Forming Faith Blog

Unexpected Ministry (Acts 9:1-19a)

Saul’s unexpected conversion to ministry made some early Christians suspicious and hesitant to engage him, yet God used him to spread the message of Jesus.

The unexpected conversion of Saul.

Saul had willingly persecuted Christians. He was present at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and following this, went home to home, dragging people out and throwing them in prison (Acts 8:1-3). Yet, God chose him to be an evangelist and apostle. This experience began a ministry that spreads Christianity across the Roman Empire and beyond. The conversion of Saul leads to a future of spreading the gospel. Saul, later known as Paul, lead a life of ministry that still resonates with people today. The good news came from an unexpected place.

Another story of an unexpected ministry comes from a woman who once shared with me that when her son was about eight years old, he suddenly became an evangelist. He regularly wanted her to stop the car and invite people to church. Once, while she was driving him to an appointment, he saw people and asked to stop. She kept driving, telling him that she would be late. She later felt a pang of strange guilt that she acted as if his ministry inconveniences her. At the same time, she also expressed that she wasn’t even sure if he was sincere or just wanted attention.

Unexpected Encounters

Almost instantly, Saul’s experience leads to suspicion. When Ananias is told by God to go to Saul and lay hands on him, Ananias knows his reputation and questions God about this. God assures Ananias that Saul is to be a missionary and evangelist to the Gentiles, so Ananias obeys. This obedience leads to Saul’s healing and baptism.

Ananias’ hesitancy is not uncommon and not unexpected. We often face this in our lives. The people who offer us good news don’t always make sense. I know that there are many people who refuse to listen to the good news from people because they “know about them.” Suspicion and judgment cloud the message.

Unexpected Calls

These same people who are unwilling to listen to the good news from others are often the ones who need the message. Ananias needs a reminder that God knows what God is doing. We often need a reminder that God’s ways are unexpected and can lead to calls that change the world.

As we preach and teach this, we need to encourage folks to be like Sauls who are called to go and serve in unexpected places and unexpected ways. We also need to encourage folk to be the Ananiases who are called to engage the message of God, even if they are suspicious of the source. The goal is, of course, to spread the good news, and to be willing to receive the good news wherever it might come from.

Unexpected Expectations

As we sit in the Easter season, the good news is still fresh. Spring is heading quickly to summer in many places, and new life is abundant. Yet, I know many have moved on from the good news of the resurrection, of new life, of the hope the church offers. My encouragement is to offer spaces to practice sharing and receiving the message of Christ.


I’m a big fan of encouraging people to share a piece of what Christ has brought to their lives. Sometimes this works by allowing time in a small group or worship to share a brief story or experience. Some people will share extemporaneously, but this is often not the case. Consider asking a few people ahead of time to prepare a brief testimony for the time together. Anyone of any age has a story to share, so I encourage asking people of different ages and backgrounds.

Teaching People to Share

One reality is that most people don’t expect to share their stories. They can be hesitant for fear of judgment, not feeling “spiritual” enough, or not knowing the ways to do it. Offering steps for learning how to talk about faith, as well as time to practice with safe and affirming people is helpful. It might be best to practice talking with each other in small groups. However, during larger worship services skits and simple explanations can help with this sharing of faith.

More Than Words

Saul, later more famously known as Paul, doesn’t just preach and write, he spends his life with people. The good news is lived out in his life and ministry. While we can’t conduct a service project during worship (although I’ve seen some churches dismiss worship early for people to go into service), we can provide examples of places and ways to serve, develop relationships, and live by the example of Christ as we offer hope. This might be done through guest speakers, skits about service, or videos about agencies in your community.

This might be more easily done in a small group that can choose to be a service- and outreach-oriented group and seek to serve together regularly in the community.

Expect the Unexpected

The eight-year-old evangelist from earlier is now a pastor. His mother told me that her hesitancy brought her a pang of guilt that led her to never deny his ministry again. Her willingness to trust that God was working in her son enabled him to share the gospel. I encourage you to trust God enough to share the good news when and where God leads you.

Cheers friends,

Jonathan LeMaster-Smith

Jonathan LeMaster-Smith lives with his wife, Shannon, in Hildebran, North Carolina (District 12 of The Hunger Games movies). He holds a Ph.D. in Christian Education and Congregational Studies from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary with a focus on Rural Ministry and Methodist Studies. His work includes presentations on Dolly Parton, articles on ditch lilies, and musings about the genius of mayonnaise.

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the activity “Quick Change” from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th, NL) curriculum which can be used with many ages in many contexts!

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