Mike Nuss doesn’t remember the name of the school where he did his six weeks of student teaching. But he does remember the very real feeling that it wasn’t for him.
And he remembers being surprised by that.
“I really wanted to be a high school guidance counselor,” Nuss explained. “I wanted to do personal counseling, work with students and help them make life choices.”
So that’s what he studied at the University of Montevallo — kind of.
“I was BSU [Baptist Student Union] president, and I jokingly tell people I majored in BSU in college and minored in school,” he says. “Probably my grades reflected that, too.”
Nuss realized collegiate ministry probably was in his future, and he knew education didn’t fit like he thought it would.
“I had a real vocational crisis at that point,” he recalled.
So Nuss went to his campus minister and asked advice, and was told there was an internship in collegiate ministry in south Alabama he should consider.
“I thought, ‘I’m getting married, and I don’t have a job. I need to have one,’” Nuss remembered.
So he interviewed and became an itinerant campus minister serving three colleges: Jefferson Davis Junior College in Brewton, Patrick Henry State Junior College in Monroeville (both of which are now campuses of Coastal Alabama Community College) and Lurleen B. Wallace Community College in Andalusia.
“I had a Ford Pinto that I wore out driving between those three schools,” Nuss recalled.
And he loved it.
“Immediately in my time with students, I really sensed that God had been preparing me for this all along, I just hadn’t been smart enough to see it.”
‘A wild ride’
That started him on a career in collegiate ministry he said has been a “wild ride” he wouldn’t trade.
Nuss and his wife, Judy, went next to Louisville, Kentucky, so he could study at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Then they moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, where he became campus minister for four colleges.
“My desire, even going back to high school, to be involved with students at such a critical time in their lives, it all kind of came together at that point,” Nuss recalled.
They served there six years, then in 1985 moved to Mobile, where he became campus minister at the University of South Alabama. Fifteen years later he got a call from Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, asking him to join the staff as the director of collegiate and student ministries.
“Reflecting on where I am now 22 years later, it’s been an honor of a lifetime,” Nuss said. “I never imagined myself being able to do what I’m doing. I love being on campus. Still my most favorite place to be is on a college campus.”
And in his mind it’s the most purposeful place he could be.
A big task
“It’s a critical mission field,” he declared, noting statistics that claim 95% of college students don’t follow Jesus.
“We have 300,000 plus college students in Alabama. If the statistics are true and even 90–95% of those students don’t have a relationship with Jesus, that’s a pretty overwhelming task.”
It’s the mission he’s invested in over the past 22 years, and the 22 he served as a campus minister before that. He’s seen campus ministry grow all over the state and has encouraged and equipped churches to reach the campuses near them. He’s also sent students on mission.
“I’ve traveled with students all over the world, and I’ve loved seeing them understand their role in God’s world, that God can use them in ways they didn’t think they could ever be used,” Nuss said. “I have former students today who are educators and social workers and policemen and physical therapists, and I love seeing them understand how their faith integrates with the rest of their life, that it’s not just about some fun times in college. It’s, ‘This is really foundational to who I am.’”
One of his favorite things is to see students “get it,” he said.
“I love seeing them get excited about it and understand how God can use them.”
Nuss has seen ministry strategy develop over the years, he said, and he and other leaders have worked with youth ministry and collegiate ministry at the state level, putting them together so youth have a connection with college ministry before they leave high school.
Nuss also has seen the advent of collegiate church plants in recent years as church planters have focused on reaching student populations around the state. In recent months he helped get a new effort off the ground — the Timothy Initiative, focused on training the next generation of Alabama Baptist leaders through mentorship and missions.
Now as Nuss plans to retire at the end of June, he said his career has been a “dream come true.”
Chris Mills, SBOM student missions mobilizer, said during Nuss’ tenure at SBOM nearly 7,000 have come to faith through the work of students and Baptist campus ministers as they share Jesus at their schools and on missions trips around the world.
“That number represents something much more than just a number — it represents lives changed, lives impacted for the gospel,” Mills said. “Mike is a man of integrity and a man of commitment and passion for college ministry.
“The key piece here is that Mike is not only passionate about student ministry, he’s also a champion for student ministry across our state and across the globe. He’s done a great job at casting vision and challenging us to see our part in reaching every student in Alabama on every campus for the Gospel of Christ.”
Lance added Nuss has “done an exceptional job of leading our campus ministers to be on mission with the Great Commission.”
“Mike and I have had a close working relationship through the years,” Lance said. “I trust him without reservation or equivocation. I appreciate his sacrificial service.
“He has set the stage for a bright future for student ministers and ministry on college and university campuses. I thank the Lord for Mike Nuss.”