Leopold Sambou is the grandson of a Jola chief, welcomed into the village of Moulomp, Senegal, into a family of honored tribal sages. He was raised to sacrifice to the spirits of the forest. Each week brought another sacred ceremony, another occasion for his family and friends to inebriate themselves on palm wine and stagger around the village in a stupor by nightfall.
One day Leopold, by pure happenstance as far as he knew, tuned a radio into a Christian station. He was intrigued by what he heard, so he listened. The Lord used those radio broadcasts to bring Leopold to Himself. And so, without knowing a single Christian, Leopold became one.
In response to his conversion his family ostracized him. Once a member of the chief’s family, he is now an outcast in his home town. He performs preaching duties in several small house churches, rotating through them and giving each as much attention as he can. His local government will not even allow him to perform the weddings of his church members. “How can you be a church?” they scoff. “You don’t even have a church building!”
When I first met Leopold, he had sent his son away into hiding. An animistic circumcision and initiation ceremony was underway in his village during that month, and it was common practice for bands of drunken men to forcibly take young boys to be circumcised if they had not submitted to the ritual already. And so Leopold had sent his own son away for his protection from spiritual coercion.
Leopold travels throughout the villages of the Casamance region sharing the gospel. When I’m in Senegal, he translates for me.
I was born in 1969 in Lake City, AR, to a family of Southern Baptists. Starting in my earliest days, my parents had me in worship services at Bethabara Baptist Church three times each week. My grandfather was a deacon there. Sunday School teachers instructed me in God’s revealed word. When I was nearly six years old, I trusted Christ as my savior. At the age of eleven I surrendered to God’s call to preach at our local Baptist association’s RA camp. Some, to be sure, wondered whether a boy of such a tender age could really know already that God had called him to preach, but a pastoral calling was something celebrated and revered by my family and my friends.
God gave me academic abilities, and I won a National Merit Scholarship to Baylor University—a full ride. After a B.A. there, I received two more degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Along the way, godly pastors, friends, professors, associational directors of missions, and even godly laypeople mentored me and loved me and shared much with me. Churches allowed me to lead them, starting when I was only seventeen.
Because I am a Southern Baptist pastor, my churches have provided for my financial needs and for the needs of my family. In fact, they have provided far beyond our bare needs. I have been accorded respect in the communities that I have served. I’ve even gotten out of a traffic ticket, once, just because I was a pastor (I didn’t bring it up, I promise).
Godly parents, a good church, an associational campground, an early revelation of God’s will for my vocation, churches that gave me opportunities to preach starting when I was only fifteen, free tuition at Baylor, half-price tuition at SWBTS—I’ve received a lot of gifts down through the years. And since 2006, so many of you have given me the gift of your friendship and encouragement. You’ve given me the gift of reading what I’ve written and listening to what I’ve said far beyond what my little opinions deserve. Even those of you who have taken me to task have done me the honor of thinking my opinions worthy of refutation.
I have received many, many gifts. When I think about my friend Leopold, the contrast between how much I have received and how little he has received is staggering. His parents hate his faith. There was no church in his village until he started one. There is nothing like Baylor and nothing like SWBTS. His church pays him nothing. His village ridicules him.
In the process of explaining a parable to Peter, Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” (Luke 12:48b, ESV)
I’ve been given much. So, so much. My church has been given much. Our convention has been given much. What have I done with it? What do I expect from myself for it? How much must God expect from His investment? Thinking about this doesn’t frighten me, because I know that Jesus loves me and that His grace is sufficient for me. But it does sadden me. So many wasted opportunities to do more. I’m not afraid of what my Father will do to me, but I do so want not to disappoint Him.
I’m not a bad man, as sinful men go. But with the examples God has put into my life to mentor me and the opportunities that He has given to me, I ought to be a remarkably good man. I’m a decent preacher of the gospel, but with the money my fellow Southern Baptists have given to educate and train me, I ought to be a phenomenal preacher of the gospel. I’m not one of those believers who never shares the gospel, but with the programs I’ve completed and sermons I’ve heard and historical figures I’ve studied, I ought to be leading someone to Christ each and every day. I’m not a slacker when it comes to Bible study, but with the mind God has given to me and the teachers I’ve had since my earliest days of Sunday School, I ought to have large portions of the Bible committed to memory.
I want to beware the temptation to dwell upon what more I could receive. Maybe you’re like me—it’s easy to look at the church budget and imagine what great ministry might come to pass if people would only give you more. As a Southern Baptist, I want our entities to be able to do all the great things they could do if only our churches supported the Cooperative Program more faithfully. But maybe I should focus on what I’ve been given already and should ask myself what I did with it. I should look with wonder at all that God has entrusted to me. My church should look with wonder at all that God has given us. The Southern Baptist Convention should stand in reverential awe at all that God has entrusted to us. Considering what Leopold has done with the little that he has received, and thinking about what an impoverished first-century church managed to do with the gospel, what have we done with the much that God has lavished upon us? Certainly, in an absolute sense, we have done much. But how does it look in comparison to what we have received?
If we have diligently stretched what we have received into the best return on that investment that we could manage, then by all means, let’s beg heaven for more. But if I have not—if I’m already on the hook before God for having squandered a spiritual largesse that has been poured out upon me—should I be reluctant, or even fearful, to ask for more and thereby only to increase my responsibility before God for my anemic zeal and work? God has great expectations for us. Greater for some than for others. Oh, that I might approach those expectations in what I actually do in His service!