As we seek to build upon an already strong history of training of Spirit-led ministers and missionaries through greater integration of our ministry and Biblical studies programs and the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, we’re excited to share a perspective on Spirit-led encounters from Dr. Mark Hausfeld, President of AGTS.
Lynda and I were having a wonderful time on vacation in Colorado Springs with our daughter, Kara, son-in-law, David, and grandson, Jax.
Lynda had made a hair appointment in downtown Colorado Springs, but when we arrived for her appointment the salon had put her down on the wrong day and time. So, we re-scheduled for the next day. While waiting for Lynda, I noticed that there was a coffee shop nearby. I thought, “Great! While Lynda has her appointment, I’ll go next door for coffee and free Wi-Fi to do a little work.”
The next day she went to the hair salon and I went to the coffee shop. After about 45 minutes, I realized that I was the only male in the coffee shop. I noticed some ladies working on a chalk drawing with the names of the people killed in the Orlando massacre. I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to make the most of the opportunity to speak with the servers and the people sitting at the coffee bar.
Here is where learning how to connect with people (as I learned at AGTS), having experience in cross-cultural contexts, and being among people with very different and even opposing beliefs and values for 23 years is an advantage. I went up to them and asked permission to speak with them about some questions I thought they could possibly answer.
There were four women: Hannah, the manager, was serving at the coffee bar; Peyton and Marisa serve in the Army; and Arielle, is a writer and movie producer. They looked at me curiously, yet kindly, and all replied in the affirmative.
After I introduced myself, I said, “Since I have been in here drinking coffee and working at my computer, I realize that I am the only male who has come in or been a patron. Is this a coffee shop that primarily serves the lesbian community?”
They looked at each other and laughed. Then they turned to me and said, “Yes and no. We are focused on serving the LBGTQ community and our needs. We do have a large clientele of lesbians and three of us are lesbians.”
I said, “I believe that if people are going to understand one another, even if there is marked disagreement, conversation toward mutual understanding must take place. I’m the President of a theologically conservative seminary in Springfield, Missouri—the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. What would you want a seminary president to know and understand about why you believe what you do? How would you want conservative Christians to relate to you?”
At first, they were a little hesitant. Then, one-by-one, these smart, articulate, and professional people shared. Each person had a unique religious background: Catholic, Presbyterian, no faith tradition, and a personally created totem of a “higher power.” Two of the ladies had been suicidal in their struggle for self-identity. They were very transparent about their respective journey and beliefs. I asked their permission to record the conversation, so I could better recall it later, and they agreed.
They unanimously presented common themes as to what they would want me to bring to students in the seminary community and people with whom I have opportunity to share:
- Christians should not single out what they perceive to be LBGTQ sin without fairly looking and dealing with all sin equally.
- Deal with the sin in your own life before you speak harshly about what you perceive to be LBGTQ sin.
- Listen to us (each person felt that me being there that day and initiating the conversation was not only good, but God-led).
- Protect us from hateful speech and violence. They felt the attack in Orlando was not merely Islamic extremist terrorism, but an attack on the LBGTQ community.
- Love us by words and actions.
Then I said, “I agree with your points for the most part. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus lovingly engaged people with whom He disagreed. We disagree in several areas. Is it possible for me to have a friendship with you even if I do not agree with your definition of marriage and LBGTQ self-identity and lifestyle? Can we still have relationship?”
They hesitated, then said, “Yes, but Jesus loves unconditionally.”
“Yes, He does,” I replied, “but even Jesus disagreed with peoples’ opinions, sins, and lifestyles. Unconditional love does not require total agreement to share that love.” Those who had some Church background agreed. The others kind of shrugged in hesitant agreement.
Our conversation lasted just under an hour. Interestingly, Hannah and Arielle felt God had led me to them on that specific time and day, as they would not have been there the previous day. I agreed with them.
I gave each of them my business card as President of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. Hannah and Arielle gave me their cards with contact information. I wrote them both thanking them for their time and words. I asked them to send me any prayer requests so I could confidentially keep their request before God.
What have I learned from this Spirit-led moment?
- We must love all people and not merely those in our Faith-fold—as this is what Jesus did.
- We must be knowledgeable about the Bible and how to apply it kindly and lovingly in conversations with people who do not hold the same presuppositions we do with the Text.
- We must be led by the Holy Spirit to be available to connect with people no matter who they are and what they believe.
- We must realize that the narratives in the world that do not agree with the Christian narrative will not be influenced and transformed unless we have dialogues that are respectful, kind, and honest.
- As the Church, we tend to tell, even shout, our values when the world is looking for people of virtue (in essence, people full of the fruit of the Holy Spirit). As we are a people who are genuinely virtuous, the narrative of the gospel will be more readily heard than if we constantly declare our values. A virtuous life is real, intimate, and speaks integrity. A values approach to people begins with relationship.
- We must realize Sunday morning is the believer’s time to gather for discipleship, fellowship, and giving to the community of Christ. This is going to church.
- Disciples of Jesus Christ must lovingly and respectfully engage people in the marketplace, even with individuals who believe and live narratives with which they do not agree. This is the way Jesus touched peoples’ lives.
As I listen to the recording of that conversation again, additional thoughts, insights, and questions will arise. One thing I know: all people matter to God and it is our biblical responsibility to lovingly engage everyone, not merely ethnic people groups, but all people, with the love of Christ and the message of the gospel.
Dr. Mark A. Hausfeld became president of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) at Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, on July 1, 2015. He has more than thirty years of ministry experience, both in the United States and abroad. He has a passion for equipping Spirit-empowered servant leaders with the highest quality seminary scholarship and training. Prior to his role as AGTS president, his focus centered on discipleship and church planting in urban settings in North America and restricted contexts in Central Asia and far-reaching global Muslim communities.