The Invisible Side of Ministry

John C. Rankin (January 6, 2007)

The invisible side of this ministry is actually the most important part — communicating one-on-one in many contexts with various non-Christians who rarely have opportunity to talk easily and openly about what they believe, and to be honestly listened to by a Christian minister. This habit of mine — indeed, this calling — goes back to my college years. I am in touch with non-Christians of many stripes continually, whether by email, phone, post, or especially, in face-to-face meetings. This is part of what it means to be an ambassador for Christ, and it is how most Mars Hill Forums come to pass.

Yesterday I was in the Boston area, meeting with a lead Muslim Imam. We spent nearly three hours together in easy conversation, and covered much territory. We had opportunity to speak about where we agree and disagree. For example, I was able to share about the biblical nature of the image of God, and how it is the finest basis to oppose idolatry. This is in contrast to how the Qur’an and the Hadith understand the subject. And the Imam showed me parts of his extensive Arabic library on the theological history of Islam, and was able to give me an overview of the history of the five schools of theological interpretation within the Ummah (Muslim community). He also recommended to me a number of books to read, which I will follow through on.

Then at an Indian cuisine restaurant in Harvard Square, I met with a Pakistani scholar who majors in international diplomacy at Harvard, and who used to serve in the administration of Pervez Musharaf, president of Pakistan. This scholar is a man of great integrity, and one who has come to see that the Jews have been persecuted worse than even his fellow Shiite Muslims say they have been persecuted by the Sunni Muslims. And at so many levels he deeply appreciated my biblical ethics in how people are to be treated, graciously thanking me for many insights. He has also recommended several books to me, and I will follow through and read them.

Now, in the face of a conflict such as “Islam and the West,” we have one of two choices. First is to be reactive and defensive, and if we do so, then the Gospel is misrepresented. The Pakistani scholar spoke to me of distrust between India and Pakistan concerning Kashmir, and how in the Middle East as well, nobody is ever able to give trust to “the other side.” They must receive something first. So the conflicts continue to fester. If we grasp biblical theology well, we understand that Jesus gave trust to untrustworthy humankind by dying on the cross for our sins, and inviting us into his resurrection. So, as an ambassador for Christ, my calling is to give trust wherever it can be received. And this Pakistani Muslim yearns for exactly the same thing in human relations. Thus, this is the second choice we have, to be proactive and hospitable — let the light shine, and by definition those who want to live in the light will be drawn into it, and those who hate the truth will flee into their corners of darkness.

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