Your History Doesn’t Decide Your Ministry

I once believed that my primary mission field was the LGBT community. God had not revealed this to me, nor had he especially burdened my heart for this particular group of people. But because I had been a member of this community before my conversion, it seemed logical to me that God would want me to direct the most of my ministerial energies in their direction. I thought my history with these people made me the perfect candidate to minister to these people.

However, the Lord has since revealed to me that our histories do not decide our ministries—he decides our ministries. Though we may have experience among a particular type of people, that doesn’t necessarily mean God wants the majority of our gospel-proclaiming energies to be directed toward those people. As I was reading in Acts last week, I saw this truth realized in the life of the apostle Paul.

Prior to his dramatic conversion to Christianity, Paul was a self-described “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5). He grew up in Jewish culture, treasured Jewish traditions, and ruthlessly persecuted those who forsook traditional Jewish religion to embrace the Way of Christ.

In his own words:

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city (Jerusalem), educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness.” Acts 22:3-5

Given his experience and expertise in all things Jewish, surely God would use him mightily among his unbelieving kinsmen, right? You may think so. Paul definitely did. But God had other plans in mind:

“When I (Paul) had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw [the Lord] saying to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’ And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves know that in one synagogue after another I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And when the blood of Stephen your witness was being shed, I myself was standing by and approving and watching over the garments of those who killed him.’ And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” – Acts 22:17-21

Paul was convinced that his fellow Israelites would listen to him. He had history with these people! They witnessed him persecute those allegedly heretical followers of Christ! Surely his radical change of heart would persuade them to believe there was something to this Jesus-is-the-Messiah stuff! But God basically told him, “No—you will leave your kinsmen and go proclaim my name among the Gentiles.” Though this former Pharisee had decades of history with the Jewish people that would enable him to relate to them on so many levels, God gave him an unexpected ministry: he would be an apostle to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8). Paul, with all his Jewish experience and expertise, would spend his life preaching the gospel primarily to non-Jews.

God wasn’t as direct with me as he was with Paul, but, by means of the passions he has placed in my heart, the way he has sovereignly situated my life, and the wisdom I have gleaned from more mature believers, he has shown me that my primary mission field is not the people with whom I most closely identified in my pre-Christian life.

As regards my writing, I realized a couple of years ago that I didn’t find joy in writing solely about my experiences as a same-sex attracted person. Though such content received a significant response from readers, I longed to write about the gospel in a more multifaceted way. So, that’s what I started doing. Broadening my scope and tackling a wide variety of biblical topics has brought me tremendous joy in Christ. And this, I believe, confirms that I am writing in the way God has called me to write.

Concerning my “offline” life (where the majority of my life is lived), God showed me soon after my conversion that, yes, my evangelistic energies should be geared toward a particular group of people—and those people are the ones he places around me. God has continuously thrown me into the midst of all kinds of unbelievers with all types of issues, and based on my understanding of Scripture, he wants me to engage all of them—no matter their age, background, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or sin struggles. I feel closest to Christ when I am seeking to minister to whomever God puts in my path. And this, I believe, confirms I am walking in the primary ministry to which God has called me.

Did the fact that God called Paul to minister mainly to the Gentiles mean he would never preach Christ among the Jews? No. Does God’s calling on my life mean I never engage the LGBT community with the gospel? No. When Jesus was in the process of converting Paul, he told Ananias, “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15; emphasis mine). Though they were not his main focus, God did want Paul to engage his Hebrew kinsmen with the gospel sometimes. And though they are not my main focus, God does want me to engage the LGBT community with the gospel sometimes. To whatever degree he sees fit, God will use our past experiences for his redemptive purposes. But our histories do not decide the overall trajectory of our ministries. God decides that.

  • I still don’t know if I have a ministry or not. I do seem to reach more people who struggle with SSA than not. But I have also learned that most straight people are uninformed on what SSA is and that there is a difference between SSA and actively living the gay lifestyle. It was a revelation to me about it too, and has changed my life and my self-esteem. I tell anybody who will listen, especially the LGBT community, about this difference and that a person SSA can still live a Godly life.

    • Lyle Nelson

      That seems like an incredibly important ministry to me – one that has the potential to make a huge difference in the way the Church ministers to those who struggle with SSA, both sexually active and celibate. Understanding is the first step!

  • Demond Brister

    This has blessed my life immensely!

  • Lyle Nelson

    Matt, you’ve tried to minister to the LGBT community (and done it very well), so I think you’ve fulfilled the obligation to minister in the area with which you’re most familiar. But God, who knows you better than you know yourself, may be aware that you are able to minister even more capably in other areas. That seems to be the way in which He’s leading you.

    There are pluses and minuses to someone who was in the gay lifestyle ministering in that area. The plus, as you said, is that you understand the lifestyle and have a much better idea of what these people are dealing with. The minus, in my opinion, is that you open yourself up to the accusation of being self-delusional about being a celibate Christian and people may think that you are struggling more than you are letting on. As a result, they MAY not believe some or all of your testimony.

    People who have always been heterosexual don’t have the same level of understanding, but they may come across as more genuine and real, and MAY be able to better serve as role models than someone who is not totally “healed” of this affliction. For me, my pastors and other people who are in my church’s small group, who all know my background, are better able to serve me than someone who has come from the gay lifestyle. Even though their level of understanding is obviously somewhat lower.

    So, in God’s unknowable ways, he is able to match up those who minister with those being ministered to in a perfect way.

  • Jacqueline Ortiz

    I totally agree. I’m realizing God’s plan is so much bigger than I can imagine. I once thought because God delivered me from the gay lifestyle, that was were He would use me. I now I’m mentoring women that have nothing to do with the lifestyle but have allot to do with knowing who they are in Christ and receiving his grace! How beautiful…

  • Aroma Development Project, Sia

    Consider editing the document to replace “Cornelius” with “Ananias.” Not to nitpick,but it’ll improve your results with the detail oriented reader. Great article. Eye opener in many ways. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Jay

    Hello Matt!
    So I’m 14 years old and a big fan of your blog. I know you aren’t ministering just about LGBT stuff, but I wanted to let you know that your writings on those topics had a big impact on me.
    See, since I was 10, I’ve been attracted to boys and girls. My mother tells me that she doesn’t think this is true, but it is. I get crushes on both boys and girls- nothing “adult” or anything. No relationships. I’m 14! I’ve always been a believer, but last year it really came to a head. I’d watch tv and think the girls were cute and get the crush-y feelings- you know, butterflies and stuff- then I convinced myself I was worthless and deserved to die, and spiraled downward until I was diagnosed with depression. It was the worst when i had a crush on a close friend of mine for about a year or so, and I just wanted someone to talk to, but I knew I would either get a “you’ll burn in hell” or a really gay embracing viewpoint. So I just convinced myself all these awful things. I don’t like to talk about it much, but maybe someday when I have a better handle on it I’ll tell the full story.
    Anyway, I’ve improved a lot, thank God. But I’ve been very torn. By best friend since 2nd grade just got a girlfriend, which made me feel weird. I’ve done lots of research on the subject and I know that the brain isn’t fully developed in all areas to label yourself yet! I’ve told all my friends but at this point in my life, it seems I have more friends are labeling themselves as LGBT than ones who are “straight”. ‘Course, this is rough on me cause I’m going through the same sort of thing, but I know that a. I’m not fully developed yet and b. God doesn’t intend for me to be in a same-sex relationship. But I still keep seeing things from a ton of sides- Gay hating Christians, Christian hating LGBT, Gay supporting Christians, and all sorts of sides. (Sorry if I spelled that wrong- I always get the spelling for Christian messed up. I am one though and accept Jesus Christ as my savior.) I know that Jesus detests hate of any kind, so I’m not gonna avoid them or anything- they’re lovely people and great friends! I love them! I want what best for them. Anyway, i’m currently reading the whole bible and writing down all the verses about SSA in a journal. Then I’m going to read all the different versions of the scripture in different bibles. This was a bit all over the place, but I guess I wanted to say that I’m currently seeking some advice, such as “would God hate me for having a crush on a girl but not doing anything about it?” or “God hates (oh man this is awkward to type) same sex sexual relationships, but what about purely non-sexual ones? You know, a relationship with abstinence?” and that your blog has really impacted me!!