A week ago, our Campus Life team set up a table at the local university’s “Get on Board” day. This is an annual event and every student organization along with some businesses and church college ministries are there for the sole purpose of informing students about who they are and inviting them to join them. At least 25,000 students walk through each section through the span of four hours and check out the displays, take advantage of the free giveaways, and collect information to determine whether or not they will join any organization. While we were out there, one of my former Campus Life students saw me and came over. This young man had been a part of Campus Life from the beginning of my employment. He and his group of friends were somewhat responsible for the level of momentum we had gained on their high school campus. It was a momentum that six years later has not slowed down. I hadn’t seen this student in over a year and I was very happy to see him. The conversation that took place was one that I was not expecting and wasn’t’ prepared to have.
We shook hands and did the masculine half hug/ shoulder bump thing that guys do. Then we began to update each other on how life has been since we last saw each other. “Dude, I can’t complain” I said. “Life is pretty good. I’m on the regional and national Campus Life teams now. I wouldn’t be there if your crew hadn’t worked hard to build a following at the school. How about you? How’s life?” He replied, “About my life…I have somebody I want you to meet.” He signaled for this young man who was not too far away to come all the way over. That guy shook my hand and I said, “Nice to meet you.” In my mind, I wondered what this young man had to do with the life update I was waiting on. To make this long story shorter, after my failed attempts to determine this guy’s importance, my former student said, “He’s not my relative. This is my husband!”
After about thirty seconds of my complete silence, he said “You made the exact same face our other friends made when I told them. So, what are you thinking?” I asked him how long he had known he was gay. Whatever came to my mind came out my mouth. “Dude, we went on all of those overnight trips together. We stayed in the same bunks. We hung out multiple times a week every week for the entire couple of years you were in Campus Life. How did I not know this?” As he began to explain, the God question came up. “How do you think God feels about our marriage?” I asked, “How do YOU think God feels about it?” “I think God loves everybody regardless of their sins” the husband responded. “So, are you saying that you believe you are sinning?” I replied. After realizing that he had just set himself up, he answered, “Yes sir!” I don’t have time to tell you all the details of the conversation that followed. Just know that I was as honest as I could be about my convictions on the subject yet, I assured my former student that I still love him, his “husband” seems to be a nice guy, and I hope they don’t wait another year before I can see them again. They walked away to check out other organizations. Ten minutes later, they returned to talk to me. We didn’t even talk about the homosexuality stuff. We talked about some of my other students he graduated with. After he left the last time, one of our Campus Life Directors pointed out that she knew I had a genuine relationship with that guy because I cut no corners with telling him how I felt. Yet, he returned to talk to me again. That’s love. Although I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, let’s explore the principle that I believe will make us more effective Christian witnesses.
There is NO Substitute for Genuine Relationships!
Matthew 16:23- Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Jesus had just asked his disciples a relationship question. “Who do you say I am?” Simon replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus let Simon know that God was the one who revealed that to him. Then out of relationship, Jesus changed his name from Simon to Peter and talked about how the church would be built. After that, Jesus started to foretell his death and resurrection. Peter talked against it. Jesus harshly said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me…” How is it that Peter could still live for Jesus and end up being one of the most influential apostles after Jesus was as harsh with him as he was? Jesus had proven over the course of their relationship that he loved Peter and he had his best interest at heart. So, Jesus’ painful words did not make Peter question the authenticity of His love. Likewise, even after my somewhat harsh words to my former student, he returned to talk because he knew that I only spoke the truth in love.
Too many Christians are attempting to speak the truth to individuals we have not proven our love for first. I’m not suggesting that we must be in deep relationships with everyone we minister to. What I do believe though is that truth is better received from people who we know have our best interest at heart. So, let’s change our approach. Rather than look for opportunities to preach truth, let’s look for opportunities to build relationships, consistently serve, and love unconditionally. When we do those things, opportunities to speak hard truths will come and they will be more likely to be received.
Romel Gibson is a youth and college pastor, mentor, community leader, motivational speaker, musician, and songwriter living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He serves as a full- time Campus Life Director with Youth for Christ, one of the largest non-profit youth evangelism ministries in the world. As a songwriter, his most notable works include L. Spenser Smith and Testament (Greater, Surgery), Tonya Baker (Miracles), The Anointed Pace Sisters (Praise and Worship), Myron Butler (Changed), Marvin Sapp (Never), Ruben Studdard (Holding On To You Lord), and Johnny Gill (Black Box).Romel has been married for 12 years to his college best friend Quanedra. Together they have been blessed with three beautiful daughters; Allayna Pilar, Moriah Kelis, and Rylee Addison.