“Paul, do you remember when we prepared for yesterday’s debate that I said that I wanted you to participate yourself someday?” Samuel set his briar pipe down in his ashtray. The smell of tobacco smoke was a familiar note in the office.
Paul sat across the big desk from Samuel. He had been staring at the wall across from the bookcase. It showcased a small collection of framed newspaper articles about the church and an award from the mayor. Samuel was very proud of these. A Currier and Ives lithograph added some color with its celebration of a bucolic New England countryside with a hamlet of houses and two tall-spired churches. In the corner hung a list of the Seven Virtues, embroidered by his late wife.
At Samuel’s question, Paul looked up. “Me? You don’t want me to debate.” His hands tightened on the arms of his chair. He had made plain to Samuel his dread of public speaking.
“Not debate, but this might be the first step. I’d like you to go out into the community and introduce people to the church.”
Paul stood in agitation. “No. You know I’m not good at that.”
“There’s nothing to be afraid—”
“I’m not afraid. Speaking to strangers is not my strength, that’s all. I’d be better used in other areas.” He took a step toward the desk.
“Sit down, please.” Samuel leaned back in his chair and interlaced his hands over his large belly. Paul paused for a moment, surprised that he had created a confrontation, and took his seat.
“Paul, you have been a blessing to me since the earthquake. The lay volunteers have been a big help, but with all this work, I couldn’t have carried on without you. A lot of people have been affected by the quake and we’ve brought God’s comfort and counsel to many—we have much to be proud of.”
Paul forced a smile and nodded.
“Your work is all the more impressive given your loss.”
“It seems to take my mind off … my troubles.”
“Work is indeed the best medicine. You’ve not been yourself lately—quite understandable. But I sense that the worst is over and my old Paul is returning. I think a new challenge is what you need.”
Samuel banged his pipe on the ashtray and slowly refilled it. “I’ve been delighted by your progress these past two years. You have picked up the apologetics arguments very quickly—much faster than I expected. You’re an excellent logical thinker, and I couldn’t ask for a harder worker. I had hoped to let you grow within the church at your own pace, but we don’t have that luxury. Too much work. It seems I’ll need an associate pastor sooner than I thought.”
The prospect of being an associate pastor intrigued Paul. He was “Assistant to the Pastor” and had calling cards to prove it, but after two years, he was eager for a promotion. He had hoped to postpone the speaking part, however. “What do you need me to do?”
“I want you to introduce people to the church. All this press attention gives us a rare opportunity, and we must make the most of it. Newspaper articles are good, but we need souls in seats. I’ll take care of the reporters—the workload has dropped so that I can handle the press. But I need you to convert that publicity into new church members. I want you to get out and knock on doors. Start in neighborhoods nearby. Introduce yourself, tell them about the church, invite them to a service. It will usually be a conversation with just one person.”
“I really would prefer to avoid talking to new people. What if they want to argue? What if they want to debate?”
“All the better—you know the issues. You’ll convince some people who attend other churches to visit. If we’re a better fit for them, then that’s great for both us and them, but if you convince a nonbeliever to become a churchgoer, you’ve helped save a soul. Can you do any greater service for Mankind?”
Samuel leaned forward with his arms on the desk. “Apologetics is our central mission. A questioner is someone who’s thinking, and thinking people can be converted. Also, you’ve had a loss no one should be forced to bear—but how many people in this city have had similar losses? You can speak to them in a way that few others can.”
“Writing is different from speaking. I’m fine with writing.”
Samuel sighed. “Passing notes through the mail slot in the door won’t work. Look, I’m a pretty good speaker, but that didn’t just happen. I wasn’t born that way. I had to work at it.”
Paul was not persuaded. Samuel loved to speak—to friends, to strangers, to individuals, to crowds. He was good because he enjoyed the attention. Paul had survived in life to this point by avoiding attention.
Samuel paused as if inviting a response and then sighed and said, “Paul, this is not optional. I understand that this is difficult, but I’ll work with you. Together, we’ll make you stronger. Remember when Moses complained to God that he was not eloquent enough? God didn’t say, ‘Never mind—go back to herding sheep.’ No, God gave him the words he needed. With only the two of us, this church is too small to not have everyone giving his all. You need to trust me that this is the best for the church and for you. This may well be hard, but what good lesson isn’t?”
Paul exhaled with puffed cheeks and looked down, and then he slowly got out of his chair. “Okay,” he said as he turned toward the door.
“I want you to start tomorrow.”