Q&A with Matt Runion S’03, campus pastor for spiritual formation and care

For more than 20 years, Matt Runion’s leadership has given vision to spiritual formation, worship, and missions ministries on Bethel’s campus. Here he shares how Chapel, Bethel’s faculty, and you can play a pivotal role in a student’s faith development.

By Heather Schnese S'12, content specialist

January 16, 2024 | 11 a.m.

Matt Runion S’03, campus pastor for spiritual formation and care

Matt Runion S’03, campus pastor for spiritual formation and care

With a Master of Divinity from Bethel Seminary, Runion has a heart for engaging students—encouraging them to be with Jesus to become more like Jesus so they can do what Jesus did.

What has Chapel looked like this year for Bethel students?

This fall at Chapel, we've had a pastor-in-residence model. Pastor Steph O'Brien and a team of regular local pastors have been giving a scriptural-based word on Mondays. Among other things, we've explored topics about the character of God, focused on the book of Acts, and we also did an advent series. On Fridays, Nick Cocalis, our golf coach and regular Chapel speaker, has taken our Monday word and challenged our community to live this out. We've asked the question, what does this word mean for your life? How will you make our campus look more like the Kingdom of God?

It's been so cool to see our students taking the initiative for their growth this fall. Students moved a piano out into the student commons with a sign on it that says, "reserved for worship". You frequently hear groups of students randomly gathering to worship. On Friday nights, a group of students started an organic time where students can go to worship and pray. The vibrancy and hunger for spiritual formation have been prevalent on our campus this fall. 

What was the impetus for community groups and what do they look like?

In previous years, we also held Chapel on Wednesdays—but we’ve repurposed that time slot for community groups. We noticed that after the freshman year, a number of factors make it more difficult for students to meet consistently in small groups. They have cars. They work or live off-campus. Their schedules are busier, and there’s a sense of isolation and disconnection from each other. As a pastor, I see and feel it all day, every day. What we want most desperately is for them to develop skills and habits to sustain their faith—for life—and you don’t do that by yourself. So community groups are meant to be a place where students can share their lives, spend time together in prayer, and remain centered on Jesus.

This year, community groups have focused on three curriculums. One is focused on spiritual practices, another is based on a book called The Gospel-centered Life, and the third is a Psalms study. While not every group is doing one of these curriculums, it's been neat to see our community focused on what it means to walk with Jesus daily.

What is one of the biggest challenges you see right now for students and their spiritual formation? And how is Bethel equipped to help?

Students have unlimited opportunities for spiritual growth in their lives. From the Bible app to video streaming to world-class worship music in their headphones. All of this—amidst the deluge of information in which they find themselves—can easily become just “noise.’’ Bethel’s unique asset is her people—faculty and staff, mentors, and disciplers—to provide relationships in the form of spiritual friendships for students. 

What are you excited about for students in 2024?

I am excited to see more and more students “level-up” in their friendship groups and create spiritual communities that form them more and more into the likeness of Christ. They are hungry for this, and it’s exciting to see students finding it. 

If you could tell parents one thing about their student’s faith experience at Bethel, what would it be? 

Show them curiosity. Ask them genuine and open-ended questions about their faith experience. “What are you learning about God?” “What is different about your faith today compared to when you were in high school?” “What spiritual questions are you most often thinking about?” “How are you doing with doubt in your life?” And when your student shares something with you—even if it's shocking—lead with curiosity and not quick judgment or answers. Be patient and inquisitive. “Where do you think that is coming from?” “What is it that brings that question out?” “Who at Bethel do you think you could process this with?” And families need to know that Bethel faculty are fabulous processors for students. And I would also invite students to connect with someone in our office, Christian Formation, or with our colleagues in the Office of Career Development and Calling. From spiritual questions, faith development, to questions about purpose and calling, this is why we are here. I would tell families all of that and this: keep (or start) praying regularly for your student, their friends, and their mentors.

Bethel’s Office of Christian Formation

The Christian Formation team has created a searchable, online directory of community groups to help students plug in to a group. It’s organized by interest, time, location, gender, and topic of study. Though every group has its own unique content and personality, all of them have a goal of helping students grow in their spiritual life.

Learn more