I had a really difficult time in church when I was a teenager. I was a good kid, popular in school, athletic, smart, loved Jesus, and was at church almost every time the doors were open; however, I was also the kid who asked all the deep questions you’re probably not supposed to ask at church. I had questions about where angels and demons came from, why Jesus healed some people and not others, why David was a great king and a terrible dad, how Jesus could be fully divine and fully human at the same time while the rest of us are just human, and on and on from there. I’d like to blame it all on my parents who cultivated a love for learning in me, but that isn’t entirely true. Part of the reason I wanted answers to these questions is because other people in my school and at my athletic events were asking me these questions, and I didn’t know what to say to them.
While I’d love to say that my pastor welcomed me with open arms, the opposite is what actually happened. I remember walking up to him one day to ask him a question, and his response to me was, “I really don’t have time to help you, Alaine. You see those three guys over there (pointing to three guys from my youth group)? God has called all three of them into full-time ministry, so my focus of attention is on them, not on you. God would never call someone like you into ministry.” I asked if he knew of anyone else who could help me, and he did not. To be honest, I was shocked and hurt by his response, and I never asked him another question again.
Thankfully, my parents came to the rescue! They gave me a concordance and got me in touch with a youth pastor from a different city who was more than happy to help me find answers to my questions. This youth pastor gave me his phone number at the church, and I saw him at almost all of my athletic events because he was the “athletic events” volunteer bus driver for the local high school in his city. I loved it that he said, “I don’t know,” when he didn’t have the answer to my questions or “Why don’t you take a look at this passage (or this book) and then we’ll talk about it the next time we hang out?” He never shut me down, gave me funny looks, or made me feel that I was “less than” somebody else. Because of that youth pastor, I grew leaps and bounds in my relationship with Jesus and was better able to help the people around me grow in their relationship with Jesus too.
I thank God almost every day for that season of life. I learned that it’s good and healthy to ask questions, and that it’s awesome when pastors and other leaders choose to help other people answer their questions. I learned that everyone has value in the body of Christ, regardless of whether or not they are called into full-time ministry (incidentally, none of those three guys from my former youth group are in “professional” ministry today). I learned about the freedom God gives us when we choose to forgive the people who have hurt us, even when they don’t ask for it. Most importantly, I learned what it looks like to truly walk alongside someone as they grow in Christ.
So here are a couple of questions I have for us:
1) What can we, as ministers, do to create an atmosphere where it’s okay to ask difficult questions? If we’re not comfortable answering some of these questions, how can we help people without turning them away?
2) Do we treat those we believe to be “called into ministry” differently than we do other people? If so, why? If not, why not?