As I look and notice that I haven't posted since last December a slew of thoughts flood my mind. So much I could write about. So many life lessons, moments in church transitioning, ups and downs in leading people. Where to start? How to keep it simple?
Let me begin with one of my passions: involvement in community. I think too many Christians are missing a bigger picture when it comes to community. We have two mainstream extremes: one that says, "it's all about church" and the other that says, "it's all about being out of corporate church." How I wish we could see the "both" and "more" in this issue instead of focusing on the "either/or" mindset.
If you know anything about me then you know most of my ministry training came from Taco Bell. Yep, restaurant management! Development of systems, training, labor structure, food cost, scheduling, hiring, firing, customer satisfaction, community involvement and on and on. My store was the first to introduce a "Police Office" in the store. An idea to provide a off-site location for cops to stop in and do work in-between calls. My store was also ranked 153 in the company. Granted we were not in the top 100, but 153 out of 1500 worldwide, is not bad.
The reason I bring this up is when I go into a restaurant, I look for the signs. A trained eye will tell you a lot about a place before you take a bite. One time when I was a youth pastor I was traveling with three college students and we stopped at a Taco Bell for lunch. I'm looking around at the place and ask them, "how long do you think this store has been open?" (It was clearly a new store but some things were jumping out at me.) They all said between two and three years old, I guessed 6 months. We asked the manager on duty and he informed us next week will be their 6th month next week.
When we moved to Hopkinsville one of the fast food places caught my attention. Always friendly service, fast and good food and clean! One day after eating there I asked to talk to the general manager. I told her how impressed I was with her store and commended her for her hard work. I told her I was a new pastor in town but just wanted her to know her hard work doesn't go unnoticed. She started crying and gave me a hug. That was the start of our friendship and, I'll be honest, I really wanted to see her and her family start coming to our church. So, faithfully I'd go and eat and invite her to our service or special event. One day driving over for lunch I felt God just gently say to me, "don't worry about her coming to church, just be there for the sake of friendship."
So, I laid-off the invites. Instead, I just focus on being a friend. There have been the occasional "counselling session" where she has needed advice on some issues and faith and I've been happy to help. Just a few weeks ago one of the assistant managers began attending our church and it's been cool to see God work in all of our lives.
Today, I received a devastating phone call from a church member informing me of the news that just came out. An employee from that restaurant was found murdered and the man that did it was found dead in his car. I rushed to the store just as my manager friend called to ask if I could come by. As I walk in I saw the manager and her assistant (the one who just started attending the church) crying with other employees over the horrific news and loss of their friend and fellow manager. I spent the next 30 minutes just listening to their hearts and letting them know I'll do whatever I can. I talked to a few employees having a hard time then was asked if I'd pray for them. I said I would. She then calls all the employees from the back to come up front and for five minutes in the lobby of the store, with customers in the background, I was able to lead them in prayer for peace and understanding and share with them that this was not God's plan. Each employee, many I'd never seen before, thanked me and either hugged me or shook my hand with appreciation.
What you don't know this happened because of a couple of factors working together. One: being connected to people outside myself--the church member who called me. I wouldn't have known about the situation if I were not plugged in to a local body of believers who live and work in the same town I'm trying to pastor. This is one reason why not withdrawing from a bigger group than just you and your family is so important. And two: seeing the bigger picture when it comes to community. If all we tried to do was to get people to come to "our church" then we could miss building a relationship outside the walls of the church.
It's all about the AND. Doing life inside a large church community AND inside a small group.
Hi, I'm Vince Farrell and I'm the pastor of a church. I never thought I'd be welcomed as a pastor of a restaurant, too.