By Stephanie Heading
For the past thirty-one years, Ken Dillard has served the University of Cincinnati (UC) as campus pastor. At the end of May, he will be retiring from this role to focus on the pastorate at First Baptist Church Mt. Healthy—a role he has held part-time for the past two years.
Throughout his years of ministry, Dillard has believed in being available for whatever the Lord has for him. In fact, the Lord challenged his availability when He called Dillard into ministry in 1977.
“After serving as a college student summer missionary for ten weeks, my call to minister came as a question,” Dillard said. “’You made yourself available for ten weeks, would you make yourself available? No vocation. No location. Just availability.’”
Five years later in 1982, Dillard says his calling got a little more interesting. He heard the Lord say, “Everything the world has to offer is available on the college campus, would you make Me available there?”
In 1987, after what he calls “a long season of wrestling with seminary preparation,” Dillard answered that question in his first role as campus minister at Grand Canyon University, then a Baptist college, in Phoenix, Arizona.
I moved my wife Mary Kay and our kids to an unknown land called ‘Ohio’
In January 1992, Dillard found his ministry home. “I moved my wife Mary Kay and our kids to an unknown land called ‘Ohio,’ and God asked me to make Him available to students at the University of Cincinnati. I have been here ever since, just being available and making Christ available to the college community.”
Over the years, Dillard has ministered to college students in multiple ways, but sharing the scripture with them has been a highlight. “I enjoy teaching, especially the scriptures,” said Dillard. “I especially value the times sitting one-on-one with students. Here we talk about life, faith, and apply truth.”
International mission trips have also been important to Dillard. “I value all international trips—Russia, Israel, China, Turkey, Japan, India and Uruguay—where students learned to make God available in new and different cultures, but all with the same need of the gospel.”
Any ministry experiences challenges as well as highlights and Dillard has seen his share working with students. “’How do you know . . .’ is a common beginning to a conversation with a student wrestling with the challenges of life. The campus has changed over the years, but the students still bring a lot of the same questions.”
Dillard believes that God is working in students at UC, around them, and through them all the time. He feels God is preparing them through experience, education, adversity, health, finances, and especially through His Word for their next steps.
Dillard has one piece of life advice for students who are wrestling with their futures—”Everything that I have ever done has prepared me for what I am doing now. Why shouldn’t I think that this is just preparation for what I am doing next?”
These students are the reason I came. This is such a critical time of life for a young adult.
Looking back across thirty-one years at UC, Dillard returns to the calling he received long ago. “These students are the reason I came. This is such a critical time of life for a young adult. They are making all the big decisions that will guide their steps and their faith for decades to follow. Our campuses are populated by men and women, not kids, who are seeking life answers. This place of ministry is strategic in reaching the world for Jesus and is usually done best reaching them one at a time and teaching other students to reach their campus one life at a time.”
As he steps away from collegiate ministry, Dillard is looking forward to serving a church he loves and with whom he has a long history. “Our family joined FBC Mt. Healthy in 1992. We have been there ever since. I have served churches as a guest, an interim pastor, a confidant for young pastors, and even had the joy to pastor for six years at the Bridge Church at Miami University.”
While there are obvious differences between campus ministry and local church ministry, Dillard believes the needs are the same. “The need for an available Savior, an available grace, and an available guidance is still present. I am excited for the new challenge and the new chance to see God work in lives engaged in the next phases of life. I am excited to make Jesus available to them.”
“For me, it has always been about the students and now my focus shifts to the local church. The future of college ministry and the local church is good. God is not done on the campus or in the local congregation. Both are filled with rising cultural challenges and changes. But the Word of God is sufficient and available to all. It is my joy and yours to make it available today and tomorrow wherever we find ourselves.”