I’m going to repeat a great illustration that Doug, my missionary friend from the Middle East told me.
Just imagine it, a pastor is on his way to an “evangelistic meeting”, and on the way he stops to grab a granola bar at a local gas station. Some homeless guy comes up to him as he’s about to get in his car and asks him for a sandwich, saying that he hasn’t eaten all day, and he’s depressed because life is hard for him and his family on the streets. The pastor replies: “I’d love to talk, but I’ve got a meeting to go to! Have a good day!” Then he goes to his evangelistic meeting to talk to aspiring leaders about how to share Jesus Christ with people! Wouldn’t it be better if he gets the dude a sandwich, and then tells him about the saving grace of Jesus Christ? He could call the people at the meeting and say that something came up, and he was going to be 30 minutes late. They might get irritated with him, but then he could show up at that meeting and give those people a real lesson on evangelism, based on his life! I’m not recommending that we live a life with no boundaries and no respect to time management. I’m just saying that we often miss opportunities for ministry in the midst of doing ministry.
We all run around in frenzy. We do this in our churches. When someone shows up at the “church office” to talk about their problems in life, we’re too busy putting together our biblical counseling class to have time to listen. When someone needs a meal, we’re too busy planning the yearly food pantry outreach to feed them. When someone is in a crisis and needs a ride, we don’t have the time, money or gas to come and get them. Is this how we were meant to share Christ? Do we look for the depressed, suicidal person sitting in the corner who just needs a listening ear? Or do we just go on about our schedules, disregarding the needs of people?
This is not a personality issue, or a matter of what certain individuals are “gifted to do”. This is a Biblical mandate of obedience to God. This is the example of all those who followed God. They made themselves available to people. If we find ourselves, especially those of us in paid ministry, with no time to listen or help anyone, then we need to re-evaluate our priorities. I’ve definitely had to do that time and time again. But living for Jesus is an ever-changing, messy life. Nowhere in the New or Old Testament are we promised a polished, predictable life. If we’re getting polished, routine, and predictable, we probably need to repent of being too religious and rigid.
That’s the art of following God’s call. Sometimes where we want to be doesn’t matter, and our agenda will get in the way of doing what God wants. In those situations we ought to be adaptable, and be available for those God has put in our path.
This can be taken too far too. I’ve gone to both extremes of being too rigid and scheduled, and also of being too available and flexible. When someone is available all the time, then people start to see them as a doormat who they can take advantage of.
I got paid to work at an Urban Youth Center for a period of time, and continued to volunteer there when I was able. After seeing the damage of trying to be too organized and rigid from my time working at a church, I thought that living a life of random spontaneity would be more effective. Immediately, I tried to find every avenue I could to build into the lives of these young students, who normally had a bad home life, and were surrounded by peer influences of drugs and violence. It became a messy life to really get to know some of these students, so much so that I probably put in at least 60 hours a week working and hanging out with them. Out of this, I saw three of them willing to commit to come to a church with me on a regular basis, two of which didn’t even really believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
But my life got so messy during this time, that I wasn’t able to find time to clean my car and other stuff like that, so my life was literally messy in a lot of ways. The car was a metaphor for my life at that time, because it was messy, and always full of junk. These students really clung to me as well, because I think they must’ve seen that I cared about them. And I truly did and do care about them, and I long to see many of them come into a relationship with Christ, and hope and pray that more people will be brought into their lives to show them the richness of God’s love and truth. Maybe some part of them felt comfortable in the “mess” of my car and life, because their lives were a mess. But maybe being a mess with them wasn’t what they needed. Maybe they needed structure and order, and I was so busy being a mess that I didn’t completely give them what could help them.
I got so busy being relational at this gig that I probably put a lot of administrative stuff on the back-burner, which was a mistake. The girl I worked with was really well-organized and administrative, and probably had a tougher time being relational with the students because of they way she was wired. But without her organizational skills, it wouldn’t have been possible to run the place. We ended up getting in a lot of fruitless arguments about which priorities were more important- being organized and strategic, or being relational and creative. I ended up having to leave the job as a paid staff member because we couldn’t see eye to eye. At the end, I was becoming more organized in my approach, and I even think maybe she became a little more comfortable in chaos.
Jesus’ way is a perfect combination of both approaches, and we as human beings are limited in our scope. I wish things didn’t have to be this way in the Body of Christ, where we separate ourselves and say we have different “methodologies”. We’re all just trying to obey Jesus Christ, and we’re imperfect and flawed in our approach! We need each other. We need different personalities so we can balance each other out and grow. Anyone who is too stubborn to learn from someone completely unlike them has not yet grasped the mercy of Jesus Christ. Sadly, I am one of those people, because I think my flawed way of living is fully right. That’s called arrogance, and I am an arrogance addict. I’m looking to be cured of it, but I’m not quite there yet. I guess none of us are.
Yet I do know that spontaneous creativity has its place in the Church, and in society. People who are methodical and logical, would you please cut us weirdo artists a break? We need freedom to be messy, and we can learn from you too if you’re willing to be patient! In the end, everyone will grow more and become well-balanced followers of Christ.