by Doug Rehberg
Ed. Note: As Doug looks toward retirement at the end of this year, he shares this fifth in a series of “lessons learned” from his ministry at Hebron.
I remember speaking to a man years ago who would identify as my friend. He was a guy who had repeatedly told me of his gratitude for all the things I had done for him. (The truth is, I never thought I had done much for him at all.)
One day I pointed out to him in a most gentle and delicate way that he should consider altering from time-to-time the way he went about his job. After all, I said, that’s how growth occurs. His response was swift. It appeared almost flippant. He reared back on his chair and said, “I’m not going to change, brother. That’s the way I do things.”
And though that interchange happened many years ago, I’ve never forgotten it. In fact, his reaction is seared into my brain as exactly the opposite of what I want to do and who I want to be. Indeed, the very definition of discipleship is the willingness to be on the lookout for opportunities to change. After more than four full decades of professional work and ordained ministry, I am convinced that such a willingness is indispensable in life, leadership, and loving Christ.
In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell speaks of “connectors” as those handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. Gladwell says:
“They are able to span many different worlds, subcultures, and niches and then connect people with others to solve problems, give needed assistance, and enhance life. Someone has said, ‘There’s something magical about meeting or knowing a connector. Those unique people always seem to want to help, know how to help or find someone who can help, and put you in touch with them. More often than not, they are the ones who make you feel at ease almost immediately. They seem to understand situations even before you describe them and ooze warmth, energy, and genuine interest in everything.’”
It’s been my privilege to know several connectors throughout my life and ministry and I’ve learned a lot from them.
There’s a powerful passage in the Book of Acts that speaks of the power of a connector and openness to change. It’s found in chapter 8 where the Holy Spirit directs Philip to go down to the Gaza Road and meet an Ethiopian who is traveling back home from a stint in Jerusalem. The Ethiopian’s reading from a scroll of the prophet Isaiah when Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The man replies immediately, “How can I unless someone guides me?” The word he uses for “guide” is often mistranslated “explain.” (The word is hodegete not exegete, though many translate it as if the text says exegete.)
And the reason that it’s mistranslated in the NIV and other well-known texts is because of the bias of the translators. They think the only way a person apprehends the truth of the Gospel, or any other spiritual truth, is through a didactic teacher-student relationship. But that’s absolutely not true. Indeed, in Acts 8 the way this man comes to saving faith in Jesus is by being connected to a connector who meets him where he is and answers the questions he’s asking. In other words, the truth is caught by the Ethiopian more than it is taught.
So much of what has happened at Hebron throughout my ministry among you has been caught rather than taught. Many of the things I have caught from others I have passed on to you in much the same manner as I have caught them.
You may know the names of certain connectors I’ve known, but it’s not who they are that’s important. What’s important is what you have gained from Christ through them and their influence in my life. Charles Wesley said it this way, “God buries the workman but goes on with the work.” The only way he could say that, and mean it, is because he knew the way God’s work flourishes - by connecting people to one another for Jesus’ sake rather than their own. That's one of the beauties of a Christian connector, it’s never about him or her. It’s never about their own wants and needs. It’s always about getting others to Jesus and experiencing His lovingkindness toward them.
My friend wasn’t open to my suggestion to change the way he went about his job, and that’s okay. However, when it comes to our faith, our understanding and application of the Gospel, connecting with others and an openness to change is essential. I hope all of us are never too old to keep catching the truth of the Gospel, growing in it, and passing it on to others.