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Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Tomato Vendor's Ministry

Introduction

While motivating me to join my undergraduate theological training, a pastor-friend of mine said, "The pastorate is better than any career in life. It is better to be a pastor than even to be a president." His reasoning was airtight and convincing enough then. He cited the fact that the pastor commits himself to the eternal rather than the temporal well-being of his followers. I agreed with him. I was obviously excited to hear that I was going to college to pursue a calling higher than the presidency. That I could be greater than Obama, in actuality, was no small lure. Later, as I grew in the grace and knowledge of Christ, the prospect of being "greater" than the president started to seem hollow and unsettling. While I was in college, another pastor-friend gave me an opportunity to teach a young adults' group about the Holy Spirit, and, as such, about spiritual gifts. In my study of 1 Corinthians 12, I started to understand more of why a pastorate is not better than a presidency. How can one compare the taste of a chocolate bar to that of a chicken's steak? They are both good in different ways. I would be hard pressed to say which was better. Cristiano Ronaldo used a similar argument during an interview in which he was asked to assess how he compared to Lionel Messi's soccer genius. Said Ronaldo, "You cannot compare a Ferrari with a Porsche..." If you ask me, I think Messi, the Barcelona FC striker, has a slight edge over Ronaldo as shown in the comic image below. :)
Moreover, Messi is a natural soccer star. Ronaldo is a hard worker. He gives a lot of effort to turn out right. In a similar manner, we might argue that chicken has a slight edge over chocolate since the former is a natural food. However, the argument of naturalness is fallacious. It does not really answer the question, but it simply shifts the discussion. Whether or not the chicken is natural does not tell us whether or not it tastes better. Messi's more natural talent does not say whether or not he is a better footballer than Ronaldo. Maybe, as Ronaldo says, they are just Porsche and Ferrari; they are both great howbeit in different ways. As many pro Ronaldo opinions may exist as anti-Ronaldo ones.

At least, since, after I prepared and taught that Bible lesson on spiritual gifts, I do not think the pastoral vocation is better than the presidential one. I think the pastoral vocation is better for my pastor-friends since God has called them to it. The presidency is better than the pastorate for someone who is called to be a president. The man whom God has called to be a pastor sins if he tries to be a president instead. In like manner, the person whom God has called to be a president sins if he attempts to become a pastor instead. In other words, it all depends. It depends on what God has called one to. Whatever God has called you to be is not just better than any other profession. For you, it is the best profession in the world. It is exactly what God created you to be.

Two Birds, One Stone

The tomato vendor, the doctor, the good neighbour, or the lawyer, each has a responsibility to worship God through the specific opportunities that God provides. We typically think of the apostles as those who "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6) with the gospel, but Acts 8:1 and 4 describe a situation where the apostles stayed put in Jerusalem while the rest of the church scattered out of Jerusalem taking the gospel with them. Whereas the apostles were in leadership, and they commanded the respect of all of the church members, they definitely did not turn the world upside down. The turning of the world can only be attributed to God's working through the whole body of Christ's people, not just its leaders.

One time Mr. X, a pastor, was headed home from work. It was so late that the PSVs that he depended on were scarce. He saw another pedestrian walking, headed in his home's direction, and he thought to make friends with this pedestrian so as to walk home together. Together they would be safer in our city which is full of "Nairobbery." After a brief chat to make his acquaintance, X managed to invite the pedestrian to church. X killed two birds with one stone. He walked home a lot more confident than if he had been alone, and he was able to seize the strange opportunity that God provided to do the work of ministry. Two birds, one stone. Does it take a pastor to share the gospel? No. The tomato vendor, the doctor, the lawyer, or just the good neighbour could do exactly what X did. That is ministry. I contend that God has called each Christian, no matter his/her profession, to minister the gospel. Even if one's profession is as ordinary as that of a tomato vendor, God has called us all to be worshipers who participate in the making of other worshipers. God has called us to the ministry of two birds; one stone. You may be a surgeon, a doctor by profession, but God has called you to participate in the Great Physician's mission of restoring sinful hearts to Himself. The house wife who is just a good neighbour is called to show her thirsting neighbour where the Fountain of Living Water is to be found (cf. John 4, especially verse 39). And if this ministry work is true about every Christian, then the pastorate is no better than the presidency as long as the occupants of either office maximise whatever opportunities God brings their way to do the Father's business. Too many people give up what they call "secular" professions when they perhaps should not. To be sure, some of those who give up other professions for the pastorate are right in doing so, but others are simply mistaken when they think that they cannot serve God well unless they are on a local church's payroll.

Some Scriptural Principles

But, you may argue, the pastor does ministry day in day out. I agree that the pastor's role grants him more opportunities to share the gospel, but remember that Christ, our Judge, looked at the widow to whom God had given less material things and said that her pennies were worth more than the paper bills of those who had even more paper bills to spare. She had given her all; God saw that. Christ looked at the percentage of her giving rather than its "weightage." Will He not judge those who maximise their fewer opportunities to participate in evangelistic work by the same standard with which he judged that widow?

Finally, even though some pastors may be evangelists, the pastor's primary role is not necessarily directly evangelistic (cf. 2 Timothy 4:5). A governing text behind the thoughts in this blog post is Ephesians 4:4-7; 11-16. Those graciously gifted to be pastors among Christ's flock are so gifted to equip the saints for the work of ministry (verse 12). It is the saints, and not just the leaders who do the work of the ministry. (Note that the leaders are also included in the category "saints.") A pastor who thinks, without any disclaimers, that the pastoral vocation is better than any other vocation is ignorant at best, and arrogant at worst. The arrogance may be masked if you compare it to a prestigious office like the president's, but can you imagine a pastor who asserts that his office is higher than that of the tomato vendor? Does such a pastor not sound eerily like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. Such reasoning does not work for the unity of the body of Christ, but for the glorifying of one member of Christ's body over the rest (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-31).

Conclusion

The tomato vendor's ministry is a ministry of the word, just like her pastor's. Even in light of 1 Corinthians 12:31, I can still say that all spiritual gifts are equal and none is more equal than others. "Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and power forever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 4:10-11, NIV; the italics are mine, for emphasis).

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