The summers I worked up at camp during college gave me a love for the wonder of times-gone-by. I worked on the maintenance crew and most of the camp vehicles and equipment, though well maintained, were discards from bygone days reclaimed from garages and farm yards across the Midwest. My favorite - all the guy’s favorite, was an old truck we affectionately called Red.
Red was a burly ride made of thick unyielding steel, not like today’s trucks. She was a real work horse; the kind of pickup that turned boys into men; a 1968 four wheel drive International step side with a 400 cubic inch V8 and a Holly four barrel carburetor. Red was a real piece of hard working machinery – she was the pride and joy of our crew and it made you feel important to as much as mention that you had been for a ride. Our chests swelled each time we climbed up inside and there was almost always a momentary pause as we sat there basking in the dusty aroma of aged steel and a mixture of old grease and motor oil. Sometimes we’d catch ourselves running a hand across the dash or seat just to take in the rich history and absorb her strength…and then the key was turned.
Every ride was an adventure but what I remember most was not so much the fun of driving this powerful piece of Americana but the want of riding shotgun. For me that was the favored seat; the spot where you could feel every bump and experience the adventure without the arduous labor of operating the antique.
I felt like a king riding up high in that seat - we all did. The ride was euphoric; you just couldn’t help but feel it. The stiff bounce given off by the steel springs in the seat never seemed like an inconvenience – you actually yearned for it, anticipating each bump in the road and each shift of the stick. They were all part of the mystique of the ride and served as reminders of the heft of metal and the craftsmanship and they spoke to you about the bulk of power that was at your hands. Sometimes as we rode along with our elbows perched out the windows and the warm summer breeze wafting through we’d look at each other, knowingly. No one ever said it but we all knew they just didn’t make em’ like Red anymore.
Occasionally we’d get the assignment to run into town to the hardware store. We’d always swing by the local drive in. It just seemed fitting to stop at the Trojan Horse. Red belonged at the Horse and so we’d pull up to the panel, press the big red button and bark out a request for a couple of Root Beers and some fries. Then we’d sit there, mostly in silence, with the soft summer Wisconsin air swirling through the cab and we’d savor the moments before our reluctant return.
Once while cutting a half mile logging trail through the woods we got Red stuck between two trees as we rounded a corner on the moss covered trail. The only way out was to gun it and hope for the best. The trees shook and shuttered while bark screeched and squealed against the doors and truck bed. After making it through the impasse we got out to assess the damage to find almost no evidence of the scrape. Red was just plain tough and we used that truck for everything we could think of; we ripped stumps out of the ground and pulled loaded hay wagons; we hauled trailers weighed down with camper luggage, we moved countless loads of firewood and pulled tractors out of the mud when they got stuck. Every new challenge sent a renewed wave of exhilaration through our team of young sleeveless studs and there wasn’t one assignment that ever held Red back.
What I wouldn’t give even now for just one more shotgun ride. Those were the good years – the golden days of youth and still all my memories lean in toward Red and the grand privilege of riding shotgun. I’ve always felt this same way about my role in the church. Yes, there are perils and sometimes her ways seem antiquated but the joy of the ride outweighs it all. These are the golden years, this is the ride of my life and I can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner.
You may not be the driver; the one who sets the major direction of your church; the shotgun rider never is and perhaps that’s why you were drawn to read these lines. If you are in a large church you may not have much to do with the direction of the church at all but you certainly have a substantial role and influence over her – way more than you know. The big picture of the church; what people in your community say about her is germinated in a thousand little conversations in the hallways, the kitchens and in the youth rooms of your church. Her success is largely the sum of the actions of the shotgun riders; of the way you carry out each responsibility and each assignment. The success of your church is wrapped up in the totality of the ways in which you handle each criticism and frustration. These are the interactions where parishioners, where sinners, where parishioners who are sinners find the love of Christ, and where vital church life and health are built.
I’ve spent half a pastoral career as a shotgun rider and I’ve seen the best and worst of church vitality, and still I love the ride. I’m thrilled beyond measure, and humbled, that a holy God would allow me to climb up in for the ride; to have any part at all in what He is doing in His kingdom and in people’s lives. Yes, there have been a lot of frustrating times along the way. Yes, there have been times I’ve considered leaving it all behind. But He always draws me back, back to my calling and to my love for His work. All in all there’s nowhere I’d rather be right now than in this seat. So if you get one thing here it’s this - you can and will make a difference as you faithfully follow the call of the ride. You will, in time, leave behind a legacy of lasting worth.
For you my friend…
are the shotgun rider.
…An excerpt from Shotgun Rider: Restoring Passion for the Ministry Trail, by Doug Brown
(Available February 2015)
(Available February 2015)