February 16, 2015
We have been talking about the opportunity to join God in mission. This week, we begin a two-part series by Nathan Hitchcock, SFS alumnus and Associate Professor of Church History and Theology. This week and next, Dr. Hitchcock will share his story and reflect upon what he’s learned about participating in God’s mission while continuing to learn and grow.
Part One: Disciples or Apostles?
As a Church historian, I usually tell other people’s stories. Perhaps that means that most of you haven’t heard about my own call from Jesus.
As a teenager I was struggling with depression. My parents encouraged me to find my own way to God, which I did by mashing together Buddhist writings, “Christian principles,” self-help psychology, and paranormal powers. I lived in California, so, you know, it was the fashionable thing to do. But the religious mixture didn’t do much for my depression.
It came to pass that a woman rented a room in our house, and one summer evening she invited me to attend her church. As it turned out, the church was pretty charismatic, and the speaker picked me out of the crowd to be prayed over. I had never met this guy in my life, but he was praying things – specific things – over me that only God could have known. I walked away that night knowing that there was power in the name of Jesus. That summer I believed the message of Jesus Christ and gave my life to him. I was saved. I became a child of God. Even better, I was delivered from my depression and set on a new path.
Shortly after that I received a clear vocational word from the Lord: I am sending you to South Dakota on a spiritual mission. (Please understand that I am not a particularly intuitive person. This sort of thing almost never happens to me. Nor do I think this kind of thing normative.) As a Californian who had never even visited South Dakota, this was a strange word. Still, I figured God knew what he was doing, so I told my friends and family about it. I picked up an application to what was then called Sioux Falls College. God was sending out this new believer out on mission.
Except the mission didn’t happen right away. Plans for my trip to South Dakota fell through, as did the college application. I went to a university in California and then took a job in Cincinnati, Ohio. I had everything in place to go to seminary in Chicago, Illinois. Maybe God would send me to South Dakota someday, but it seemed he wanted me fully prepared first.
Except it didn’t happen that way either. On Christmas day 2000, I came across an advertisement for an associate pastor position in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The job description lined up perfectly, so, with heart pounding, I sent in my résumé. The next day the church phoned me and, to make a long story short, I was out in snowy South Dakota by February. God had made good on his promise, bringing me out for a spiritual mission. I abandoned my plans for graduate education and got ready to put in some long years of rigorous parish ministry.
Except this didn’t turned out to be the case either. What I didn’t know was that there was a seminary in Sioux Falls, and that my early years in the city would be, through this school, Sioux Falls Seminary, and through the school of hard knocks, all about learning. This spiritual mission in South Dakota sure involved a lot of discipleship!
The Twelve: Disciples or Apostles?
In Luke’s gospel, we find a subtle but profound verse: “When day came, [Jesus] called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles” (Luke 6:13, NRSV). Did you catch the parenthetical comment? The Lord calls the disciples together and picks out twelve as special representatives. They will be a special cohort, the prototype cohort: disciples who are also apostles.