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The Shopkeeper and the Guide

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

3 thoughts on “The Shopkeeper and the Guide

  1. Thanks for sharing Peterson’s insights on this. It’s very good food for thought. That being said, you pose a very interesting question.

    I don’t believe the answer is either/or, but rather both/and to the question of whether I am a shopkeeper or a guide. None of us can be a guide to everyone we come in contact with, but each of us has the opportunity, gifts and strengths to be a guide to a few. That being said, some of us have the opportunity, gifts and strengths to be shopkeepers, planting new thoughts and ideas across a larger number of people by writing (as Eugene Peterson does – and you do, Andee) or speaking to large groups. While you and Eugene Peterson cannot possibly be a guide to each and every person who reads what you write, there will be some with whom God prompts you to walk as they explore the journey of faith. To me, the decision is not “Should I be a shopkeeper or a guide?” but, “In this instance, am I to be a shopkeeper or a guide?”

  2. Excellent point, Rhonda. Obviously, we need to be other-aware–attentive to the needs of the person(s) that God has brought into our sphere of influence, but we also need to be self-aware. What do I bring to this situation? Do I have the gifts and graces to be a guide to this person, in this circumstance, at this time? Or is God calling me simply to be the shopkeeper in this instance?
    (And, just for the record, while I’m flattered that you would mention me in the same sentence as Peterson, I can’t begin to compare my novice attempts at blogging to the eloquent expression of thought found in his works! But thanks for the encouraging word!)

  3. Pingback: Creating a Clearly-Defined Path | The power of believers working together…

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