Like Mike
by Cole Griffith
Minister to College Students

When you meet someone new, what are some of the first things you ask? “What do you do for work?” “What part of town do you live in?” “Where are you from?” For me, the last question is always the hardest.

Growing up, we moved around a good bit— but always stayed just long enough to fall in love with the place. In 1996, I was born in the Southern California desert, among retirees, palm trees, and golf courses. In 2005, my family moved to a suburban town, south of Atlanta, Georgia, where we drove golf carts through the pines. And in 2012, we moved again—to Muscle Shoals, Alabama—where my family still lives today. I come from a lot of places; it’s hard to pick just one to call home.

Growing up, I was a pretty shy and cautious kid. The oldest of three sons, I felt a responsibility to lead the way, make right decisions, and make my parents proud. Because of this self-imposed pressure, I would often try to hide myself in humor, by putting someone else down, or going along with the crowd. My parents are incredible people and demonstrated to me what a life of virtue, hard work, and humor looks like. I went to church whenever it was open, memorized Bible verses through Awana, and was a Sunday School regular.

When I think back on my life as a kid, I see a Gospel truth at work. I wanted to make my parents proud of me—I tried to accomplish this by being smart enough, funny enough, or obedient enough. But I was their son. In the same way, God was slowly unveiling good news for me—I didn’t have to check all the right boxes for God to be “proud” of me, but he already loved me as a son through the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, Jesus of Nazareth. Even though I was a good kid growing up, I was far from God, because I was trying to
earn my favor with Him.

It wasn’t until high school that the songs, stories, and lessons of my childhood took on new significance. Through the ministry of my high school youth group, I brought my fragmented understanding of the Bible, my questions about God, but, most importantly, my sin to light. In doing so, I was met with a community of my peers asking the same questions and experiencing the same things. During a youth ministry retreat, I experienced the presence of God through preaching and worship in a new way. My eyes were opened to my need for grace and truth. I decided to leave behind all my efforts to be “good” on my own and to follow Jesus.

Immediately following my decision to follow Christ, life took a sharp turn. The church my family and I had been attending was embroiled in a divisive, painful leadership scandal. In addition to this, my own family experienced a time of financial hardship that initiated our move back to Alabama. And to top everything off, my maternal grandfather passed away suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving my family exhausted, anxious, and grief-stricken. However, through these trials, I noticed a real change had taken place within me.

I was learning to trust God. Rather than make jokes at my classmates’ expense, I began to try to be kinder and more servant-hearted. By no longer feeling the need to look out for my own good, God was turning my heart for the better. Throughout the remainder of my high school years, the Lord was kind to continue to build my trust in Him, establish in me a firm sense of self, and lay out a trajectory for my future.

College was the crucible of transformation for my adult life. I attended The University of Alabama and was an active member of Calvary Baptist Church. I am who I am today in large part to the faithful witness of the saints at Calvary Baptist Church. They loved me and invested in my life with the love of Christ. There,
I was helped along as I tried to make sense of the world and discern what God was calling me to in life. I was introduced to folks who would become my closest friends. One of these friends, a girl named Jada, would later become my wife. At Calvary, I discerned a call to serve God through vocational ministry as a laborer in the Gospel of Jesus. However, discerning my call to ministry had been a wrestling match with God. I struggled with the idea of pursuing vocational ministry. I was afraid to truly rely on God, and
I questioned whether ministry as a vocation made sense for me. I was studying engineering, I already had a job lined up, and I had a future that I had worked hard for—was I really about to change paths when I was so close to the finish line?

Like Jacob, I spent many nights wrestling with the Lord in prayer. Through my internal struggle, the Lord confronted my fears around the cost of discipleship. He challenged my trust in Him and left me no option but to make a choice. Yes or no? I finally caved. I still remember the wet, spring night, sitting with a friend over a basket of cheap chicken tenders at Hooligans off University Boulevard at nearly midnight. I knew that if I uttered out loud what God was calling me to do, then I would be on the hook. I broke. I told my friend, “God is calling me to ministry, I think I need to go to seminary.”

This breaking point gave way to filling out an application to Beeson Divinity School. A week later, I was accepted with enough scholarship money to make it happen. Through my cage-match with God, I realized a truth: if I can’t control the future, then it’s a wiser bet to gamble on God than to bet on myself.

I attended seminary right here in Birmingham at Beeson Divinity School. In the meantime, I began to serve as a ministry resident at Iron City Church in the Southside of Birmingham. There I cut my teeth on ministry and realized the joy in it. I made amazing relationships, learned more than I can tell, and sensed God’s confirmation of His calling on my life.

A couple years into my time in Birmingham, I made another bet—I bet that I couldn’t make it through life without my friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-fiancé Jada Culver and on December 12, 2020 made good on that promise by saying “I do.”

After graduating from seminary, I moved on to Evangel Classical Christian School where I taught courses in New Testament and Rhetoric. At Evangel, I fell in love with teaching and mentoring students. I loved watching students have lightbulb moments as they read through Scripture. For me, one of my favorite things in ministry is helping someone to see that the Bible isn’t a scary rule book or a mysterious maze of information accessible to only a select few, but it is the word of life and is available to all people.

The last few years have been a whirlwind of activity. From graduation to marriage to starting our family off with a dog, to buying a home and starting one new job and then another. Through all of the challenges and changes of becoming an adult, I still remember that moment of decision in college when I had to trust God. I can’t control the future, and, thank God, I don’t.

God has made good on His word to me. Every time. Early on in my life, I often felt transient. Moving around made it hard to nail down a hometown. But this town and its people have wrapped their arms around us, supported us through hard times, and blessed us more immensely than we could ever repay. Throughout my time at Beeson, ministry at Iron City Church, and now here as College Minister at Dawson, my wife and I are grateful for the gift of home, and the gift of Birmingham. We love this place and feel honored to serve here for as long as God should see fit.

All of that to say, come say "Hi!" Whether you see us here at Dawson on Sundays, or catch me running (or cycling) through Edgewood, or out to eat downtown (probably at our favorite, el Barrio!), at a Baron’s game, playing pickleball at the FRC, seeing one of our favorite bands at the Alabama Theater, catching a comedy show at the Lyric, or just simply grabbing groceries at the Pig— we’d love to get to know you, grab a coffee or a meal, hear your story, and celebrate the goodness of God in Jesus together as family in Christ. It’s nice to be in Birmingham, and it’s even better to be here at Dawson.

As I begin my role here as Minister to College Students, I want to encourage you all to remember the gift that you can be to college students. God used the witness and love of families, individuals, and peers at Calvary Baptist Church to transform my life. They showed me what a redeemed life in the Gospel looked like. It wasn’t fancy, it wasn’t over the top, but it was faithful. You have an opportunity to show college students what a life lived in devotion to Christ looks like. Whether you work in the professional world, serve as a stay-at-home parent, have a herd of kids or none at all, whether you retired years ago, or even recently graduated yourself— we need you. We desperately need a vision of faithful, everyday people living out an everyday obedience to an extraordinary God. Just like Paul says to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:1, we need your faithful witness to show us how to live as Christ followers
in the world, just as you yourselves imitate Christ. Thanks be to our God who delights to give us a new home and who always makes good on His promises.

Cole Griffith spent time in California, Georgia, and Alabama growing up. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from The University of Alabama and a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. Cole and his wife, Jada, live in Homewood with their dog, Cooper.