Although my primary means of income is from the small community college where I work, I’ve been pastoring a small church whose building is right on Highway 36, only a quarter-mile from our house. It’s also less than two miles from where I stopped and picked up Mike as he was walking from Troy toward Wathena.
“I’m the pastor at New Life Church back there at Blair,” I cautioned, “I’d like to ask you a couple of questions if you don’t mind.” This is kind of odd for me because I haven’t been the kind of pastor who goes around talking to people about religion. I’d like to say that’s because of my deep sensitivity and respect for people’s opinions but the cold truth is that it has more to do with my lack of courage and fear of rejection. But desperate times lead to desperate measures.
“You ever had any bad experiences with church?” Mike looked a bit surprised, maybe puzzled. “No,” he shook his head, “I used to go to church with my grandmother until she died. Haven’t gone much since then.”
“Just got out of the habit?” He nodded.
“Well, we’ve been thinking about starting some small groups. You know, just have people meet in someone’s home to study the Bible, maybe pray or just get together and talk about stuff that’s going on in their lives. You think that would work?”
“Yeah, I think it would. I think that’d be good… I don’t like big crowds; that’s why I don’t like going to church.”
Encouraged by that, I ventured my next bright idea. “I’ve also thought about getting an old school bus, taking out most of the seats and putting in some little tables and chairs or benches. Then we could drive that to different neighborhoods and have ‘Sunday School’ right there where the kids live. What do you think about that?”
Mike actually seemed enthused about the idea. “I think that’d be great. The kids wouldn’t have to get dressed up and their parents would know right where they are. I think people would like that.”
By the time we’d finished the conversation, we were at the less-than-modest old hotel where Mike and his wife were living. He could not possibly have any idea how much this conversation had helped me. When a man with eleven kids and twenty-five grandkids talks about what he thinks people will like, I’m inclined to listen.
We’ve been debating, discussing, arguing and cussing for months about what to do to make our church grow and ignoring the fact that God doesn’t call his people to grow churches; he calls them to grow the Kingdom of Heaven. He calls them to serve, not to fill buildings. His promises are based on seeking first his Kingdom, his righteousness, not on meeting their goals. With each new criticism, each new failed idea, each disgruntled departure, I’ve grown more and more discouraged as a pastor, more and more unsure of what to do.
Over the past months, even years, I’ve grown weary of ideas and opinions about church growth. People’s preferences cloaked as spiritual concerns. A stranger who hadn’t been in church in twenty years had now given me a sense of direction, a clear notion of purpose.
As Mike got out of the truck, he turned back and said, “God bless you, Doc.”
Boy Howdy, he just did! I felt as if a load had just been lifted off of me and I could finally see a clear path before me.
We’re going to find out whether or not my church is going to follow me. I know Who I’m going to follow: a God whose angels sometimes need a ride.