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Getting to the heart of your campus: concentrate on building relationships

During my sophomore year in college, I befriended a young pledge from Louisiana named Mike. He was a handsome, wealthy, fun-loving partier, like a number of my fraternity brothers were. On many star-filled nights, Mike and I would spend hours on top of the roof of our chapter house talking about our lives, our dreams and─his soul. He knew he wasn’t a Christian, but he came to understand exactly what he must do to become one. He even promised me one midnight that when he did come to Christ, I would be the first to know. Never in my life had I been more burdened by God to intercede for someone’s salvation, spending over an hour many late nights that semester on my knees just crying out to God on Mike’s behalf, so absolutely sure the Lord was going to redeem his soul.

One afternoon there arose all kinds of commotion in the house, including one guy running through the hallways screaming at the top of his lungs. I opened my door as he ran by yelling, “Mike has been killed in a car wreck out by the lake!” Horrified, I bolted out of my room and grabbed the first guy I found to verify if it was really true. When he shook his head yes, I staggered to my knees and sobbed. I could not believe it. No way this really happened! The Lord had promised me! In total denial, I couldn’t speak, eat, or concentrate on anything for days. Instead of sleeping, I wandered around the campus in a daze for three straight nights hurling deep, heartfelt accusations at God.

At the end of my rope one morning, I heard a knock, and a fraternity brother, who had never darkened my door, walked in. With bowed head and tear-filled eyes, he gave me a side of the story that no one else had heard. He and Mike had been at the lake about to smoke marijuana when a local youth minister walked up and engaged them in a spiritual conversation. Mike became so convicted of his empty life and sordid heart that he prayed to receive Christ right there on the beach. Once he made his decision, he got up, threw his bag of dope in the water, turned, and said, “Let’s get back to the house. I’ve got to tell Shad.” As they were driving back along a steep mountain road, a speeding car was rounding the curve in Mike’s lane. He had an instantaneous decision about whether to hit the car head on, and risk killing everyone, or sacrificing his own life by turning his vehicle hard to the right (and off the side of the cliff). He chose the latter, and each person walked away─except Mike, the full weight of his car crushing him.

The moment I heard him repeat Mike’s words, “I’ve got to tell Shad,” I immediately envisioned a full-fledged image of my friend in heaven with the Lord and a huge smile splashed across his face. He was saved! Mike was with Jesus and waiting for me to join him for an eternity spent in praise of the Savior. God had kept His promise to me but waited three days to confirm it. From that point on, I would never give up on anyone, believing that God could answer our petitions, even in the lowest or latest possible moment.
If we love people, we will pray for them, share the gospel with them, and lay our lives down for them. Our motive in ministry has to be our genuine, authentic love for others, and the Great Commission should flow out of the Great Commandment. Surely our love for others comes from our love for God as explained in 2 Corinthians 5:14: “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died.” Because God put us on earth to build deep, abiding relationships, we love people more than things, more than tasks, and in fact, the true measure of a person’s success during this brief life is the quality of relationships we developed in the following areas:

A. God

B. Family

C. God’s family

D. Those who don’t know Christ yet

Two kinds of disciplers

I had two different men disciple me in college. One took me through ministry materials each week, along with the “mandatory” one-on-one we’d agreed on. At the end of my freshmen year, he graduated, we shook hands, and I’ve never heard from him again! Later in college, God gave me a second man to disciple me, Vic Underwood, who loved me in spite of myself. I’d never met someone who cared, served, prayed, and invested in my life like Vic did. He didn’t do it to impress others or even out of obedience to God; he did it because he enjoyed being with me, the highest compliment you can pay anyone. Even though I was like a wild bucking bronco when it came to respecting or submitting to his spiritual leadership, he never gave up on me.

Vic and I lived together my senior year, and he would constantly make my bed and fix the meals. I repaid his kindnesses by begrudgingly sitting in his early-morning Bible study with a blanket wrapped around my head to protest the ungodly hour. Once, during a prayer walk we took together, in the middle of his very sincere petition, I glared at his bowed head and scoffed, “You’re the biggest phony I’ve ever met!” If there was ever a time I deserved for someone to call me a slimy imbecile and whack me, it was then. Instead, he patiently smiled, put his hand on my shoulder, looked right into my eyes and soul, then quietly uttered four unbelievable words, “I love you, Steve.”

To be honest, I don’t remember any pithy statements or deep doctrine that Vic gave me back in those days, only his unconditional love offered to an arrogant, rebellious college student. He saw potential in me and stayed in the saddle no matter how much I tried to buck him off. The investment he made has reaped eternal dividends, and plus, almost twenty-five years later, he still cares, prays, and supports me!

If you want to see your campus ablaze for Christ, purpose-driven, love-filled relationships will have to permeate your life and ministry. Why? Because discipleship is a combination of direction and affection. My first discipler gave me all direction (i.e., going through the materials) and almost no affection (i.e., building a friendship with me). Vic took us through some good stuff, yes, but the core of his discipling was all about him pouring his life into me. The generation of students we’re trying to reach are crying out, not for slicker, more impressive materials, but for a human being to care and believe in them enough to form a lasting bond─a relationship. It’s why we’re here!

An excerpt from The Fuel and the Flame
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