For thousands of people at Texas A&M University, Blinn College, and surrounding areas, Tuesday night is off limits. Class study sessions, sorority meetings, fraternal outings, even dinners out are reassigned to any other night.
Tuesday nights are for attending Breakaway. At Breakaway students gather—as they have for almost twenty years—in worship, community, and Bible study. The phenomenon started with twelve students meeting in an apartment for fellowship and study. And as the word got out, more people attended, soon outgrowing their tiny space. An organic gathering of peers found itself regularly relocating to local libraries, then churches, and most recently the biggest meeting rooms in town: Texas A&M’s Reed Arena, Olsen Field, and Rudder Auditorium.
The executive director of Breakaway is Ben Stuart, Texas A&M Class of 1998, former youth pastor and current Dallas Seminary student. Since the summer of 2005, Ben has faced the challenges of directing a nonprofit organization, leading a small staff, and organizing a large group of volunteers. In addition to preparing and delivering a weekly corporate Bible study, Ben mentors and counsels students, rounding out an effort supported completely by donations from students on tight budgets, their parents, and a handful of others with a vision for reaching college students.
A native Texan, Ben determined to make his college experience one of spiritual growth and service. He ministered as chaplain of a Christian fraternity and became involved in local churches.
Following his college graduation, Ben served as the only staff member alongside the pastor of a start-up church. His role: youth pastor. Number of students: one. The experience served as a humbling, nurturing crucible, as God molded Ben into a one-on-one people-focused pastor with a heart for discipleship and evangelism. “I was forced to let go of the potential attention of a large ministry as God took me on a completely different path,” he said. “It was a severe blow to my ego—thanks be to God!—and it pushed me toward a deeper dependence on Jesus.”
Today Ben serves in a larger arena. Literally. For many college students, Ben is a satisfying fixture as he communicates the Bible in a widely accessible, creative way. Yet he retains his sincere passion for individuals.
Fond of movies and church history, Ben fills his messages with anecdotes from widely varying sources. On any given Tuesday, listeners lean in, grinning as Ben paints the heat and light of Jonathan Edwards or jests about the education he gained from scars. He points to an old injury and says, “This is where I learned not to play tag with a jigsaw.”
When confronting issues pertinent to the collegiate—the lure of immorality or of financial irresponsibility—Ben speaks from experience. His matrix of teaching, preaching, storytelling, confession, and application invites listeners into transformation.
The Breakaway team consists of an administrator, a production director, an intern, and a huge number of volunteers. Together they offer the students of Bryan/College Station a compassionate group of servants seeking to model grace and promote community, spiritual growth, and global impact.
While some parachurch organizations compete with the church, Breakaway personnel tackle such a mindset head-on. Ben consistently encourages students to connect to a local church and to use their gifts in service. The entire team constantly reminds students that Breakaway is not an end in itself. Through regular ministry fairs, attendees can peruse not only mission opportunities and other parachurch organizations, but also meet local pastors. The message is clear: Breakaway is a beginning. From there attendees are encouraged increasingly to move outward and onward in service in the local and global church.
Inevitably many members of the Tuesday night crowd sit on the fringes, not yet wholly identified with Christ and His cross. They are simply interested in Jesus, the Bible, Christianity, or the church. These explorers often come with residue from previous encounters with the church and Christians. As a result, Ben and his staff directly, yet gently, reach out to students bruised by a church that has struggled to embody Christ’s calling.
Ultimately Ben and the inherited legacy of Breakaway Ministries purpose to clearly and uncompromisingly proclaim the gospel, calling students to holistic response. Ben is clear: “We want to consistently usher college students to the Cross and force them to deal with Jesus personally.”
Throughout the past three-and-a-half years, the helm of Breakaway Ministries has sometimes been an uncomfortable place for Ben. “We constantly fight the inevitable turnover of staff and volunteers,” he says. Beyond this, “the working health and efficiency of our staff has continued to increase, even through adversity.” Indeed, enduring in adversity has been the hallmark of Ben’s Breakaway experience thus far. Accepting the ups and downs that inevitably come with ministry, Ben fully believes that Breakaway is all about “living life with college students, teaching the Scriptures, and modeling grace. This happens every day for us,” he says. “The volume just gets turned up on Tuesday night.”
Scot Pollok, a student at DTS’s Houston campus, met Christ through Breakaway’s ministry sixteen years ago. You can write to him at [email protected].
Since 2001, when DTS started keeping admissions records, Texas A&M University has topped the list of colleges whose students pursue master’s degrees at Dallas Seminary. DTS piloted the first online class at Grace Bible Church in College Station.
To view a short video about Ben Stuart’s involvement with Breakaway, go to www.dts.edu/media/profiles.