Headlines from First Thoughts

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Need the Missing

The best kind of evangelism happens when we show the people we’re trying to love into the kingdom of God how much we really need them. Take one example from my life. Mr. Holt was in charge of the bus ministry at First Baptist Pensacola, Florida, when my parents joined in 1972. They picked up kids in the neighborhoods, brought them on Sunday mornings and had a special children’s church for the bus kids. In the 1970s, this was one of the many popular ways to draw people to Jesus, drive up attendance, baptize a bunch of people, and yes, do evangelism. The church bought 5 used buses from schools, retrofitted them for church, painted them blue, and emblazoned them with large letters, “Follow me to First Baptist.”

Mr. Holt recruited two people for each of the five buses. One was a college student who could knock on doors, invite kids, and maintain order in the back of the bus. The second was an adult driver who could navigate the neighborhoods. For bus number 5, he asked the son of the local district attorney, Jimmy Magaha, to ride along. Jimmy knew every B.J. Thomas hit on the radio especially two that he loved to sing and taught to all the kids—“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

He asked my dad to drive Bus #5. My dad was everything a late 1970s conservative Baptist church in the South was not looking for in a member. He drank; he smoked, even while he was a member at First Baptist. He had been married previously. At the time, it was not your average “church leader” or volunteer resume. This was still the era when the Southern Baptists prided themselves on how much better they were than the culture. Somehow none of that mattered to Ed Holt. He needed a driver, my dad was willing, and Mr. Holt knew something. That sometimes the best recruits come from the ones who actually need to be needed.

Mr. Holt could tell that my dad was very good at relationships. He was usually the quiet guy in the back of any party making funny witty comments under his breath. And he had a natural warmth about him around others. My dad wasn’t the type to just sign up to volunteer. Like most people, he needed to be asked because he didn’t think he was qualified for most church positions. Even if they sent around a list, he would not have signed his name. But Mr. Holt did not need a list. He had met him at church, and that was enough to qualify him.

So on Sunday mornings, my dad became the first evangelist I ever met. He never preached a sermon; but because someone needed him, he was willing. He became the best church bus driver there ever was. He drove Bus #5, and I sat side saddle on a small metal box that fit my backside perfectly between the steering wheel and the driver’s sliding window. I’m sure today the police would have arrested us.

Early Sunday morning, we drove the Pontiac station wagon, got the keys out of the church office, unlocked Bus #5, and met Jimmy McGaha. From neighborhood to neighborhood we drove knocking on doors and singing to the top of our lungs, “Like a Rhinestone Cowboy, riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeo.”

The bus ministry did not last forever, but the memories, and the legacy, still do. For me, my first good taste of church life did not happen on a pew but when someone had the vision to ask someone in need if he could help meet a need.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was a special sermon today about being needed. Reminds us all how we should always be reaching out to others wherever we find ourselves. We all need to feel needed. Bobbie

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