Yankoski, a college student during the time about which he writes, does the unthinkable. He gets the idea that he should become downwardly mobile and take the form of a homeless person. A college student aiming at downward mobility? That seems odd, to say the least. It didn’t sit well with his parents either. They didn’t send their son off to Christian college for him to become homeless!
Where does such a radical idea for a young American come from?
And so I will start where Yankoski starts as I reproduce passages from his book dealing with church. In the opening chapter, entitled Twenty Minutes Past The World, starting on page 14 under the heading, A Flicker of Lightning, Yankoski offers this:
The idea had dropped into my brain one Sunday morning while I sat in church. The pastor was delivering a powerful sermon about living the Christian life. The gist of it was, “Be the Christian you say you are.”
Suddenly I was shocked to realize that I had just driven twenty minutes past the world that needed me to be the Christian I say I am, in order to hear a sermon entitled “Be the Christian you say you are.” Soon I would drive back past that same world to the privilege of my comfortable life on campus at a Christian college.
Thinking ahead to my next week, I knew several things would happen. I knew I’d hear more lectures about being a caring Christian or living a godly life. I’d read more books about who God is and about what the world needs now. I’d spend more time late at night down at a coffee shop with my friends kicking around ultimate questions and finely delivered opinions about the world.
Then I’d jump into my warm bed and turn out the light. Another day gone.
But we were created to be and to do, not merely to discuss. The hypocrisy in my life troubled me. No, I wasn’t in the grip of rampant sin, but at the same time, for the life of me I couldn’t find a connecting thread of radical, living obedience between what I said about my world and how I lived in it. Sure, I claimed that Christ was my stronghold, my peace, my sustenance, my joy. But I did all that from the safety of my comfortable upper-middle-class life. I never really had to put my claims to the test.
I sat there in church struggling to remember a time when I’d actually needed to lean fully on Christ rather than on my own abilities. Not much came to mind. What was Paul’s statement to the Philippians? “I have learned what it means to be content in all circumstances, whether with everything or with nothing” (Philippians 4:11-12).
The idea came instantly–like the flash of a camera or a flicker of lightning. It left me breathless, and it changed my life. What if I stepped out of my comfortable life with nothing but God and put my faith to the test alongside of those who live with nothing every day?
The picture that came with that question was of me homeless and hungry on the streets of an American city.
Hard on the heels of the idea came the questions: What if I didn’t actually believe the things I argued with so much certainty? What, for example, if I didn’t truly believe that Christ is my identity, my strength, my hope? Or worse, what if I leaped in faith, but God didn’t catch me? My mind reeled.
And then there were the practical questions. Could I survive on the streets? How much did I really want to learn to be content always with nothing? What would my friends think? What would my parents think? My pastors? My professors? Would I be okay? What if I got sick? What if I starved? What if I got beat up? What if I froze?
What if I’m wrong?
Am I crazy?
Will I die?
But already, I had decided. I walked out of church that morning seized by a big idea, assaulted by dozens of questions, and sure that I had heard deep in my heart a still, small voice saying, “Follow Me.”
I am not reproducing this passage to analyze the fact that Yankoski came to this decision, nor the way he went about it. Those may well be important questions to consider, but I am interested in WHERE this decision happened.
It happened at church while listening to the pastor preaching the word of God. This is a fact that almost escaped me, and I did not recall it as I began looking again at passages where Yankoski relates to the church. But this is significant, I think.
No. Yankoski was not formally ordained to take on this mission. The church did not pray on it and nominate him for the job. But as God was speaking through the pastor during the assembled worship, Yankoski was called to this mission and sent by the church despite the church anyway. God was working amid his people to bring about this task, and it is a task that Yankoski accepted and fulfilled many years ago now, wrote a book (many years ago now) about, and is still ministering (to me at least) in the world all this time later.
In this series of posts, I will have us look closer at the church vis-à-vis Yankoski’s mission in a number of settings that will prophetically open our imagination to God’s purposes for us. I hope you will read on them, pray about them, and listen for God’s call on your life too as you witness God’s interaction with his church from the streets.