Follow Along

Get new posts by email:

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Samaria Questions

Samaria Questions
My reflections on the EFCA Leadership Conference
by Rev. Matt Mitchell

I never expected to share the gospel with Craig “Tiny” Older. Tiny, a professional tattoo artist and a biker, weighed more than 500 pounds and came from a Jewish background. Needless to say, Tiny and I didn’t have much in common except that his wife attended our church.

When Tiny was in the hospital a few years ago, I went to visit. I thought it would be a quick “in-and-out” because he had never shown signs of spiritual interest. But Tiny knew that his condition was serious, and he surprised me by asking for the gospel. That began an adventurous relationship for me—making friends with and making a disciple of a Jewish biker tattoo artist.

In the language of our most recent EFCA Leadership Conference, Tiny was part of my “Samaria.”

I really enjoyed the conference this year, but it also raised a lot of uncomfortable questions for me as a pastor. For example:

Who is our church’s “Samaria?”

Bill Hamel talked about our “Samarias” being those people who are often “different, distant, distasteful and discarded.” Who is that in our community?

We are a rural church parked near an interstate exit. We are filled predominately with blue-collar workers and down-to-earth folks. There isn’t a lot of ethnic diversity in our area, though there may be more than we are aware of. Who is our Samaria?

Our adult class has been asking ourselves that question as we’ve re-played the DVD messages from conference, in Sunday school.

We quickly identified three groups of people who aren’t like us and aren’t represented at all in our church family: people living on welfare, people caught in the local drug culture and people of different races. These folks are part of our Samaria.

An even deeper question is this:

What will it take for us to go to them?

This is a great church, and we have a wonderful history of loving people who are different from us. When I first came to be the pastor, I discovered that our church campus was a popular nocturnal hangout for young hooligans to drink, smoke and spin out donuts in the parking lot. I brought this to the attention of our board, thinking that they might want to have the police make extra visits. Instead, they responded: “Praise God they are here! How can we reach them?”

And when one of our elders’ son and his friends started showing up for church in blue mohawks and dog collars, there wasn’t any gossip. Our people just kept loving them and including them, even in inter-generational Bible studies.

One Sunday after a fellowship meal, I noticed a state trooper, a former drug user and an ex-con all standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes together. That’s what the body of Christ is supposed to look like!

But loving different people when they come to us is one thing, and going to them is another.

We can be pretty accepting of other people on our territory, but what would it take for us to move into theirs? I’m realizing that the biggest question is a personal one:

What will it take for me to lead us there?

At my annual evaluation, my board asked about my personal plan to connect with the community. A former pastor had worked in the local coal mines one day a week and driven a school bus, just to meet people. Another district pastor works at Starbucks® one shift a week. What was my plan to connect?

I didn’t have a good answer.

I spend most of my time with Christ-followers, both in the church and in the area’s homeschooling group. I’m not sure yet how, but I know that I need to get out more.

One thing it’s going to take, is for me to see people as eternal souls. I was at the gas station the other day in the full-service lane, and I noticed the guy pumping my gas. I mean, I really noticed him. I’ve seen him before many times, but I tend to think of him as someone to navigate, to get something from. But that day, the Holy Spirit reminded me that this young man will live forever in either heaven or hell and that I better care.

I struck up a conversation. We didn’t get to the gospel this time, but I did find out that he likes big, pet snakes. I’ll be bringing that up when I see him next.

Now that I’m looking for Samaria, I’m seeing that our people are already going there in little ways. Judy Carlson visits shut-ins at a personal-care home. Dan Kerlin, another new biker-friend, goes to biker clubs and offers to serve them as a means of building a bridge for the gospel. Some of our people pick up poor neighborhood kids and bring them to church on Wednesday nights. I need to publicly celebrate these stories and see that they multiply.

When my friend Tiny finally died last year, I had the privilege of speaking at his memorial. His entire biker gang, a scary-looking bunch, showed up for the service. But our people never missed a beat. They opened their arms wide. They made our visitors a meal, sat right next to them and welcomed each one.

Standing behind Tiny’s Harley®, up front in our church, I had the opportunity to share the gospel. That was the highlight of my ministry year.

I’m not sure of the answers to all of my questions, but I know where I want to lead us. Samaria, here we come!
Used by permission. This article first appeared in EFCA Today Winter 2007 published by the Evangelical Free Church of America.


If you're up to it, you could see if your local school needs substitute teachers. Even just saying you would substitute one day a week might be helpful for them if they are sick or something happens.