students serve in the local church

Maranatha and Local Church Service

One of the highlights of my week is serving shoulder-to-shoulder with two Maranatha students on Wednesday nights in our local church’s kid’s club. I work each week with college volunteers in leading the preaching and singing time. We meet beforehand to pray and plan. Afterward we discuss ways to improve and celebrate how God has worked in the children’s lives. What a thrill to see these young men grow in their confidence and effectiveness. But an even greater thrill is to see the Lord continue to use them when they graduate to perpetuate the established pattern of faithfulness to the Lord’s work.

From its founding days, Maranatha’s mission has emphasized the primacy of serving the Lord in local churches. The entire Maranatha family – faculty and staff, alumni, and students from around the world – demonstrates this commitment through faithful church service. The collegiate program is designed to foster and promote a personal devotion to the Lord’s work in local assemblies.

Mission & Worldview

The mission of Maranatha, “to develop leaders for ministry in the local church and the world ‘To the Praise of His Glory,’” comes directly from Ephesians 1:12 and implies that all graduates will be effectively equipped to serve God with competence in a church and in their chosen vocation. The institution’s core identity as a conservative, independent Baptist institution of higher education has been well-maintained through over five decades, and by God’s grace will continue as such until the Lord’s return.

While community cleanup projects and other social outreach efforts are certainly worthwhile endeavors (and such activities are undertaken at every college and university – secular or Christian), the bulk of Maranatha’s service emphasis has consistently focused on our partnering churches. The partnership is mutually beneficial. As students serve in local Baptist churches, the preaching, mentoring, and service opportunities they receive bolster the academic training they receive in the classroom and provide an avenue of ministry for God to use in strengthening their faith and calling them on to future service.  As one partnering church pastor noted,

We see the students for a couple of years at most. In this brief window we see our ministry to the students as one of many pieces that God uses to mold the students’ worldview. (Pastor Randy Arbogast, ‘91, Calvary Baptist Church, Jefferson, WI)

MBU’s outreach program is overseen by Dean of Students, Dr. John Davis, who describes the philosophy this way, “Maranatha’s founder was a strong proponent of the primacy of the local church. Dr. Cedarholm’s vision was for Maranatha to have a supportive role in the ministries of area Baptist churches. What is now our Partnering Agreement is an outgrowth of his practice of requiring every student, staff and faculty member to be a faithful member of a Bible-preaching church.”

Maranatha is not a church—the university exists to serve the local churches that make up its constituency and to provide them with graduates who are enthusiastic about serving and well-prepared to do so. A key to understanding Maranatha is its ministry mindset. Integrated and robust systems prepare leaders from all walks of life to serve God and others in the local church and the world.  No matter what other activities a believer may busy themselves with in life, every Christian should actively be serving in a Bible-believing local church.

Pastor Arbogast notes:

Life doesn’t get easier or slower when you have your degree in hand.  Rather it gets busier. I tell each student on ministry recruitment day, “Anyone can come and graduate with a degree. We want our students to do that while they are learning to balance business and serving God. If you leave here with just your diploma and not a heart to serve in your local church then you leave here empty handed.”

Pastor Rob Stroup serves at a partnering church in Lake Mills, WI, and he offers:

I see it as a great opportunity to preach and instruct young people from the Word of God during such an important stage in life. Many decisions made by college-age young people determine the course of their lives. It is my privilege to encourage them to seek the Lord first in all of these decisions…

Thus, inside and outside the classroom and chapel, students are continually and fervently reminded that a life of service is God’s plan for every joy-filled and fruitful believer.

Effectiveness & Impact

Real ministry begins now. College students may be tempted to think of themselves as preparing for future ministry. The college years truly are a critical crossroads of life where students are establishing the personal identity and patterns they will carry into adulthood. But we cannot dismiss the significant present-day impact college students have as they serve.

Is Maranatha’s emphasis on local church ministry effective in producing faithful servants for local church ministry? A review of the primary stakeholders certainly tells the story.

Faculty and Staff

Maranatha’s employees maintain membership and faithfully attend 60 of Maranatha’s partnering Baptist churches. The heart of the institution is the heart of every employee. In terms of service, MBU employees combine to volunteer over 5,700 hours every month! MBU’s employees serve in every kind of ministry; we serve, not because we are required, but because service is a core part of our personal character.


students serve in the nurserySurveys of new students indicate that Maranatha’s local church emphasis is the top reason they chose to attend MBU, tied with the spiritual atmosphere of the campus. (Academic quality, Baptist identity, and accreditation round out the top five reasons students choose MBU.) Campus students commit to attend one of 120 partnering churches in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois.

According to Dr. John Davis,

“Maranatha does not approve churches. We believe that a biblical church is totally independent. We aspire for a mutually beneficial relationship between churches and the MBU family. The process is simple: the church and the university each explain their position on doctrine and practice, and if there is agreement we work together. This approach ensures harmony and a consistent experience and effective education for students.”

Regular church service provides students with extensive service-learning opportunities. Students rub shoulders with church members and even MBU faculty and staff as peers within this context.

Pastor Stoup explains:

Rock Lake Baptist Church has benefited for many years from the input and ministry of MBU students. We encourage them to become associate members of our church, which allows them to serve here without changing their membership from their home church. Currently we have two students heading up our youth ministry and overseeing our Wednesday night children’s clubs. Their service is integral to our church!

And Pastor Arbogast concludes:

The students that come from MBU serve alongside our ministry leaders assisting teaching, the music ministry, our children’s ministry, and helping when folks must move or just need a helping hand. The students even volunteer once a month to clean the church on Wednesday night. There is no part of our daily, weekly, and even yearly ministering to the city of Jefferson that is not touched by the hands of MBU students.


On the most recent comprehensive survey of Maranatha alumni sent to every graduate of the institution, responses overwhelmingly confirm that MBU graduates remain faithful to their local churches. Roughly 44% of MBU graduates are engaged in vocational church ministry. Of non-vocational church workers, 95% are faithfully serving in a local church. Combined, 98% of living alumni are still faithfully serving in their local church an average of 6 hours every week. Praise God!

Secular higher education is singularly devoted to, and cruelly effective at, destroying the faith of its students, and many Christian institutions seem to be waffling on their historically strong commitments to local church. God continues to bless Maranatha’s proven commitment and effective program of developing leaders for ministry in the local church and the world, “To the Praise of His Glory.”


Dr. Matthew Davis (’96) serves as Executive Vice President and Corporate Counsel for Maranatha Baptist University. Dr. Davis founded the Davis Law Firm in Watertown and is also president of Eternal Vision, a charitable foundation devoted to supporting quality Christian education. This article first appeared in the 2020 Maranatha Advantage.