Meet Nick Cocalis, Bethel’s new lead campus pastor

Nick Cocalis, Bethel’s men’s golf coach, will now serve as lead campus pastor, focused on providing students diverse opportunities to experience God during their time at Bethel.

By Heather Schnese S’12, content specialist

July 10, 2024 | Noon

Nick Cocalis is the lead campus pastor at Bethel University

Nick Cocalis is the new lead campus pastor at Bethel University. In recent years, he’s been a familiar face in Chapel as a member of the teaching team.

You may have already seen him out on the links. Nick Cocalis S’25 has served as Bethel’s men’s golf coach since 2019, leading the Royals to the program's second MIAC Championship title in 2023. He’s also been busy helping run Bethel’s athletic fundraising efforts as a development officer. But now you may see him inside more, giving the message in Chapel or spending time with students in the Campus Ministries office. As Bethel’s new lead campus pastor, Cocalis is committed to making sure that every student has the opportunity to experience God—and be transformed—during their time at Bethel.  

His track record

When Cocalis joined the staff at Bethel, he was excited for a position that combined two of his passions—athletics and ministry. And in his five years as men’s golf coach, he raised the bar for students and coaches alike. Recently named MIAC Coach of the Year and one of six finalists for national coach of the year, Cocalis helped the Royals golf team record a program best—six under par—the second-lowest 54-hole score ever recorded in MIAC men’s golf history. Also for the first time in program history, the Royals had five golfers named to the All-Conference squad, and the Golf Coaches Association of America also named Cocalis the 2024 Golf Pride Grips Region VI Coach of the Year.

But for Cocalis, the most fulfilling part about golf at Bethel has been building relationships with students. “The most incredible part about coaching at the college level is the access you have to the guys,” he says. “I have the opportunity to spend hours and hours every day investing in and learning from an amazing group of young men.”

Now, he says he can see that God was working on his heart and preparing him for this new role since day one on campus. “Our leadership, community, and students have caused me to fall in love with the transformational work that is being done at Bethel in the name of Jesus,” he says.  

He’s no stranger to ministry, having spent 10 years as the executive director of Next Step Ministries, a short-term missions organization aimed at helping students serve others while encountering God themselves. He’s also been a retreat leader and speaker at College Golf Fellowship, a leadership consultant for various churches, and a high school and college youth group leader at multiple churches. At Bethel, he’s always been happy to help Campus Ministries, from sharing messages at Chapel to partnering with Mill City Church Lead Pastor and Seminary Professor Steph O’Brien ’05 S’12, to serve on the interim Chapel leadership team. “I’ve wanted to get involved in the heartbeat of ministry on campus anywhere I could,” he says.

"Ultimately, our goal as a Bethel community is to make our campus and our neighborhood look a little more like heaven each day.”

— Nick Cocalis S'25

New focus

In his new role, Cocalis will bring vision to strategic and collaborative ministry across campus and support students, staff, and faculty. “We have hundreds of ministers at Bethel. Our role in Campus Ministries should be to equip and encourage them, so that we can see God working seamlessly across campus,” he says.  "Ultimately, our goal as a Bethel community is to make our campus and our neighborhood look a little more like heaven each day,” Cocalis says.

This is no small task. Cocalis says students today are pulled in so many directions, and Bethel students are not immune to the busyness. “One of the biggest challenges for our Campus Ministries team is the ability to meet students where they are at—during their hectic and stress-producing lives—and allow God to pause their lives, pause their schedules, pause their hearts, so that the King of Kings can help them understand that they are loved and that He has a purpose for their lives,” he says.

Miranda Powers, vice president of student experience at Bethel, describes Cocalis as a gifted and inspiring communicator who is passionate about how Jesus transforms our lives and changes how we live in the world. “You don’t have to be around him long to feel this passion and encouragement, and I’m excited for our community to experience this consistently,” she says. “Nick loves students, and he loves Bethel. I look forward to seeing how the Lord uses his many gifts to impact our students, our community, and ultimately, our world as students are sent out for Christ.

Cocalis says the heartbeat of Campus Ministries will remain the same. “We are a university that stands on the foundation of the Gospel, but you can definitely expect a fresh look to Campus Ministries and a more integrated approach to ministry across our community,” he says. “Can't wait for God to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine this year!”

Outside of Bethel

Cocalis and his wife, Melanie ’12, a Bethel alum, are always active and moving. He grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, and received his bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Marquette University before getting a master’s in nonprofit management from UW-Milwaukee. He and Melanie moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he played golf as a professional—including on the PGA Tour Latin American in the 2018 season—before they moved back to Minnesota when he took the golf coach job at Bethel. Now, he’s working towards his Master of Divinity and plans to graduate from Bethel Seminary in 2025.  

Melanie played hockey for the Royals during her time at Bethel, and together they enjoy being outside on the water. “We love to boat, wakeboard, and tug our friends' kids on the tubes all day long,” he says. “We both enjoy hiking, biking, traveling, going to sporting events, pretty much anything outside.”

“I want students to know that they are loved, that Bethel is their home, and that God wants to do outrageous things in and through them during their time at Bethel.”

— Nick Cocalis S'25

Summer’s going fast, and Cocalis is already excited for the upcoming school year. He says the Campus Ministries team wants to be part of every area of the Bethel experience. Their mission is for all incoming students to engage in their faith, experience God, and extend service to others in the name of Christ. “This can look so many different ways during a student's four years at college, and we are better because of the diverse ways students can engage in and express their faith at Bethel,” he says. “Above all, I want students to know that they are loved, that Bethel is their home, and that God wants to do outrageous things in and through them during their time at Bethel, so get ready to go!”

Bethel students leading worship at a Vespers service

Experience God at Bethel

At Bethel, experiencing God often happens when you jump into faith-transforming opportunities, like Chapel and serving in a community of Christ-followers. Then empowered and supported, you’re equipped to make a difference in the lives of others. Check out ways to get involved.

Learn more