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29 years in campus ministry ‘kept an old man young’

ATHENS, Ga. (BP) — As a young man, Franklin Scott sensed a strong call to ministry but clearly knew it wouldn’t be in the pastorate.

“But back in those days being a pastor was about the only way to respond,” he says on the eve of his Dec. 31 retirement after 29 years in campus ministry at the University of Georgia.

He chuckles as he remembers his frustration at the apparently limited vocational options.

Pastor? No clear presence of oratory skills and definitely not a public speaker; a self-described “extreme introvert.”

Minister of music? Couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.

Associate pastor? No desire to stay in an office and deal with budgets and personnel.

Then a chance encounter with a stranger who helped him and his wife Georgia unpack their trailer at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary changed all of that. The slightly older stranger became a mentor and lifelong colleague, weaving himself into the fabric of Scott’s life.

Years earlier, the South Carolina native recounts, his “godly grandmother” laid the spiritual foundation of his life. Add to that good coaches beginning at age 8 who taught that he was more than someone who excelled at sports to prove himself worthy — and you get the man Scott is today.

“I was very insecure and created a false image of myself through sports,” he says. It was those individuals who kept pouring themselves into him that led him to finding himself and God while in college.

“All I ever wanted to do was coach high school basketball” but as his spiritual side began to gain dominance, he walked away from a graduate coach assistantship to enroll at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., in perhaps the hardest decision he had made at that point in his life.

Scott’s seminary years were pivotal, with countless strangers being woven into his life. Like him, they were young and searching — and unintentionally creating a network that would lead to a lifetime of service together as campus ministers.

Ron Little was that stranger who helped unload his car at the seminary village “and showed me the way to a different path” than traditional church staff ministry. Then there was Joe Graham, who was already involved in campus ministry in Louisville; they were joined by Warren Skinner, Jerry Johnson, David Roland, Frank Murphy and others.

Also among those who shaped Scott’s nontraditional route was a church administration professor at seminary who “drove home the importance of finding a vocation that would allow you to invest yourself in the lives of others and put down roots that allow them to trust you.”

Scott, Little, Skinner, Johnson, Roland and Murphy found their way to Georgia after seminary and built the state convention’s student ministry into a second-to-none network that disciples collegians who, in turn, disciple others.

Today, Graham oversees all Baptist campus ministers at UGA. Skinner is campus minister at Georgia Tech. Jerry Johnson has served for years at Georgia Southern University and will succeed Scott following his retirement. David Roland is campus minister at Shorter University, which is affiliated with the Georgia Baptist Convention. And Frank Murphy serves as part-time campus minister at Berry College.

The first campus position Scott held was a BSU (Baptist Student Union, as BCM was known in those early years) internship at the University of Louisville while in seminary. That was followed by a full-time job at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, where he served five years.

Then Roland, who was serving at Brewton-Parker College, called to let Scott know about an opening as assistant campus minister at the Baptist-affiliated Mount Vernon, Ga., campus, where he refined his calling further. Just a year later, Little, who was at UGA as an assistant campus minister, called to ask if Scott would be interested in joining him in a similar position being created to assist then-senior campus minister Becky Matheny.

As the BCM’s senior campus minister at Georgia, Scott has poured himself into the UGA students just like others poured themselves into his formative years. For example, he has a student, Nate Thomas, who was born to a couple who was under Scott’s mentorship years ago when they were at the campus in Athens. They graduated and were married, and Nate’s dad founded Connect Ministries in Watkinsville, Ga. Now their son is being mentored by Scott.

“It’s really neat to see how that works out through the years,” Scott says. “It’s always exciting to get a new class of freshmen every year. It can be a very intimidating time for them, being on their own for the first time and away from parent oversight, and BCM helps them with that transition. We want to undergird their faith walk or, if they are not believers, introduce them to a walk with Christ. There are 70 Christian groups on this campus and that’s good because it takes a village to reach 40,000 students.”

Reaching those students and discipling them so they, in turn, can disciple others and discover their place of service has “kept an old man young,” Scott says with a laugh.

He never ceases to be amazed where he finds former members of BCM around the world, from UGA as well as other campuses in Georgia and beyond. He recently returned from a mission trip to northern Africa where a missionary told him there were more than 50 former BCM students serving in the region.

Scott then cites a list of students who are making an impact through their secular careers as leaders and trailblazers. He discusses a student in New York City who is employed in a prestigious law firm, then mentions doctors and other professionals from all walks of life. Denominational leaders include Atlanta native and former International Mission Board President David Platt, whom he mentored during his days at UGA.

“I don’t see myself as a legend, which is what some call me these days,” Scott says. “I see myself as an Israel. There were all kinds of people who God could have used to serve Him, but He chose a rag-tag group of people through which He would work.

“He used Franklin Scott, an insecure man who was not sure of who he was or of his purpose in life.” And after 35 total years of collegiate ministry, he finds himself assuring students that God can — as He did with him — use them as well.

Scott says he and his wife plan to remain in their Athens home for the immediate future. He is considering returning to his early love of coaching basketball in the area. The Scotts have two grown daughters, Shelynn and Stacey.

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