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A young man, I’ll call him Steve, was recently told that he’d occasionally be teaching a young adult class at church in the next few months. Steve was talking to me about this, and something was bothering him. A friend of his at church told him they weren’t sure he’d be able to relate to the people in the class who had not grown up in a Christian home. How could he adequately teach a group if he’d never experienced all the things a young person does when they don’t grow up in a Christian environment? 

They questioned whether he’d be a good fit as a teacher in there because of this reasoning.

As I sat and listened to Steve’s discouragement, I was saddened. It’s as if people wanted him to regret his upbringing. I admit that this is a bit of a pet peeve with me; the Bible commands parents to raise their children in the admonition of the Lord, but then when those children are grown and entering ministry, we question their ability to minister because they haven’t grown up “in the world.”


He made the comment that he hadn’t had a “Saul-to-Paul” conversion, and I thought about that a bit. He meant it as his conversion was not from one radical extreme to another. It was a quiet conversion from head knowledge about God to a heart acknowledgment asking Jesus to be his savior. His was as solid a conversion as the person who had never heard the gospel until they were an adult, but now Steve seemed to be wondering if his testimony wasn’t as good as other people’s.

But then I started thinking about Paul, who he was as Saul, and what he did once he became known as Paul.

Who was Paul actually called to minister to? 

Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles. (Romans 11:13) Thing is, Paul was not a Gentile. When Paul was known as Saul he was not living in what we today would call “the world.” He was living a highly religious life, dedicated to the Jewish religion in a way that most Jews weren’t even dedicated to it, much less any Gentiles. (Philippians 3:4-5) As Saul, he would not have mingled with Gentiles. While he was a free-born Roman citizen, the Bible explicitly states that he was raised in the Jewish faith, surrounded by Jewish culture. He would not have lived the way the Gentiles around them lived growing up, and he would not have experienced the things they did.

What exactly about him would have helped him relate to Gentiles more than to Jews? If we’re going strictly by a person’s experiences in life, we would think that Paul was the perfect man to go to the Pharisees and the Jewish people living under their control. 


On the other hand, we look at Peter during that same time. Peter was specifically sent to the Jews. While Peter’s life WAS a Jewish one, he was a fisherman from Galilee, considered sort of backwater, like a country boy with no education, yet he was sent to preach to Pharisees, to learned men who thought of themselves as far smarter than Peter. How was Peter able to relate to these crowds when his experiences in life would have been so different than theirs? 

As we talked about these facts found in the book of Acts in the New Testament, I asked this young man why he thinks God might place teachers in our lives that don’t relate to us on a physical, experiential level. 

He said, “Maybe when we don’t relate on a physical level, we can let God use us to relate better on a spiritual level.”

Maybe when we don’t relate on a physical level, we can let God use us to relate better on a spiritual level. Click To Tweet

I believe there’s a lot of truth in that. 

I believe God sends us people who don’t relate exactly to the same experiences we have in childhood simply to get our own experiences out of the way. We don’t need our teachers to understand everything we’ve been through. We only need teachers who understand God’s Word and want to teach us. 

Think of how many times you’ve learned something from someone who has nothing in common with you. Think of all the times you’ve benefited from seeing something through another person’s perspective, a point of view so different from your own that it made a profound impact on the way you saw the world. 

If our only teachers were people who related to our own experiences in life, do you think those profound changes would ever happen?


Can You Relate?

After saying all that, I do believe God sends us people in our lives who CAN relate to us personally. We have things to learn from them as well. So in essence, I don’t think we can decide that someone else’s background means they have nothing to teach us. We can and should learn something from everyone, whether negative or positive. 

What does this mean for you and me? As we walk through life, we are supposed to look for opportunities to minister to others, right? One of our duties as a Christian is to uplift and encourage other Christians, to reach out to the lost, and to spread the gospel. I’d like to encourage you to not let your background hinder you from reaching out to anyone God places in your path. We all can contribute something to each other. Who knows, maybe your perspective will be the one that God can use for something profound in that person’s life.

Have you ever learned something from a source that surprised you? Were you impacted by someone’s perspective because it was so different from your own?

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