How exciting it is to see young people find God’s calling for their lives! Palm Beach Atlantic University faculty and staff consider it a sacred privilege to help in this discernment. Consider Daniel Judge, whose story illustrates how important it is in all our organizations and personal lives to be a part of this process.
Daniel Judge, PBA Grad
“Leaders step up when others step back. That was Daniel at PBA,” said Campus Pastor Dr. Bernie Cueto. “I do not remember a conversation we ever had where Daniel was not proactively thinking about ministry and leadership and how to apply it to his future ministry.”
That “thinking about ministry” goes back to the time Daniel came to faith during middle school in Bradenton, Florida. In a recent telephone interview he talked about his journey from PBA freshman to campus pastor in a ministry touching hundreds of Mississippi college students each week.
The freshman year is such a critical time. “You’re figuring out who you are and what life looks like out on your own,” Daniel said. He found it a time of “growing up very, very quickly,” in the spiritual nourishment of PBA and the vibrant, diverse culture of West Palm Beach.
Daniel recalled the encouragement he received from Bernie Cueto and Dr. Jon Grenz, dean of the School of Ministry. “They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself.” With that boost, he entered PBA’s accelerated ministry program, to earn his bachelor’s degree and his Master of Divinity (M.Div.) in just five years.
A formative time with dividends for the future
“It was a busy season for sure,” he said, taking on the rigorous course load and working a couple jobs on the side. “But it was formative, not only academically, but personally, with my character.” He learned a level of professionalism and also found a healthy “rhythm” of life and work and rest, a balance that later would pay dividends in full-time ministry, which is far from a nine-to-five profession.
He finished his M.Div. in 2016, with a master’s thesis exploring the impact of college ministry in a college town. Feeling called to serve the special needs of the college population, he thought, I want to be in the most broken place that I can find. So he Googled “number-one party school in the South.” University of Mississippi came up.
Daniel wrote “Ole Miss” on a prayer board. He circled it and told his fiancée, “Maybe we’ll be there one day.” Fast forward a few years: Now he’s married and serving as a college campus pastor with Pinelake Church, which draws some 11,000 people to weekly worship in its five Mississippi locations. Daniel’s Pinelake location is in Oxford, the home of Ole Miss.
A quintessential college town, Oxford sees its population swell to more than 100,000 when fans descend for home football games. To understand that throng, just search YouTube for game day at “The Grove,” a large, shaded area of the Ole Miss campus that’s famous for tailgating parties.
As the parties rev up and the alcohol flows, some observers would see trouble, “but, honestly, we just see potential,” said Daniel. Instead of judging rowdy revelers, he sees the potential to reach unchurched young people for Christ.
The buckle of the Bible Belt
Even in Mississippi, “darn near the buckle of the Bible Belt,” you see the growing post-Christian culture, Daniel said. As opposed to finding students who have strayed from church, he finds many who’ve never really known church and who are living in brokenness.
“We’re able to see the Holy Spirit moving in a place like that,” he said. “So we can step in and say, ‘There’s so much more than what you’re pursuing,’ and ‘Hey, this is what the Lord wants to do in your life.’
“It’s just incredible seeing the Lord do such a cool work,” Daniel said. “We’re able to see hundreds and hundreds of college students come to service every single week and get connected in community at a place that historically has been known for some pretty wild college experiences. We’re seeing a lot of students come from death to life on a weekly basis, which is just mind blowing.”
Pinelake Church, with its multiple locations, has a wide outreach to college students. Linda Weir, director of ministry, has seen “a shift from a ministry to a movement.” And Daniel’s leadership has been used by God as a significant part of this, she said.
“Daniel Judge, along with his wife, Kathryn, are gifts to our college ministry,” said Linda. “He brings leadership, humor and the ability to relate naturally with a wide variety of students.”
As you can see in their photo, Daniel and Kathryn are expecting a baby, their first. I’m thankful for this young couple and their ministry to college students. And I’m thankful for Bernie Cueto, Jon Grenz and other PBA professors who see great potential in their students and encourage them.
May God give us all the grace to follow the example of Daniel and these professors: when we see people, to see potential.
Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, a physician, researcher and innovator, is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University. (www.pba.edu) For more articles by Dr. Schwinn, visit goodnewsfl.org/author/dr-debra-a-schwinn/