In the “Divine Summons” series, I am sharing an exciting season of obedience and Revolution ministry in Mound from 2005-2007.
All Things to All People
The Apostle Paul was willing to wear a lot of hats and learn to navigate many worlds in order to be a more effective servant of the gospel. As he puts it: “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22). Or, as Eugene Peterson’s The Message puts it: “I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”
I could identify with Paul’s many-hatted lifestyle as I accumulated jobs in my hometown community of Mound. To paraphrase Paul: To the student I became a teacher; to the athlete I became a coach; to the 15 year-old I became a terrified driving instructor in the passenger seat holding on for dear life! I had become all of these things to all of these students if only to save some. Really? Is that where all of this was going? Was God opening up all of these miserable doors of thankless part-time jobs for some higher purpose?
When this thought crossed my mind I laughed it off immediately. I was no evangelist. I had three strikes against me in this area from the get-go: First, I’m a passive Scandinavian by blood too timid ask the drive-up window for extra ketchup much less ask a stranger if they know Jesus! Second, I was raised a Minnesota Lutheran who was convinced that faith is a private matter to be kept to oneself among polite company. Minnesotans avoid religion and politics at the dinner table by focusing instead on the “hot dish,” lefse and lutefisk on our plates. Third, I’m a relatively shy and deeply introverted person to begin with. I’m sorry, Lord, evangelist just isn’t in the cards. Or is it?
I’m guessing that the secret to Paul’s ministry success often had to do with his willingness to settle into a city as the Lord allowed — and when not getting driven out of town by angry mobs — and sink down some roots and build a healthy network of positive relationships with the people there. He was no fly-by-night itinerant preacher who gave his presentation and then locked himself in a hotel room the rest of the time. Listen to his words to the Christian community in Thessalonica:
“We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you” (1 Thess 2:9).
Paul lived among the people. He did life together with them. He worked night and day in order to make a quiet living in their midst. If he were living today we would say he bumped into familiar faces at the grocery store. He exchanged conversations at the gas pump. He went to cheer on the hometown football team on Friday nights. He led a Cub Scouts troop. He was a Rotary Club member and on the school board. You get the point.
Let me just say this plainly. I was far more plugged into the community as a full-time, around the clock “tentmaker” than I have ever been able to be since I left the tentmaking lifestyle to begin full time vocational ministry inside a church. I cannot begin to explain how deeply immersed I was becoming in the everyday lives of countless teenagers as I worked day and night among them teaching, coaching and giving driving lessons. The jobs I had once so despised (and still rarely enjoyed) were beginning to build me a public platform and give me significant influence among the students in this smaller town community.
But graduation from seminary was at last just around the corner by this time. I began to polish up my resume and look for “real jobs” that would at last get me out of this extended stay in my own personal Arabia. I was awaiting my special assignment from God after a long seven-year period of educational training and two degrees in Biblical and Theological Studies. It’s not exaggerating to say the cry of my heart at this time was essentially, “Lord, just get me out of this town and away from teenagers!”
Of course, I should once again remind you that when you’re among the summoned, you have little control over exactly where or what you’re going to be summoned to. As my seminary graduation came and went in the summer of 2005, God would soon show me that he had always been several steps ahead of me, purposefully at work in my day to day drudgery, and setting the table to use me for “such a time as this.”
Categories: Divine Summons