As a youth minister I have spent countless hours driving our church bus, Big Rhonda. She and I have a love hate relationship that started with a six hour drive back from a mission trip in July with no AC. That resulted in heat exhaustion for me and our broken relationship. A few weeks ago, Big Rhonda and I had another battle.
I had dropped my youth off at the door and then took Big Rhonda to find a parking spot. Because of the event traffic and construction, I had to settle by making a space in a tiny parking lot. After the event my youth and I went back to the bus and spent the next thirty minutes trying to get out of the parking lot. I tried all kinds of fancy driving to get turned around. No matter which way I turned, I still needed about six inches more clearance to get turned around. I had to dodge other vehicles, a few dumpsters, and the one brave youth who stood behind the bus and yelled when I came close to hitting something. That night in the parking lot taught me a few valuable lessons that can be applied within the church.
In the parking lot, my surroundings determined the way I could turn my wheel and move the bus. We have to let our surroundings dictate our movements. Many churches are finding that the communities around them are changing. Old neighbors are moving out and new ones are moving in and often they look nothing alike. As new people become our neighbors, churches must look to them to help determine the needs of the community and how the church can best minister there. What worked well in the past may not today.
That night in the parking lot, I got lots of advice from my youth on what I should do. It was easy for me to dismiss the youth because they lacked the driving experience I had. We do that in our churches too. Sometimes we miss really great ideas because we are so focused on following our past experiences, traditions, or familiar voices. Perhaps it is time we begin to invite new voices to the table and actually listen to them. God has a history of using unexpected voices.
It took me 30 minutes that night to get us safely out of the parking lot. I made about a million nineteen point turns that night. I learned it was okay to make mistakes. Trying new things and following God in new territory often means missing up. As churches we need to embrace the fact that sometimes we are going to get it wrong. Not all of the new programs we try or the new ideas we have will work out. We can still honor God by trying and following. The mistakes we make often lead to great lessons and deeper faith because we begin to understand that God is really in control.
I’m sure I’ll have a few more battles with Big Rhonda, but for now I’m grateful for the lessons she taught me in that parking lot. I’m also grateful that we finally got turned around that night.