As a student at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in Allendale, Mich., Payton Mills headed a ministry team that helped fellow male students deal with sexual temptation.
On a weekly basis, Mills met with about 15 students for study and discussion; students would break off into “accountability pods” to share struggles and successes. Through his leadership experience, Mills experienced immense spiritual and personal growth.
“It was a weight, it was a burden, but in a good sense. When you really have to wrestle through things, all that wrestling causes a lot of growth,” said Mills, a May graduate of GVSU. Mills was an intern in the university’s Campus Ministry program, which was supported by a $100,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., a private philanthropic foundation in Indianapolis, Ind.
The Lilly grant, awarded in 2015 and spread out over four years, is devoted to the theological exploration of vocation, and provides leadership development opportunities for students at public universities. Mills, who now works in sales for a software company, was one of nearly 60 GVSU student leaders who have been nurtured under the campus ministry internship program.
“Every intern is a team captain for one of our ministry teams,” said Scott Stark, a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church who has been campus minister at GVSU since 2010.
Under the new program, the GVSU Campus Ministry has been able to expand, giving student leaders greater opportunities to reach their peers.
“We disciple leaders who make disciples,” Stark said. “We’re there to coach, equip, and empower students to do ministry with their peers on campus.”
The interns meet as a group one Saturday a month for four hours, where they learn leadership and spiritual skills as well as about the connection between their faith and vocation. For Mills, the sessions helped ease a lot of the anxiety he felt about entering the workforce upon graduation.
“It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to try something out,” he said. “Your first job doesn’t have to be your calling for your life.”
Stark said the ministry is making plans to continue the intern leadership program beyond the grant period. “We have a sustainability process that was part of the initial grant proposal to fund the ministry into the future,” he said, which would include fundraising efforts and the possibility of another grant.