By LaTaurus Johnson
I discovered a few months into my first semester of seminary, that you really don’t have time to do any sort of ministry while you’re preparing for it. So to get away from campus and to do something “meaningful,” a few of my friends and I would go into downtown Fort Worth, Texas and serve coffee to the homeless. We conjured up the idea after a long discussion about how easily you can lose sight of social problems when you’re submerged in privilege. We would fill the backseat of my car with about a 100 small cups of McCafe. Then we’d walk the mile long stretch asking if anyone wanted to talk or pray, while passing out what, by the end of our journey, were small, iced lattes. I used to love those nights. Not because I felt like I was helping those I once heard a speaker refer to as “the American version of the least of these” (not sure how I feel about that reference entirely) or because I felt like I was doing some great service, but because I always met the most interesting people.
Honestly, I didn’t go to seminary because I wanted to preach. I went because I wanted to learn in a Christian environment. So when we first started going out I was extremely nervous. One member of the group suggested we designate a leader. We spent a brief moment discussing who would lead the group but decided that we should all just be prepared and allow God to work as He saw fit.
Before we went out the first time I studied the answers to common questions. While I secretly hoped that no one would ask me anything, I figured I should have a short list of prepared responses. I wasn’t apprehensive about sharing my faith, but I’ve never been (and have resigned to the fact that I may never be) one of those Bible quoting, Scriptural quick draws that has historical and Biblical support for my beliefs just waiting on the tip my tongue. However, armed with a few minutes, Google, a Bible with a subject index, and/or a host of stories from my life that illustrate God’s faithfulness, I can summon up some pretty strong support that Christ is the risen Savior and that belief in Him is transformational. I decided to leave the defense of the faith to the apologist and those called to be missionaries. I was content to act as more of a hired hand than to actually engage people about their spiritual condition. So when someone inevitably asked if I was a preacher I said, “No, I just feel like this is how God wanted to use me today.”
I was relieved and perplexed to find that most of the people I encountered had an incredible command of the Bible. When one member of our group asked if anyone wanted to talk about God, AJ, a man who had been homeless for three years, gave the greatest impromptu devotional. We only needed to provide the closing prayer. After he finished a friend of mine tapped him and said, “Man there is so much Word in you. Have you been working toward transitioning and finding something more permanent?” AJ replied, “I honestly feel like this is where God wants me to be right now. I see God best when I’m low. God had to bring me here before I was of any use to him.”
That simple statement brought me the greatest moment of clarity. When AJ was broken the Lord was able to use him in an amazing way. The sincerity in his tone, his choice of Scripture and the sheer power of his words were riveting. It wasn’t forced and he hadn’t had any time to prepare. He simply opened up his brief monologue with the statement, “Lord, use me.” There was no pomp or pageantry just a few people on the corner led by the Spirit. I found myself humbly led to a place of worship by a man who most people would have automatically assumed needed more help than me.
After that encounter, we determined there was no need for a discussion of leadership. In that moment, there was no need to try to determine an agenda or present ourselves as anything other than willing vessels. God was in control and He was able to move when we were all humble enough to play our role. In that moment we were followers first called only to follow the Spirit who had chosen to use a homeless man to reflect God’s greatness. Even more beautiful is that we were all willing participants. We all sat on the corner willingly and listened without trying to assert our position or Biblical knowledge. The closing prayer was rather brief and no one found it necessary to try to find something profound to say. Yet, that moment was more powerful than any of the incredibly well planned services I’ve experienced.
In Psalm 51, David sings, “The Sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” After a great moment of moral failure David discovered it didn’t serve him well to assert himself as a leader. He was completely yielded to God in his brokenness. Our fallen state doesn’t always allow us to yield our own leadership and influence in order to allow others to find their way as a leader. This is further complicated by the fact that many leaders, seemingly by God’s design, do not always conform to our assumptions. However, God delights not in our ability to lead, but in our ability to be consumed and led by His spirit. As leaders of leaders, it benefits us to allow those we lead to clarify their role and gain understanding of their contribution. We are incapable of leading people higher when we are only focused on getting ourselves to the top. When we allow those that we lead to operate in their calling it helps us reach our greatest potential as well.
After our first night out with the homeless we decided we would go back and just hang out. No agendas, no plans, other than to let God move. I don’t know if what we did constituted as ministry or if it was actually helpful to the people out there, but for me it was a much needed intermittent reminder to remember my brokenness. It was reiteration that while we often focus on the fact that God is most needed in broken places; we must also remember that He uses broken people.