer a diverse schedule in chapel. One day they might hear someone just preaching after worship; another day someone is dealing with a social issue, such as human trafficking, or wellbeing, or talking about becoming a more caring community. All of this is about the faith. We communicate and convey that to the class so they see this isn’t just like going to my church, the church they grew up in. Baylor is about more than that. It’s about The Church, with a capital C.”

    [LISTEN to the entire Baylor Connections conversation with Dr. Burleson]

    From Chapel services, to resident chaplains who live with students in residential communities, to Baylor Missions opportunities at home and abroad, Baylor Spiritual Life offers a vast array of resources to provide students a place to grow spiritually. But, as Burleson notes, a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work when preparing students for a calling and a lifetime doing kingdom work. It’s about meeting students where they are, with a sense of compassion, caring and wisdom that truly helps build worldwide Christian leaders.

    Sic ’em, Dr. Burleson and Baylor Spiritual Life!

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