For much of my ministry, I had a recurring fantasy each time I was moving to a new church as pastor. I would imagine myself going ahead of time to the new community, finding a popular local hang out, and spending time there. I would listen and learn some of the news and ways of the town from the perspective of the locals. Eventually, I would move there and become known to the community — but not before I had earned the respect of a group of people who had come to know me as a no-nonsense, regular person.
The laity of the church are already in the hang outs, schools, businesses, parks, and all other community groups. Their faithful lives bear witness each day to far more people than I could ever encounter.
I had the same fantasy when I moved to my current church five years ago. Once people knew of my authenticity as pastor, suddenly the church would have more credibility and more appeal to outsiders. If I could just be more faithful and creative, I could inspire my parishioners, whom I judgmentally regarded as sluggish, to a higher degree of faith and practice. But I eventually realized how self-centered this idea was. I had made myself the hero of the fantasy. And it revealed my tendency to practice leadership as a Lone Ranger.
I came to this church determined to change that comfortable but lonely model. And I began to see the obvious. The laity of the church are already in the hang outs, schools, businesses, parks, and all other community groups. Their faithful lives bear witness each day to far more people than I could ever encounter.
I still thought there was some value to my plan to visit local hang outs, but now with a big difference. After a few years, I shared my fantasy in a sermon and extended the invitation to anyone who was interested to come with me to Papa Joe’s Texas Saloon, a small local bar about five minutes away from the church. My only stipulation was that I would not go by myself.
While the numbers aren’t large, I do have a few takers, mostly women, who meet at the church parking lot once a month to go to Papa Joe’s. We do not take our Bibles, but we are now known and have established a relationship with the owner and her daughter. I’m not sure what, if anything, will come of these outings and the people we meet. But the real impact is what it has done for me. As I see the courage and witness of church members in this non-church setting, I move further and further from being the Lone Ranger pastor who overlooks the powerful potential for witness by laity every day. That’s where the church’s potential lies.
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