Why Would a Pastor Walk Four Days to Train Others?

The following is an excerpt from Bill Mills’ book, A Gospel Worthy of Your Life: Orienting Every Resource, Attitude, and Passion around the Cross.

When I think of suffering and the gospel, I remember Pastor Van. I wanted to attend our first pastoral training in one of the mountainous countries of Asia, but my schedule did not permit me to go. However, my friend and coworker Craig, President of Leadership Resources, was able to participate. On the first morning of their meetings, one pastor who had registered for the training had not yet arrived. As Craig was waiting to begin, he saw a man walking toward the meeting place, and he wondered if this might be the pastor they were all waiting for. He was, and that was how Craig met Pastor Van.

Pastor Van was very quiet that first day the pastors met together, and hardly entered into the group discussions around the biblical texts they were studying. Finally, when Craig had the opportunity to talk with him through an interpreter, Pastor Van told him that this very week he had decided to leave the ministry. He had a large family, and the costs for educating children in his country were very high. Some of his children were close to attending university. His church could not pay him very much, and his ministry included travel to encourage other pastors. The church was not able to help much with those expenses either. Much of those costs came out of the family funds.

Pastor Van told Craig that he had finally decided that he needed to quit the ministry and get a job to support his family. He had already signed up for this training, however, and decided to attend before he resigned from his church. That week, the group was studying the book of Jonah. How Pastor Van wrestled with that message; how he battled with the Lord! Finally, he told Craig, “How can I be another reluctant prophet? How can I run away from God?”

I was able to join another training in this country and to meet Pastor Van about two years later. Nothing had changed in his finances or his family situation. He was still seeking God’s provision for the needs of his family and trusting Him along the way. An important part of our pastoral training times include reports from the pastor trainers of their second-generation training. As I mentioned earlier, we are equipping national pastors to train other nationals in preaching and shepherding.

When it came time for Pastor Van to give his report, he told us how he walked four days, fourteen hours a day, over the foothills of the Himalayas to reach his second-generation team. I was so overwhelmed with what I was hearing that I could not speak for the rest of the evening! Our difficulty in these situations is not so much that we feel unworthy to be teachers of servants such as these—we often feel unworthy to even be in the same room with them.

I was so moved by Pastor Van’s report. I struggled through an almost sleepless night, praying for him and countless other precious brothers and sisters in similar circumstances around the world. The next morning, however, I had the opportunity to express my appreciation and gratitude to him. He, of course, had difficulty understanding why I was so moved by what he had shared; this was his normal service to his Lord. Then I asked him: “Why would you do this?” He said only one thing in response: “Because He is worth it!”

Like Pastor Van and the apostle Paul, only when the passions of our soul are inflamed in our love for Christ will we be moved to lay down our lives for the gospel.

Bible Narratives Are Often Gloriously Ambiguous

This article originally ran on The Gospel Coalition. Used by kind permission of the author.

Author: Chad Ashby is pastor of College Street Baptist Church in Newberry, South Carolina, where he lives with his wife, Mindy, and their five children. He is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where he completed an MDiv in biblical and theological studies. Chad blogs at After Math. You can follow him on Twitter.

This point might make your toes curl up inside your shoes, but the narratives of the Bible are ambiguous. Just to be clear, I’m not saying that the Bible is false, untrue, misleading, or culturally confined.

But its stories are ambiguous.

Perhaps you remember being introduced to literary tools in your high school English class—simile, metaphor, figurative language, rhyme, rhythm, analogy, and so on. Think of ambiguity as a literary tool. Biblical authors use ambiguity as a way of inviting you to the party. If you’re reading a story that lays everything out plain and simple, with the moral overtly stated and the villains and heroes clearly labeled, there is not much work left for you, the reader, to do. But the Bible is not interested in disinterested readers. The Author wants to suck you in.

The Bible is not interested in disinterested readers. The Author wants to suck you in.

Take Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town, for instance. The play was written to be performed with no set and minimal props. Why? Because we’re meant to imagine not just any town, but our own. Without specific details to create distance between the events and our experience, the unfolding narrative becomes proximate, immediate, real.

Why is it that we easily remember Esau’s red hair or Joseph’s technicolor coat? Because we are seldom told about any character’s appearance or apparel. How is it that we have four Gospels and not a single author bothered to mention the physical appearance of Christ? Much like Wilder, biblical writers knew that for transcendent storytelling, less is usually more.

Intentional ambiguity also allows for multiple, overlapping interpretations and applications. A good author is not content to tell you how he thinks about the characters, the plot, or the outcome. Part of the delight of reading is being able to draw your own conclusions and make your own inferences. What fun is a connect-the-dot when all the dots have been connected for you?

Not a 19th-Century British Novel

Pride and PrejudiceJane EyreFrankenstein—you know the ones I’m talking about: introspective tomes with a decidedly omniscient narrator. They’re great novels. But the Bible is not one of them. We hardly ever get to hear the characters’ inner thoughts; we hardly ever get a blunt description of a character’s motives.

This stark difference might be unsettling at first, since we’re so used to being made privy to a character’s intimate thoughts and motives. By contrast the Bible can seem impersonal, the characters distant.

There’s a difference between intentional and unintentional ambiguity. Unintentional ambiguity is sloppy writing and poor communication. Intentional ambiguity, though, is an author’s prerogative.

The frustrating thing, at times, is that we know the biblical Narrator is omnipotent. God himself knows exactly why characters act the way they do. On rare occasion, the Spirit gives us a brief peek into someone’s mind, but by choice he keeps them hidden from us most of the time. Instead of lengthy inner monologues, we have to infer from a character’s words and actions where the heart lies.

The fall of King Saul and King David are mirror images of one another (1 Sam. 15; 2 Sam. 11-12). Their confessions are eerily similar: “I have sinned!” (1 Sam. 15:24; 2 Sam. 12:13) However, only one king is forgiven because only one king’s heart is truly repentant. Determining which and why—the ambiguity is a divine invitation to explore our own murky hearts.

When an author intentionally withholds information, he does it because the story is actually better that way. Ambiguity is the biblical author’s way of winking at his readers. When you and I are able to read between the lines and discern motives, connections, and desires without that information being overtly stated, it’s a win-win for both the author and us.

Like Real Life

Does any life event have just one lesson? Can the experiences in our lives be boiled down to heroes and villains? Do we ever fully comprehend the inner desires and motives of the people we interact with? Do we even fully comprehend our own thoughts and motives?

Biblical narratives read like real life.

Stories rarely end with a succinct nugget of truth like one of Aesop’s fables, a “truth we can use.” Sometimes we’re left bewildered as to who the true heroes and villains actually are.

This is for our good. There’s always another lesson to learn; there are multiple correct ways to apply the story. Scripture’s narratives refuse to be boiled down to a single “moral of the story”: Is the wilderness encounter of David and Abigail (1 Samuel 25) about the power of hospitality, healthy conflict, trusting God’s promises, or a vision of the virtuous woman? The line between hero and villain can be blurry: Is Jacob more virtuous than his uncle Laban—or are both shameless opportunists? Inner desires are questionable; motives are a guessing game. From a human standpoint, why exactly did Judas betray his Lord?

Ambiguity makes all of this biblical beauty possible.

Do we ever fully comprehend the tapestry of God’s sovereignty that hangs behind the events of our lives or the lives of others? Biblical narratives are rich and deep and will never be fully exhausted. There’s always room for more exploration, for another angle, another application. In fact, I’d argue that narrative is often more readily applicable to life than strict directives.

In a society increasingly divided, many want to draw God’s Word into their own interpretive universe. They will fail every time. Intentional ambiguity is a gravitational force that draws us into orbit around God’s Word, never vice versa.

In some sense, the ambiguity of biblical narrative shows us who God is—a God who will never be fully comprehended. He will forever be explored, for he has new mercies tucked around every corner, and new joys for us each morning.

Related Resources:

Two Edifying Conversations on Finding the Main Idea of a Book of the Bible

In recent episodes of the Church Theology podcast, friends of the ministry Kirk Miller and Dan Allen talk through finding a book of the Bible’s overall message. The first conversation explains the importance of the principle (which we call “Finding the Main Idea and Intended Response”) while the second applies the tool to the book of Philippians. They are edifying conversations you should enjoy.

Finding a Book’s Overall Message: Part 1

Finding a Book’s Overall Message: Part 2 – Case Study: Philippians

In Part Two, Kirk and Dan share one helpful way to think about the Intended Response of a book of the Bible, and it’s a handy little formula:

Author + Audience + Argument = Aim

You may also be interested in our article, “How to Find the Big Idea of a Book of the Bible.”

    Never miss a post!

    * indicates required

    Choose a Frequency