Over the next few months, I will be telling the story of one congregation on the east side of Houston. The congregation, St. James Presbyterian Church, is small, struggling, and ultimately extremely faithful. If I ever write a book about them, it will be called “Twenty-eight Members Strong; the Story of One Missional Congregation.” The following post is a revision of an article I published in “Connections“, the newsletter of the Presbytery of New Covenant in October 2009 (p.6).
The session meeting was just at the two hour mark, the self-imposed time limit of the group, when an elder wearing full biker regalia (including the leather vest, patches, boots, leather pants and a “dew rag”) said, “I s’pose y’all ‘r wonderin’ why I’m dressed like this.” Frankly, I wasn’t wondering at all. Three out of nine of us had ridden our motorcycles to that particular Sunday afternoon meeting. Granted, I was in a t-shirt, jeans and boots, not full leathers, but that’s what I love about this congregation, people come as they are to session meetings. To me the biker clothes seemed sort of natural, in a wierd way. The elder continued, “I have a confession to make; a few months ago I was ready to leave this church.” The church is small and struggling for survival. They can afford their building, but not an installed pastor. The congregational leaders are overworked and tired of keeping the old programs running. Some wonder what kind of future the congregation has. In fact, the session’s had “the future of the church” as an agenda item for the last eight months. Frankly, there are times I wonder why so many people stay in church situations like this.
The session was listening, and the biker went on, “But now I feel God is callin’ me in another direction, and I really need the support of this congregation to make it happen.” Let me share some back story here. The elder’s biker name is “Scooter”. He has been a part of the biker community for decades. Over the years Scooter’s life has been totally transformed by the love of Jesus Christ he experiences week after week in that small Presbyterian congregation. He was, literally, saved, by the grace of Jesus, and he can talk about it. Now, he feels his call is not to run to a larger, more program oriented church, or even to a “Christian” motor cycle club, but his call is to help God in Christ transform the lives of his brothers and sisters who ride. He explained that while most bikers are a lot like me … people who just like to ride … there are others who’s lives are “really messed up” and involved in a way of life which is often on the other side of the law, and filled with “stuff you can’t even imagine.”
Scooter sees himself as a minister … I call him a missionary … to the biker world. He is chaplain, visiting in hospitals and homes, listening and comforting, leading funerals and even an occasional wedding. But, more importantly, he shares the good news of Jesus Christ in his life and in his words. He wanted help from the session to buy some “Biker Bibles” to hand out to those who need and want them. He wanted prayers. He wanted a pastor to turn to when things seemed more than he could handle. He wanted fellow disciples to walk with him in this journey. And the session responded with support and love and prayers. Within a week, he was already reporting over $200 had come in for Bibles and one woman in the club had her prayers miraculously answered. Already, within one week of him publicly affirming his call, he saw tangible signs of grace.
Is there a future for this church? I hope so. But, it might not be one of programs, buildings, salaries and staff. I asked the session that Sunday afternoon, “If the call of this congregation isn’t so much to maintain the current programs, but it is to support the lives and call of each member/missionary, what needs to change? How will this congregation design itself to do that well … really well?” I think, when the congregation discovers the answer to that question they will also discover a vibrant and life-filled future.