Q&A With Michael Oh: #whoisable
By Bill MacLeod, Executive Director
The theme for Mission ConneXion Northwest 2017 is “Who Is Able?” and our guest plenary speakers understand what it means to feel inadequate as they considered (and consider) the ministry God laid before them. One of those guest speakers is Dr. Michael Oh, the founder and CEO of Lausanne Movement. As we look toward January and MCNW17, we asked Michael to share what this theme means to him.
1) Before becoming a follower of Jesus, what did you believe you were or would be “able” to do with your life? (Did you ever feel you were NOT “able”, or “suit”-able for ministry?)
I grew up as a child of the American Dream. My father is the oldest of 9. He left behind his family (and first-born duties) to pursue the American Dream as a doctor. And he very much succeeded. I grew up with very little memory of the initial poverty we experienced in South Philadelphia while my father redid his internship and residency. He was working 140 hour weeks.
So I was at least told that I could do anything… if I worked hard enough. And I succeeded in almost everything that I did. Music, sports, academics, etc.
But I had a crushing defeat (my first) as a 6th grader losing the 1st chair violin competition. And my confidence was shattered. As a result, I made a dramatic shift from being able to do anything, to fearing to do anything.
2) How did following Christ change how you viewed yourself and this question?
God used my insecurities and fears to both drive me to Himself and give me courage to seek to serve Him.
I changed from one who thought he could do anything (in my own strength) but was too afraid to try to one who didn’t think he could do much of anything (in my own strength) but was moved to try things way beyond all that I could ask or imagine.
3) As the Lord directed you toward your current ministry, how “able” or prepared did you feel you were, given your experience, expertise, and calling?
For establishing a new seminary in Japan, I clearly had very little training and experience. I was 33 years old. There are thousands of Christian leaders far more qualified than I was. I barely wanted to go to seminary myself years before. But I also knew that the need was incredible. And those willing to do it very few.
When I spoke at the 2009 Desiring God Pastor’s Conference I was shaking in my boots. I had received the shock of my life getting an email from John Piper. And then the invitation to speak at the conference (I was 37 at the time). I sat in the front row watching Matt Chandler giving an amazing message and was thinking to myself and asking God, “Why me? Why me?!” That night as I prayed the Lord so gently encouraged me that I only needed to bring my five loaves and two fish. Nothing more.
And for Lausanne, I knew that I was entirely unable to handle such a huge responsibility. I felt nauseous! But the sense of calling was strong. I wanted to pass the ball to another. But the team around me with the Lausanne board and leaders was telling me to shoot. And it’s been 3.5 years of challenge, joy, and grace working together with an amazing network of global leaders for global mission.
4) What counsel would you give new, especially young Christians starting out about how they should view their “ability” to fulfill God’s will and call on their lives?
Sense of ability is trumped by calling. And calling is often preceded by sense of inability. And calling is not a mysterious or mystical experience, but it is something that comes in community and in response to need and the desire to see Christ who was crucified glorified.