Posted by: John Adams | October 9, 2009

Signposts Along the Road

This is a paper I wrote for my Vocation of Ministry class.

roadI grew up as both a pastor’s kid and as a missionary kid. My parents have been pastoring a church in Cap-Haitien, the second-largest city in Haiti, since 1990. I was raised Pentecostal, which meant that experiences like speaking in tongues, four-hour services, and extended sessions of praise and worship were not infrequent occurrences for me growing up. My experience of the Holy Spirit in worship meant that I did not grow up thinking of the Holy Spirit as an abstraction, but as a person whose presence could be felt. As a result, I came to love God deeply. I can recall moments of pure abandon in worship as a child, my arms stretched toward heaven as love for Jesus just poured out of me. This simple relationship with God is probably the defining characteristic of my spiritual life. When all else fails, I know that God exists and that He loves me. The rest of it is details waiting to be worked out. Even this—perhaps especially this—was a gift in formation inherited from my parents.

In retrospect, the values I simply intuited from my parents were too numerous to count. Among many other things, I learned to love the Word of God, to be devoted to the local church (we went four times a week, rarely missing a service), to passionately pursue the presence of the Holy Spirit, to live boldly by faith (my parents have many stories to tell of how low their bank accounts got before God came through), to treasure a clean conscience (I hated the idea of taking Communion with unconfessed sin in my life), to break the yoke of materialism by tithing (with the assurance that God would give back to you), to put family before work (we never did school on Mondays since that was “family day”), to pursue the will of God in all things (my parents believe that God’s mind can be known on any decision by simply praying and seeking His will), to love books like a bridegroom loves a bride, to glorify God through learning, and to accept whomever the Lord might bring to your doorstep.

While I am a minister’s son and it was the constant expectation of people in my church that I would step into his shoes, I really didn’t have any desire to go into ministry myself until recently. As a child, I had wanted to be an airplane pilot (which really had more to do with wanting to leave Haiti than anything else). In high school, I toyed with the idea of being a musician—I learned how to play guitar, started singing, and wrote a small catalog of terrible, Nirvana-inspired songs. It made me a decent worship leader, but I wasn’t talented enough to make it as a real musician. I also thought about going into diplomacy (because I love to travel), journalism (because I love to write), and politics (because I love to argue).

Toward the end of high school, however, I discovered the world of blogging—a new phenomenon at the time—and had my eyes opened to a new universe of political and theological discourse taking place on the Web. I dove in headfirst, starting my own blog to participate in the discussion, and quickly discovered how little I really knew. For the first time in my life, I was discussing issues of great import with people from radically different perspectives from mine. It was overwhelming and deeply challenging to my faith. Amidst all that reading and conversation, I was becoming aware of how little I really knew. I preached a sermon in youth group “on trusting the Lord and leaning not on your own understanding” out of Proverbs 3:4-5 and soon realized that I needed to make the Bible the foundation of my life and get Biblically trained. Without any thought of ending up in the ministry, I applied to Portland Bible College, a tiny school out in Oregon, for what I thought would be a short stint. I didn’t realize that the Lord had begun to draw me into my calling.

PBC challenged me in a number of important ways:

  • First, being in a Christian environment challenged me to deal with a number of sin issues in my life. I was challenged by the Word of God to set sin aside and press on toward holiness.
  • Second, I was well trained Biblically and introduced firsthand to what a thriving, healthy church congregation should look and feel like.
  • Third, I experienced the charismatic gift of prophecy for the first time, and as a result of a few well-timed prophetic words spoken over my life at crucial intervals, began to develop a new sense of personal destiny and calling that I had previously lacked. (There is a scene in the movie Big Fish where Billy Crudup’s father gets a glimpse of how he will die by peering into a witch’s eye—he is fearless for the rest of the movie since he already knows how the story ends. In a similar way, my experience with the prophetic realm of the Spirit has given me the confidence to “read life backwards”—while I don’t have exhaustive knowledge of the future, I know where the major signposts are, and thus by living what has been revealed I can fight the good fight (1 Tim 1:18).)
  • Fourth, and finally, living in Portland opened my eyes to what a post-Christian culture—one in which people have been inoculated against the Gospel, knowing just enough about it to think they understand it and want to reject it—looks like. Somewhere along the way, I began sensing the call of God to minister in such a context. During my junior year, I was reading an article in Christianity Today called “The French Reconnection” about the quiet revival taking place among the youth in France. As I read, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me that that was where I would be going. So my sense of calling includes the fact that I will be bound for France whenever my time of being trained is through. I hope to pastor and teach in a church, ministering both to post-Christian French and to non-Christian immigrants.

After graduating from PBC, I was initially resistant to the idea of going to graduate school. I spent a year living in Portland and didn’t see the point of getting more theological education. After that year, however, “I felt a longing for…fundamental change groaning within [me]” (Barton, 22) and I knew it was time to leave Portland. Through a series of events, I ended up at Asbury Theological Seminary, a place I had not originally intended on attending.

Nevertheless, since coming here, the Lord has been confirming to me that I am in the right place. I believe that He has placed an intellectual call upon my life that relates to the mission field where I will be working, and has led me here to be trained for that. France is a difficult mission field and Europe in general is a very intellectually arrogant place. To minister adequately there, I know that I must have an understanding commensurate to the task. I want to have a “Daniel ministry” of being the best mind I can be in a pagan context.

Along with the mental faculty, however, I feel the Lord has been working on my heart. (After all, if I am to have a teaching ministry, I must have “the tongue of a disciple” (Isa. 50:4), which means being involved in practical discipleship before one can teach.) In God’s kindness, I have gotten a job working as a caregiver for an elderly man who has suffered a brain injury. This job is working into me the truth that as Stephen Seamands writes, “self-giving is at the heart of God and creaturely being…[and] also at the heart of Christian ministry” (Seamands, 82). Seamands goes on to connect ministry to the waiting of tables, which was the first ministry that men “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” were ordained to do (Acts 6:3). A minister has no higher calling than humbling himself to serve people who have nothing to offer in response.

While reflecting on my spiritual journey for this paper, I was pierced to the heart by a Biblical quote cited in Os Guinness’ The Call. It is a rhetorical question asked by the Apostle Paul, and it has been ringing in my head like a gong since I first read it: “What do you have that you did not receive?” (Guinness, 197)  The answer of course is, “Nothing.” It is all a gift. It is all of grace.

In my best moments, I know this. On the night the Holy Spirit called me to France, all I could do for a while was weep and repeat over and over the words, “Grace! Grace! Such immense grace!” I fully understood that I did not deserve the call. The truth is, however, that no one does. The only possible response to such lavish mercy is to become, as Augustine once wrote, an “alleluia from head to foot” (Guinness, 199), or as an Indian brother who did not sign his name to his prayer once put it, “O Lord, let me rest the ladder of gratitude against thy cross and, mounting, kiss thy feet” (Noll, 315).

—WORKS CITED—

  1. Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2006.
  2. Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service, InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2005.
  3. Os Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life. W Publishing Group: Nashville, 1998.
  4. Mark Noll, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, 2nd ed. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2000.
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Responses

  1. thanks so much for posting this, John. Your past, present, and future stories really inspire me. I admire you in many many ways.

  2. it was really cool to read ur story…glad i was around to see a big chunk of that…love u, john 🙂


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