As I sat in church yesterday, I looked around at all of the young faces around me. Not young in the sense of physical age. Young in the sense of their walk with Christ. Something came over me, piercing my heart with deep feelings, though I cannot really describe those feelings. Sadness, shame, I’m not sure. I realized that I am failing them. I have been away from home too long.
I’m not usually what comes to mind when someone hears the word missionary. Years ago, when I was still in college and participated in my church’s college outreach group, I found it difficult to be part of them, and in many ways, I never really succeeded. One thing that stands out in memory is something that one of the guys said one evening as he was speaking to the group. While concluding his sermon, he presented a challenge to us and addressed us something like this: ‘Whether we’re pastors, or teachers, or worship leaders, or missionaries, or seminary students…’ then he looked in my direction, ‘… or anyone else who isn’t in the ministry…’
My college group was composed of students from three different colleges/universities in town. One of them is a Christian college, and most of the students in the group were from that college. They were sort of the ‘real’ ministers of the group because they studied theology, Bible, Greek, and whatever else ‘real’ ministers study. The man who gave the sermon that evening is one of my friends, and he’s one of these people who perpetually sticks his foot in his mouth. I hold no ill will toward him, but his faux pas brought light to the fact that there was a clear distinction in the group as to who the ministers were. At the time, I was actively engaging and debating classes of humanists and secularists on topics such as abortion, homosexuality, and atheism, but few in the college group knew about it. Furthermore, I watched in amazement as 12 year old Freethinkers and atheists on the street could – and sometimes did – defeat these college level ministry students in arguments and debates using nothing more than the plug ’n’ chug ’how to defeat a Christian’ propaganda on Richard Dawkins’ website. I watched as my mission field began to come into focus – the field of intellectuals, who are avoided, even feared, among Christians.
Unfortunately, that distinction between ministry students and the rest of us went much deeper into the church than the college group. I’ve written other articles on some of the struggles I faced trying to minister in and through the churches, so I won’t get into the details again here. But it remains that I have intellectual-based teaching courses and books that I spent many hours writing that are archived on my hard drive, never read. Why? Because when I asked to teach the course in church, I was told, ‘Well, that’s great! We’d love to have you teach a course here. But we don’t have room for you this semester. Come talk with us again in a few months.’ After about the third time, I got the message. I was never told the real reason, but I suspect that it was because my material was original and didn’t have a bona fide, pre-approved stamp on the back stating that it was suitable to teach in a respectable Christian church. If I’d just gone to them like the ministry students and said, ‘Here am I!’ they would have smiled, handed me a BMA or SBC course book, given me a room, and said, ‘It’s so good to see young people becoming active in ministry! God bless you, son!’ But my calling is on a frontier where few Christians tread.
All these things flowed through my mind yesterday as I sat in church. I eventually gave up trying to minister through the church after having leaders and administrators shoot down every effort I made. I told myself that I was fulfilling my calling in the field, ministering to the intellectual community, and I pretty much just washed my hands of church ministry. The thing is, I know there are people in the church who would like – and need – to hear what I have to say. Some have told me that directly. The struggle I face in the church isn’t from the people. It’s from a few who happen to be in positions of authority or influence. After the few times I’ve had the opportunity to speak out in groups or discussions, I’ve always had people come to me and thank me, telling me that I’ve helped them in some way. Some of my close friends have encouraged me to teach, even if I must form a group outside church. I’ve been hesitant to do so because of the divisive influence it would have.
But yesterday, as I looked around at all the young faces around me, I realized that ministering in the field isn’t enough. I have people at home, young people, who are living in a world full of questions that the church refuses to answer. I don’t know what I should do. I don’t know what I can do. But it’s becoming clear that I must do something. May God show me the way.