It was never part of my plan to pastor a church full of college students and drug addicts, but there I was. As the associate pastor at Revolution Church I had the amazing opportunity to see God do some amazing things, in both my community and in me. Pastoring at Rev. re-ignited some old passions in my heart.
My pursuit of Punk Rock Church was not all-together a good idea. God was showing me that even in college. He had brought in to my life a mentor who helped me to adjust, to wrestle with Scripture, to develop my theology, and to think more about the people of the church than my preferences for ministry. These were fruitful years, and in the process I learned a lot and grew a ton. But, as thankful as I am for my reorientation to orthodoxy, I allowed some of my passions to fall away during this season.
My “reorientation years” saw a shift away from some of the desires God had previously stirred up in me. I was now participating in some of the very things with which I had been previously frustrated. And the desire I had to reach those who didn’t fit with traditional models of church was nearly gone. There were a few small indications that it was still there. I remember Krista and I picking up some kids in our neighborhood and taking them with us to church. In seminary we tried too to encourage locals around our church to come to services. But it was always an invitation to come to a setting where they didn’t feel they belonged. Then along came Revolution.
When I first heard about Rev. I was a pastoral student at a small traditional church in Portsmouth. I was growing frustrated with some of the concerns and foci of the church. Some of my perspective was skewed and unfair. I was young and driven by my emotions often, but I really did have a desire to reach the community of Portsmouth and often it seemed that much of the congregation I served did not always have that same burden. So, when I heard about this new church plant I asked my pastor if I could help out on the side, and he gave me a green light to participate. I was thrilled to see a ministry developing with a mindset to reach the de-churched and unchurched and to engage particularly with the addiction/rehab community in town.
Revolution was an amazing gift of God to me. There was nothing fancy or polished about the ministry. We met out of an abandoned JC Penny’s department story. Sometimes when the band would play loud worship music pieces of the ceiling would crumble and fall on us. Discipleship itself was very messy. We often found people showing up to service, or to counseling sessions drunk. We had addicts of all kind asking for help or participating in our small groups. We had prostitutes hide out in our building, couples make out during the sermon, and homeless friends sleep in our doorways. I often felt as though I had no clue what I was doing. But God worked in spite of all of us and did some amazing things.
We saw drug-dealers converted, college students grow into their theology, and hundreds of people helped with tangible needs. We saw young Christians become mentors, and older Christians become refreshed. We saw the dechurched return to regular worship and those who would never have attended a service showed up weekly. It was an amazing experience that reignited in me a passion for a specific kind of ministry. It was a ministry that didn’t fit the mold, that wasn’t polished, professional, and pristine. It wasn’t programmatic, nor did it bring in lots of money (sometimes it didn’t bring in any money). It reminded me that traditional worship services are important, but they aren’t for everyone. It was a call to contextualize methods of ministry to fit the people you want to reach. It was an experience in the kind of ministry I had log ago dreamed about.
It was misfit ministry, but not because I was ministering to misfits. It was misfit ministry because we were all misfits and what we were doing was so “unprofessional.” I was a pastor who didn’t know what he was doing, walking alongside others who didn’t know what they were doing. We were in a mess together, but we were in a mess for Jesus! It was an exciting time, too short a season in my opinion, but God had other important lessons for each of us to learn. I am grateful for my time at Revolution. I am grateful for every single pastor and volunteer I worked with. Each was a blessing to me in some way and helped me to grow.
What Revolution did for me personally was to reignite this passion for a non-traditional ministry contextualized to people who weren’t otherwise interested in going to church. It helped me to connect with some desires and burdens that I had long ago let dwindle. I still want to be part of this kind of work and those commitments have only gotten deeper over the years. I hope you will join me in continuing to wrestle with this idea of Misfit Ministry. And while you’re at it, pray for Revolution Church in Portsmouth, which plods along in faithful ministry.
Nostalgic Song of the Week: “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” by Larry Norman
Considered by some to be the father of Christian rock music, Larry Norman was a pioneer in gospel-rock. He was an accomplished musician, opening for Van Morrison and the Doors and various others at a young age. But after a special experience of the Holy Spirit in 1967 Norman began to view his life in terms of ministry. He began witnessing up and down Hollywood boulevard and even opened a halfway house for people. The combination of these two worlds, music and ministry, led him down the eventual path of gospel-rock.
“Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” was a hit track off of Norman’s 1972 album Only Visiting This Planet. The song is an evangelistic call for the broken and the empty; specifically, however, Norman has said that he wrote the song with Janis Joplin in mind, whom he had opened for in years past.
The lyrics were edgy for Christian music at the time, singing about “sipping whiskey from a paper cup,” “shootin’ junk ’til your half insane,” and “gonorrhea on Valentine’s Day.” The song points to the pursuit of meaning and significance apart from Christ and the emptiness and devastation that such a pursuit will leave you with. Instead, he pleads “Why don’t you look into Jesus, He got the answer.” There is meaning and significance found in relationship to Him.
The whole album was not a particularly major hit when it dropped, but it became the inspiration for many young Christian musicians for generations to come. In fact, some rock historians call Only Visiting This Planet the best Christian album of all time! This song was one of my favorites for years. Indeed the plea is the same today as it was in 72, “why don’t you look into Jesus.” It’s not an Al Mohler podcast, but it’s good rock theology!
My wife had me put that on our travel Bluetooth speaker. It was the first Christian album she got. Early 70’s for her. My roots were in something much like the Revolution ministry. 49 years ago this week. No turning back.