Pioneering Campus Ministry
Even though his father, Harvey, worked at the Chi Alpha Campus Ministries national office in Springfield, Missouri, for 30 years, Matt Herman’s destiny to follow him hardly seemed assured as he entered adulthood.
Matt enrolled at Missouri State University (MSU) with plans of becoming an accountant. But during his first semester he got involved in the Chi Alpha group there and by his junior year sensed a call to campus ministry. He graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, then earned a master’s in theology at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. Afterward he served a year as a Chi Alpha intern at Georgetown University.
From there, Herman and his wife, Tracy, whom he met at MSU, decided to pioneer a Chi Alpha chapter at Cornell University, an Ivy League school in Ithaca, New York.
“My day told me years before that the vast majority of prestigious schools and the fewest number of campus ministries were both in the Northeast,” says Herman, an ordained AG minister and a U.S. missionary. “I wanted to go where Chi Alpha didn’t exist.”
Herman became the first nationally appointed Chi Alpha missionary in New York in decades. Ithaca First Assembly of God and pastor John U. Sotero supported the effort at Cornell, which functions as a private institution. Herman quickly found Cornell students to be driven, ambitious, motivated, and focused on their studies.
“People in New York are honest about their faith — or lack of it,” Herman says. “They’re not afraid to proclaim they are atheist.”
Nevertheless, the number of students reconciled to Christ who participated in Chi Alpha missions trips during Herman’s 7-year stay increased annually.
In 2012, Herman moved to another unusual assignment, St. Louis University, a private Jesuit school, the second oldest in the U.S. after Georgetown. Herman quickly gained favor with school officials and Chi Alpha became the only evangelical ministry on campus. Tracy is a St. Louis native.
The Chi Alpha group became an outlet for Pentecostal and charismatic students to worship, seek the Holy Spirit, and increase their devotion to God.
Unlike the typical state university, Herman found students at St. Louis University to be more structured, more driven, and less idle. Subsequently, no student gathering went longer than an efficient 75 minutes. Herman learned to respect what the students loved: liturgy, tradition, and the calendar cycle of how a church operates.
“The Catholic Church and Chi Alpha don’t disagree as much as people assume,” Herman says. “We have far more in common than there are differences, and it’s easy to bond on commonalities.”
After 18 months of being unable to minister on campus due to COVID-19, the St. Louis group now is under the direction of Amber Farhart.
Meanwhile, at the age of 42, Herman in July moved to Springfield to serve on the national team as pioneering and new director specialist. His decision to take the newly created assignment focused on his goal to see healthy Chi Alpha chapters functioning in myriad locales.
“Pioneering is about expanding capacity on campuses,” Herman says. “God will be faithful to bring new students into the Kingdom.” Matt and Tracy have three children: Nadya, 13; Eli Matthew Jr., 12; and Bennett, 8.
He works directly with Paul R. Austin, who has been national pioneering director for seven years. Austin says Herman’s expertise as a recent campus planter brings a fresh perspective to the team.
“Matt has a gift set as a writer and communicator, as well as an ability to capture and codify some of the dynamics we’ve been doing with the pioneering process,” says Austin, 54. “He will be a multiplier available in coaching existing pioneers.”
Last year, Herman published Pioneering Campus Ministry: What You Should Know Before Stepping into the Experience. The book is a resource for would-be planters about the lessons Herman learned in starting two campus groups.
Austin, who has been involved with Chi Alpha for 32 years, says the ministry launches on 15-20 new campuses annually. He says Herman, by forming relationships with the planters and providing resources to them, will help them flourish.
Herman’s older sister, Sarah E. Malcolm and her husband, Rob, are co-directors of the Chi Alpha at Yale University, another Ivy League school. Sarah, who is an ordained AG minister, also is a graduate of AGTS and is currently studying for her doctorate.
"In both of his pioneering efforts, Matt has led with Spirit-sensitivity and prayer-soaked strategy,” Malcolm says. “He is a courageous leader who thrives on seeing new ministries flourish and helping missionaries discover the mission of God on their campus. There is no one better suited for a role in helping others pioneer."
Harvey A. Herman also is gratified with the persistence Matt and Tracy showed in establishing Chi Alpha chapters, first on an Ivy League campus and then at a Jesuit school. He says the experience prepared his son for his current role.
“Matt will help new pioneers,” says Harv, 71. “He’s done it effectively and proficiently twice.”
Harvey says he didn’t pressure his children to follow in his footsteps, but notes that both had significant encounters with the Lord their first year attending Missouri State University in Springfield.
“The call of God to university ministry flowed from there,” says Harv, who retired in January after 48 years of serving with Chi Alpha in various capacities. He graduated from the AG’s Evangel University and AGTS, plus he holds a doctorate from Regent University in Virginia Beach. Harv and his wife, Sally, have been married nearly 49 years.
Austin says Matt Herman’s presence will better enable Chi Alpha to accomplish the goals of EveryCampus, a collaborative initiative its involved in with other campus ministries, such as Cru, The Navigators, and InterVarsity.
Currently, 2,176 colleges and universities in the U.S. have no on-site ministry sharing the gospel, according to Austin.
“One of the biggest opportunities for Chi Alpha yet to be fully realized is partnership with the local church,” Austin says. “We want to reach across the street to the community college that has no gospel witness.”
Among parachurch organizations, Austin says, the Assemblies of God is uniquely positioned to engage campuses because local congregations are near many college campuses.
“Our pioneering team will work on how to engage students on their turf,” Austin says. “We need sustained success.”
PHOTO: The family Chi Alpha ministry has been carried out by (from left) Matt and Tracy Herman, Harvey and Sally Herman, and Sarah and Rob Malcolm