Charting a course toward a missional SBC will be one of the greatest challenges that await the SBC. There are some who will read this title and write off the rest of this post because of what they have come to understand “missional” to mean. If anyone cares to hear from a missiologist what missional means, I encourage you to check out Ed Stetzer’s series “Meanings of Missional” (preface, part one, two, three, four, and five). Perhaps this would be a good place for me to share a little of what I am trying to do to live a missional life.
When I was a student at the University of Mobile, there were two worlds – the Christian world and the “other” world. In the Christian world, there were campus worship services, dorm Bible studies, accountability groups, mission projects, and all kinds of fellowship opportunities. In the “other” group on campus, it was primarily international students and athletes who were scholarshipped to play for one of our excellent sporting teams. There was a massive gap between these two worlds, and before my senior year, I wanted to do something to bring them together. I wanted to get into the “other” world, so the first thing I new to do was change my plans so that I could live on campus.
Within a month of being on campus, I met with my roommates to share with them my passion to get into the lives of these athletes and international students who did not know Christ. They embraced the vision, and before long we developed a plan. We knew that all the Christians left campus on Wednesday nights to go their youth and college services, so the campus would be predominantly left with unbelievers. Thus we decided to hold a weekly “block party” in our house every Wednesday night and not tell any of our Christian friends. We didn’t have an advertising name, budget, or cool name. Actually, we didn’t even give it a name. On the front lawn we set up what we called “Extreme Volleyball” (volleyball at night with huge lights), in the kitchen we had our ping-pong table, and in the back of the little house we had a bonfire. We purchased a small grill, and I created a secret recipe for our famous BBQ Burgers. So the next week, we chipped in $20 a piece, fired up the grill, spread the word to the “other” world, and prayed that a few of them would show up. The result was the first Wednesday night we had over 70 show up, and as far as we could tell, none of them knew Christ. We didn’t play Christian music, preach, or pass out WWJD bracelets. Rather, we gave away tasty BBQ burgers (okay so I was the cook, I have to be bias!), held ping-pong tournaments, made smores over the bonfire, and attempted to play volleyball in the dark. Not exactly a big tent revival or spiritual program, but the “other” world seemed to like it. And they also seemed to like us too.
So there we were, five Christian guys surrounded by 70+ non-Christians who lived across the hall, sat next to in the classroom, but never shared a conversation with. We had no start time or ending time, but people eventually left around midnight when the fire began to die and food got cold. Yet, at that time, what was amazing was that each of us had developed a friendship with an unbeliever where our conversations continued long into the early morning hours. It turned out that just about every Wednesday night, when the crowd left, you would find a roommate sitting around the campfire with one of the “others” telling them about Jesus, another on the front porch with an athlete, and another next to the ping-pong table. Two weeks into our block-party, I had the privilege of leading Shadrick Toodle (affectionately called “Toaster Stroodle”), the point guard of the basketball team, to Christ. A week later it was an international student, Edward, who met Jesus on the front porch. Shadrick was my go-to guy to reach the basketball team, and Edward was my go-to guy to reach the internationals. The three of us would meet on Thursday nights to talk about prayer, Bible study, baptism, and the gospel. Seven years later, Edward still calls and tells me about his life. On another evening, I got the request to talk to some of the girls on the softball team who asked to meet me in the art room. When I showed up, almost the entire team was there that resulted in three hours full of questions about God, Jesus, the Bible, and heaven. Two of them joined me for lunch at Applebee’s the next week and heard the same gospel shared to our waitress they heard the week before. Soon we began to see the “other” world become our world.
Fast forward to 2004. I left a “full-time” ministry position where it was a job requirement that I be in the office from 8:00-5:00 Monday through Friday. It was extremely difficult to build meaningful relationships with lost people. So coming to Louisville, I was eager to find a way, a place, an opportunity to rub shoulders with a group of “others” that needed Jesus. I found that in UPS.
What is unique about UPS is not so much that I work 3rd shift (12:00 a.m. – 4:00 a.m.) but that 5,000 other people do too, with approximately 90% of them being under the age of 30. It is like a little city or college campus, and we all see each other whether it is in the parking lot, on the tram, in the break room, or around the belt. I would argue that these folks are among some of the most unreached people in the city of Louisville. As far as I know, there are not any churches strategically focused on reaching the thousands who work 3rd shift, who, as a result, would never show up on Sunday mornings since that is the time when they normally sleep. Of the 150 people I see everyday, I know of seven Christians, three of whom became Christians while at UPS.
I soon realized that God was sending me “the people of the night” – the thousands of 3rd shifters who had no gospel witness, no good news about Jesus Christ. This was to be my mission field. I was to get in their world, listen to their lives, and live the schedule where we are marked with baggy eyes and brown-stained shirts. The first person God lead me to was a guy across the belt named Dan. Dan actually is the person who is responsible for getting me into photography. I am responsible for getting Dan into Jesus. It was a wonderful relationship that God established, and to see the grace of God at work in his life was been on of the greatest encouragements for me in the three years at UPS. We began a book-study campaign called “DWYL” where we distributed free copies of John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life and asked our coworkers to read along with us. Eight chose to join us with another seventeen reading the book. The fruit of this study was to find a few Christian coworkers who were hungry and wanted to grow. That summer we began reading Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology which was a lot of fun. Dan soon left to become a supervisor in another area, which, by God’s providence made me realize that I was settling into a comfort zone enjoying the fruit of the past and not sowing any seed in the present. That Fall, two young ladies came to Christ, and the three of us distributed free copies of the ESV New Testament to all our coworkers as a Christmas present from us.
While these highlights have been encouraging, the truth is that this life has been difficult for me. Every night I hear more profanity than I had heard in my life up to that point. I know of the parties and who did what last weekend. I watch the weightless lives of those who have never felt the weight of glory in knowing Jesus Christ. But I also know the hurts and struggles my coworkers face. I can tell you what they are studying in class, what they are listening to in their iPod, why they were mad when they came into work, and who are the biggest influences in their lives. I do not walk away every night with seeing someone saved or the gospel shared. But I do shared in their lives, and they share in mine. I don’t reject or ignore them if they turn away from my appeals of them to repent and come to Jesus in faith. They are not a number or a project to report. They are people who I have come to love, move boxes with, weep over, and hug on occasion. I am happy to call them my coworkers and my friends.
Everyday I go into work, I want to feel the thrust that I am being sent into this world for the sake of the gospel and the glory of His name. I want to know who God is sending me to, and I want to be ready to listen before I speak, love before I lead, and pray before I preach. I want their world and their lives to be radically impacted by the power of the gospel, and that this power often comes in the form of a seed – a seed that must be watered, cultivated, and spread always and everywhere as a farmer expecting to have a great crop.
These are a few stories of my life. They are stories of how I hope to live a “missional” life. I felt that it would be insincere and somewhat disingenuous were I to speak of calling my beloved SBC to a missional posture if I did not desire and attempt to do that myself. I am far from being a good example, but an example I am nevertheless. In my next post, I will conclude this series with a few thoughts on moving toward a missional SBC.