Over the last few months, I’ve been walking, chapter-by-chapter, through the book of Genesis with some other folks here at church. The thing that has stood out to me from that book, and increasingly from the Bible as a whole, is how God almost always uses the “less than” person for His purposes. God chooses Isaac over Ishmael, He chooses Jacob over Esau, He chooses Judah over Reuben and He chooses Ephraim over Manasseh – all younger sons over the culturally-appropriate older sons. Then fast-forward to young David, the man of God’s choosing, outshining Saul, the man of the people’s choosing as well as the twelve disciples and many, many more stories in Scripture.
And even though I’ve always known that stuff – even though I’ve always known that God uses broken vessels to do mighty work – I don’t think I’ve ever really internalized that.
Until I started pastoring a church where we specialize in “less than” people, some not up to the earning standards of their neighbors, some not up to the academic standards of most of our denomination, some not up to the moral standards of modern-day Christendom, some a failed mix of those factors and more – this guy included. And we’ve done a lot of really good stuff here in terms of leadership development, investing in people, surveying, marketing, sprucing up the joint, whatever. Some might even say we’ve turned the place around.
But the other night, as my leaders went around and we told individual stories of transformation from within our church community, something really hit me – almost all of the most praiseworthy things that happen at our church don’t happen by the hands of well-crafted programs or skilled hands – but through some of the least likely means and people possible.
Our sharpest growing edges are led by people who are far from seminary-trained, far from morally-strict and far from socially-adept.
You get why that is, right? Someone’s told you at some point that God is about His own glory? (Hopefully they have.) And that, while that sounds really selfish, it’s actually what’s best for us, Him and all of creation since it’s what we were made for? Surely by now you’ve put together that if God used the natural order of things by blessing Ishmael, Esau, Reuben, Manasseh & Saul, that things might have been equally successful but that He would have received far less of the glory due to the assumed success people would have based on their own knowledge, skills and abilities?
And, as a career-necessitated Bible reader, you would think that wouldn’t surprise me. But it does. Because no matter how much I say I believe in a God who uses the weak to bring the strong to their knees and uses the foolish to make the wise look ridiculous, everything about my achievement-based education and my strategy-based vocational learning says otherwise.
While that might not be shocking to you, it is to me – and paradigm-altering. Because I value theological education….and education in general. And I value moral uprightness. And I value social adeptness. And I think, sometimes (Paul being the #1 example), that helps do things for the Gospel. But I think that might be the exception, rather than the rule.
But what if the very things we do to prepare people for ministry – training, learning, fortifying – are the very things that teach them, intrinsically, to steal away glory from the One who would rather work through busted vessels? Will He look elsewhere?
Where do we go from there? Do we shy away from education, training and skill-developing because those hold the potential for our God’s glory to be stolen away? I don’t know, but I do know I’ve got a front-row seat to some crazy Kingdom goings-on.