Stumbled upon this picture from 2001. I was a sophomore in high school and giving my third ever sermon at one of my hometown churches in Peoria, Arizona.
This was the time when an increasing number of people began coming up to me to acknowledge that this is what I was put on the planet to do. It was the time when I began filling notebooks with sermon ideas at Ironwood High School during class (instead of paying attention to the teacher) and dreaming for the first time – “What if this wasn’t just me filling in for the minister once every other year anymore? What if someday, I was the minister? What if I spent my life doing this every single day?”
And seemingly in the blink of an eye, here we are 17 years later in Philly, ministering to the 7th church in 4 states on 2 continents we’ve labored with long-term.
Plenty of people feel compelled to throw in their “two cents,” either helpfully or not so helpfully. But sometimes, the greatest of mentors is the modern day version of us blowing the dust off an old Kodak in a shoe box and grasping just how far God has brought us ever since.
As I peer into the face of that terrified 17-year old boy reading from his 13-page manuscript sermon, there’s so much guidance I want to give him.
Here is what I would say if I could sit down with him over juice and cookies…
Part 1: BE A JESUS. NOT A PAUL
Paul is the gold standard of those of us who aren’t God. He was the conduit that the Spirit used to compose half the New Testament. He’s the one who told struggling churches “Mimic me as I mimic Christ.” His fearless and relentless fervor to make Christ intensely known anywhere and everywhere is an inferno that needs to blaze in every Christian soul. He’s the greatest missionary who ever lived.
But like 999,999 out of a million other ministers, I wasted a lot of time subconsciously trying to be Paul-like. When ultimately, what I needed to do was aspire to be Christ-like.
There are virtues of Paul we need to emulate. But every single person on the face of the earth is not mentally/psychologically/temperamentally a Paul. Paul was a freakishly left-brained, methodical, analytical soul. He was an intellectual black belt and a scientist of theology.
There are many whose personalities fall under the “A-Type” and left-brained categories. And for all of those who are, seize the day!
But for the rest of us Barnabas’ who are abnormally “B-Type” right-brained-empath-creatives who specialize in tender-hearted mercy showing, it’s an exhausting process being made to feel as if “Uber A-Type Left-Brain Intellectual” is the only personality type that’s allowed.
Often, Paul wanna-beism morphs into something Paul never actually was, inadvertently leaving in its wake a horde of staid, robotic “professional” preachers across the landscape of the church. Ones with the facial exuberance of a man driving to his vasectomy. Who obsess over filling their brain with lofty academia but who scarcely permit those academics to connect to the heart. Ones who spend their lives using big, elaborate words that cruise over the heads of even the educated, debating in upwards to three hours at a time on the derivation of the conjugative form of the word “the” in a biblical passage.
I don’t believe that’s what I was created to be. I don’t believe that’s what anyone was destined to be.
When Jesus taught, He didn’t jump into a white lab coat and wax like a religious rocket scientist. When He spoke, it wasn’t a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade of sanctimonious jargon. Much of the time, when Jesus taught, it was a plain-language teaching, one that dripped with kaleidoscopic creativity.
He sat down in boats, on hilltops, at tables and said “Once upon a time…”
He unmasked the self-righteousness of His listeners by making them characters in the theatre of the mind.
He pointed at objects, at seeds, at water basins and towels; at sparrows and sack lunches and coins, and before their very eyes, suddenly, heaven was so apparent in those everyday things, His audience could taste it.
It’s true that for a time, He spoke exclusively in parables for very unique reasons. It’s true that several of the things He taught were temporarily veiled and grotesquely misunderstood.
But Jesus seems so much more interested in showing His audience what the kingdom feels like and looks like (when we dare to embody it like a child) so much more than simply knowing some facts about it.
It’s not a matter of Jesus being left-brained. Or right-brained. He’s Jesus. He can’t be labeled or boxed. Neither does aspiring to be Christ-like call for us to turn water to wine, never sin or become the greatest teacher who ever lived.
But as exemplary and as helpful as Paul’s life is to our own spiritual journey, the reason we exist is for a broken, unbelieving world to see the resurrected Jesus reigning in our hearts and for Him to be so brilliantly alive inside of us, that they see glimpses of heaven so chill-inducingly vivid in the way we live, they can taste it.
Don’t waste one second of your life trying to act like the smartest, loudest, most educated, most important person in the room. Be the most soft-spoken. Be the gentlest, the most caring, the most loving, the most child-like. Be who God uniquely created you to be.
And that is 17-year old flawed, introverted, tender-hearted David Creek doing a Jesus Christ impersonation.
Flawed, Introverted, Tender-Hearted 34 Year Old You Doing A Jesus Christ Impersonation