Sitting on a log in West Virginia, at age 16, God called me to ministry leadership. The following spring, I was elected to be Student Body Chaplain at my Christian high school. Many of the teachers groaned because I did not fit their expectations for a “spiritual leader.” In reality, I could not be put into a typical high school box.
I was neither rebellious nor overly compliant. I did not go out of my way to break rules; but neither was I all that concerned with keeping them.
I followed my curiosity, asking hard questions of all my teachers, but I could not have cared less about grades.
My friends came from every clique and high school archetype (jocks, nerds, a/v, etc); every age and stage—junior high to college age. I had a way of connecting with and challenging every person in any position. Social status, position, age, credentials, have always been irrelevant to me.
Many teachers and administrators had a way of making sure that I knew I was not the model of “spiritual maturity” they thought that I should be; especially after I was quite vocal in my opposition to the board’s decision to expel one of my peers after he had been drinking at friend’s house over the weekend. Keeping him would “hurt our testimony” and send a message to the rest of us that this kind of behavior was acceptable. When my peers and teachers asked for my opinion, I was clear: expelling him “for the sake of the gospel” was actually the least Christian thing they could do. It might even be anti-Christian.
They did not like that answer.
But the truth is, I never did anything wrong. Unless you count violating unspoken, cultural expectations of spiritual leadership — most of which are just one type of bullshit or another. And, what was most interesting to me, was that many of my peers who had been hostile or indifferent to Christianity (likely because of the prevailing paradigms for “maturity”) suddenly became interested under my leadership.
I have since seen God do this countless times, everywhere I have been. Without trying, I manage to scare/intimidate/piss off those with any kind of “power” or position or vested interest in maintaining the status quo, while simultaneously making those on the fringes feel welcomed. Before you ask: I have no idea what I am doing or how I do this. It is clear that this is just how God, through his Holy Spirit, works through me. I used to believe that there was something wrong with me. For many years I believed the lies that have followed me. From teachers to prospective churches and search committees to elders, there have always been people who have tried to label me “not a team player” or “disrespectful.” There have been moments where that was true. But it has always been easy for me to admit my faults and ask for forgiveness. The real “problem” is that I am not—and never have been— a people pleaser. Every single person gets the same unvarnished experience.
It was not until I had enough life experience that I noticed a consistent pattern over these past sixteen years. Those with any position or power, those with influence or a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, people desperately wanting to believe the world is black-and-white and—wouldn’t you know it? They’re always on the right side!— those folks could always find something about me they did not like.
But those people who had been made to believe that they were just too different, wrong, broken, hurt, critical, or whatever else—those people (from students to seniors) have consistently testified that my friendship, my ministry, my teaching, and my leadership helped them to believe that Jesus was not who they had been led to believe. Through me, somehow, they encountered the real Jesus. And the real Jesus is so much better; unspeakably so.
Why am I sharing all this? Mostly as an exercise in vulnerability. Throughout my life, many people have wrongly concluded that I am just an introvert or shy (myself included!). The reality is that I really enjoy people, but I do not trust them. I have never been one to trust many people; opening up to a very small, select few.
The fact that Christianity affirms that every person was made in the image of God, means that every person, in some way, despite our sinfulness, embodies a quality of God. For some, they embody God's discernment or his comfort or his generosity. For me, it’s God’s power. I can walk into any room or church or organization and immediately know who is in charge (and who is just pretending to be). Despite many attempts from all kinds, I cannot be manipulated or coerced. You can beat the tar out of me (figuratively or not) and I cannot, will not, stay down. You cannot make me “fall in line” when the line is crooked. This “power” is a curse to the powerful and a gift to the marginalized.
In my teens, I didn’t understand it.
In my 20’s, I hated it.
Now, in my 30’s, I am praying God sanctifies it.
In my pursuit to understand this gift (curse? sometimes), God’s Spirit has lead me to the story of David. David exemplifies a man who embodies God’s power. As a young man, God set him apart to be the next King. Being faithful to God put him at odds with Saul and his people. When unbeatable enemies with incomparable power threatened his people, a teenage David has the audacity to stare a well-armed, highly-trained giant (!) in the eye and say, “God helped me kill bears and lions with my bare hands. You’ll be easier.” That’s the knee-jerk for the man of God who embodies God’s power. “Who says it can't be done?" should be tattooed across my chest.
For over a decade, David lived on the run, facing attacks and betrayals from friend and foe alike. Then, in 1 Samuel 22:1-3 we’re told that David escaped to the cave at Adullam. There "everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them.” Those who had nothing but need found in David a champion who could show them another way. Many of them would become David’s “mighty men” (2 Sam 23:8ff). I'll take 400 broken men and women who are convinced of their need over the powerful masses any day.
God has made me a man like David. It has taken me sixteen years, but I am learning to embrace it.
Don’t @ me.