Last week I received a phone call from a ministry leader halfway across the country. He came across my contact information on a website and called me for help. He had read a book about equipping and his question was simple, “Will this really work?” This man was looking for more than words on a page.
In his book, Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson has much to say about the importance of language, and what we are missing as our culture steadily increases its dependence upon the written word over the spoken word in education (and communication in general, I might add!).
Peterson employs the story of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch on Gaza Road (Acts 8:26-39) to illustrate the difference between one who explains Scripture and one who guides another into an experiential understanding of the Word. Philip asks the Ethiopian, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Peterson writes:
The African invites Philip into the chariot to accompany him as his guide. This is going to take some time. Philip has to make a choice: will he stand alongside the chariot, providing information and answering questions about Scripture, exegetical work that comes easily for him, or will he involve himself in a spiritual quest with this stranger? Will I? It is the difference between the shopkeeper who sells maps of the wilderness and the person who goes with you into it, risking the dangers, helping to cook the meals, and sharing the weather. Philip decides [to guide]. He climbs into the chariot and shares the journey.¹
Philip doesn’t leave the Ethiopian to simply read the Scripture, but rather guides him into an experience of Christ through conversation–questions asked and answered–regarding the text, culminating in the baptism of this African. How much more effective is this man’s witness now than before Philip climbed into the chariot? Borrowing from Peterson, the Ethiopian has “read much Scripture,” and now he has “experienced much Christ,” creating congruity between the word and the Word.
I’ve been reflecting on that phone conversation in light of Peterson’s comments about the Gaza Road experience. If I am honest, I have to admit that I sometimes find it more comfortable to explain from the sidelines. But I have to ask, Does the pastor who called me understand what he is reading? In one sense, yes he does. But how much more effective would it be if he had a guide who could lead him into an experience of developing an equipping culture, rather than just reading words on a page?
Put another way: As an equipping leader, am I content with being the “shopkeeper who sells the map,” explaining the concepts of equipping from a theological perspective, hoping those listening will somehow figure out how to create congruity between what they learn and the reality of their ministry? Or would I rather be the guide who comes alongside other practitioners, engaging in conversation–questions asked and answered relative to their specific context–leading them into an experience of an equipping culture, and culminating in a leader whose ministry can tell the story much more effectively than words on a workbook page? For me, the answer is simple. Like Philip, I choose to be the guide.
So… who do you want to be? The shopkeeper or the guide?
1. Peterson, Eugene H., Working the Angles (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), p. 128