Brandon Gregory is a volunteer for the worship and missions teams at Church of the Resurrection. He helps lead worship at the Vibe, West, and Downtown services, and is involved with the Malawi missions team at home.
In the early church, there were two major leaders: one to look after the Jewish believers and one to look after the Gentile, or non-Jewish believers. One of these was Peter, a man who likely tried to become a Rabbi at one point and failed, so he fell back on fishing. The other was Paul, who was quite possibly the most Jewish man who has ever lived. (That may be a bit of an exaggeration.) Paul was not only a Rabbi. He was a high-ranking religious leader. He’s the guy Jewish people looked up to and aspired to be like.
I was a hiring manager at one point in my life, so I got pretty good at gauging whether someone would be a good fit for a job. My wife also does this. You can imagine how some of our dinner conversations go. In fact, let’s imagine one right now. There are two early church positions open: one for the Jewish believers and one for the Gentiles.
“So this one guy is really qualified for the Jewish position. I actually think he might be overqualified.”
“Great! When can he start?”
“Well, that’s the thing. The boss actually wants him for the Gentile position.”
“What? And give the Jewish position to that chump with no experience?”
“Yeah, that’s what he said.”
“Well, okay. What qualifications does the first guy have for the Gentile position?”
“Well, that’s another thing–he has no experience there. This would be a career change for him. In fact, he’s spent most of his life trying to keep Gentiles out of our belief system.”
“What? Why does he even want the job?”
“He doesn’t. In fact, he’s been arresting our other candidates for this position.”
“Tell the boss I’d like to have a word with him!”
I know you’re jealous now of our dinner conversations, but hopefully you can see now why God’s staffing decision might be considered a poor one. By all conventional standards, the placement didn’t make sense.
But God is a savvy hiring manager. Peter was a bit of an outsider in the realm of Jewish religion, but Paul was at the epicenter of the in crowd. Who better to make a group that had been excluded for all of history now feel like they’re accepted? And Paul had experience overseeing churches and religious hierarchies. Who better to place over the high-growth-potential Gentile market?
Peter was not without his hidden qualifications. Peter had spent his life traveling with Jesus. Who better to answer the questions the Jewish people undoubtedly had about the person they had waited their entire lives for? Also, his strengths were more in challenging the status quo, both through his personality and his apparent lack of qualifications. This is just what the stable but stagnant Jewish market needed.
I’ve heard it said that if God calls you to something, it doesn’t matter if you’re good at it or not. That’s not entirely true. Peter and Paul were both amazing at their jobs. What it does mean is that the things that make you good at your calling might be surprising. In fact, that surprise might be a part of your toolkit. Your background, however unrelated or challenging it may seem, is the single greatest asset you have in your ministry.
That’s something I have to keep reminding myself of. I get a little self-conscious sometimes doing things like writing these GPS entries and mentoring others. I don’t have the best qualifications. While most of the other writers here were taking Bible classes in college, I was studying Shakespeare and Chaucer. And while most of the people I know were living normal, happy lives, I was battling severe depression. There are a lot of days when it takes a seemingly impossible amount of effort just to get out of bed and face the day. There are a lot of days when the exhaustion and physical pain it causes relegate me to just barely getting through the work day so I can go home and lie down. There are a lot of days when I feel like I’m barely holding my life together. Who am I to help anyone with theirs?
But I find God placing people in my life who need to talk to someone who has overcome what I have overcome. I find myself talking to people who desperately want to talk to someone who genuinely understands that kind of thing. And I talk to people who are surprised that someone like me can be used by God just as much as anyone else.
Paul’s background persecuting Christians was something that haunted him even after the Jewish believers had moved on and forgiven him. That was his burden to carry. But when faced with the exclusivism between the Jewish and Gentile believers in the early church, his overcoming of that background was one of the greatest tools in his ministry. For him, it was by far his deepest regret, but the things he learned in overcoming it turned him into exactly the man God needed him to be. God not only turned a Christian killer into one of Christianity’s most influential figures, but he used his misdeeds to do it.
The same is true for all of us. It can be easy to look at someone else’s life and background and think, I could get so much more good done if I had their background. If only I didn’t have this shortcoming. If only I had the right training. If only I had not done the things I have done. If only whatever, then I would be so much more qualified for great things. It’s hard to accept that the things we resent, even the things we regret, can become tools for accomplishing good.
Made some mistakes? Great. Use that experience to help people who made those mistakes–or are about to. Don’t have great training? Great. Use it to show others that everyday people can be used greatly by God. The point is that God can take any past, any burden, any shortcoming, and turn it around to do great things, surprising things, and important things. Figure out what your background has taught you and always be on the lookout for people that need your expertise. God will place these people in your life if you’re vigilant about taking the opportunities he gives you. Our ability to be used by God is only limited by our willingness to do so. Remember that when your past seems to haunt you.
Return to the GPS Guide to read today’s scripture and reflection questions.