Throwback Thursday a day late. This is an article I wrote in September 2009 and was published in the October issue of “Connections,” the newsletter of New Covenant Presbytery. I share it here, because this story will be featured in the fourth chapter of the book I’m currently working on, “Twenty-eight Members Strong.” I am aiming to have the book completed by the end of the summer for some congregations to beta test for me.
The featured photo is by an AP photographer of some bikers at the Twin Peaks attack in Waco, Texas, earlier this year. wsb
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, and bandana) said, “I suppose you’re wondering why I’m dressed like this.” Honestly, 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 weird 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 a 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 that.
The session was listening, and the biker went on, “But now I feel God is calling me in another direction, and I really need the support of this congregation to make it happen.” The back story is that this man’s life was changed by the transforming love of Jesus Christ that 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 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.”
This elder 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’s prayers were 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.