Noted author and pastor Greg Gilbert is the featured speaker at the upcoming Together for the Campus conference, which will be held at KSBC on February 22 and 23. We asked him some questions to get to know more about him and his heart for college students.
Q: Introduce us briefly to yourself, your family, and your current ministry.
A: I am a Texan by birth, a fact which surprises a lot of people, but one I'm pretty proud of. I did my education at Yale in the north of America, which explains my lack of a cowboy accent. I've been pastor of Third Avenue Baptist for about 2.5 years now. The church is located in Louisville, right next to the campus of the University of Louisville (some of you might know it for its basketball fame!). It's a really young church, probably only about 30 in average age, and there are a ton of college students there every week. It's a fun place to pastor! I'm married to Moriah, and we have three kids—Justin is 10, Jack is 6, and Juliet is 3. Justin's big-time into soccer and football; Jack likes football, and is about to be a green belt in Taekwondo; Juliet's into princesses like you wouldn't believe!
Q: How and when did God draw you to himself?
A: It was through the witness of my church and parents. I grew up in a great Christian home, attended a great church, and heard the gospel from as early as I can remember. I was 9 years old when the Lord saved me. I had just heard a sermon and realized my need for Jesus to save me from my sin. So I talked to my dad, he explained the gospel of Jesus more fully to me, and I was converted. I was baptized a few weeks later.
Q: In your own experiences, how have you seen the importance or value of the church's ministry to college students?
A: College is an amazing time of life. I often think back to my college days and miss them very much. The friendships you make there and the experiences you have are unique in life. You'll never get to go back to it. Not only that, but it's a massive turning point in people's lives. For many, it's the first time they're really getting to make decisions on their own, so it's also a time when their childhood faith comes up for reexamination. For some, they embrace Christ in college like never before and start to grow as Christian adults now. Others abandon the faith. So the church has a massive role in helping students navigate those issues, answer those questions, and make the transition from a childhood faith in Jesus to a powerful, adult faith in Him that will shape the rest of their lives.
Q: When it comes to campus ministry, what do you think are the most pressing needs for the church to address?
A: I think the most important things are to be clear, straight, and humble. In my experience, college students aren't looking for answers that make them feel good and that simply avoid saying hard things. What they want are clear answers from the Bible—straight answers, not mealy-mouthed ones. They want someone to say, "Here's what the Bible says. It may not be easy, but it's true." And then they want to be shown from the Bible how that's the case—to be convinced that what you're saying is really what the Bible teaches. We need to be crazy clear about the content of the Gospel of Jesus, and the teaching of the Bible about all kinds of issues students face. And that clarity needs to be taken straight from the Bible, not from mere tradition or opinion. Beyond that, it seems to me that students are also ridiculously skilled at seeing through smokescreens, and they'll respect a person more if he just says, "I don't know," rather than making up an answer on the spot that doesn't really hold water.
Q: What are some of the most encouraging words you could offer a college student seeking to have an impact for the gospel on his or her campus?
A: You only get to do this once. I'm serious. That's what I'd say. You only get to do this once. Like I said, I often think back on my college days and wish I had been more bold in talking to certain people about the gospel. I wasn't, and I regret it to this day. You'll never have another time of life where you have so much time just to sit and talk until late into the night about things that really matter. Take advantage of that. Everyone wants to have "an impact." You know how to do that? You have to talk to people. Yes, make friends and build relationships, but eventually you have to spend some of that relational capital to talk to them about Jesus. Swallow your fears and do that 20 times in an academic year, and you'll make an impact. You only get to do this once. Take advantage of it.