Wendy and I have some major changes coming. To understand what is going on in our heads, you have to know where we have been…
Piercing Tongues and Setting Up Chairs
Sometime around hour four, chair 3002, was when it all began to click for me. That was the moment when everything locked into place; when I knew Wendy and I were doing the right thing by jumping into professional ministry.
Welcome Week took place each year before the fall semester began. In hopes of kicking college life off right, Baylor invited all the incoming freshmen to a week long party…I mean orientation. One of Baylor’s goals durring this orientation (party) was to connect every Freshmen to a local church. They had done a horrible job of this in the past. That year Baylor had vowed things would be different.
In Baylor’s defense, this was no easy task. How do you get hundreds of freshmen to experience, learn about, and choose between the hundreds available churches all vying for their attention? Those of us in college ministry often joked that a freshmen could visit a different church in Waco every Sunday for a year and a half and never repeat one. How do you help these 18 year olds with new found freedom find a place of meaningful security and spiritual direction before they do something stupid? What to do? What to do?
Clearly the answer was an ice cream social.
That’s Baylor decided anyway. Baylor told all the churches in town that they would be allowed to set up a booth in a large field and advertise their worship services for two hours on a hot Texas Thursday afternoon. Free melting ice cream would be served and the freshmen would be herded through the booths. How could such a plan fail? Surely the Holy Spirit would descend from on high and physically pair off the freshmen and churches.
Baylor’s solution posed an interesting problem for us (the college ministry at Highland). How do we stand out amongst the crowd? How do we communicate to young, wide-eyed freshmen that we are where they should come and encounter God? How would our booth be different than the hundreds of other booths there?
As we mauled over these questions during staff meeting, Kyle had a stroke of genius. Free Tongue Piercing!
Free tongue piercing.
Kyle had a huge banner made that read, “Free Tongue Piercing” and we ordered 450 rubber sticky tongues off the internet. Our booth was a monstrous hit.
Here is how it worked: A Freshmen would spot the sign amongst the other hundreds of church signs and come to see what in the world was going on. He/she were then greeted by Kyle, myself, or one of the other college student leaders; handed a tongue, a small gold earing, and an invitation to Highland; and then told to come check us out on Sunday. The Freshmen would then run over to a group of his/her friends, wave the rubber tongue in the air, and send the friends over to get their own.
The next Sunday we were packed out. Our numbers jumped from a peak of one-hundred-twenty at the end of the Spring semester to over three hundred that first Fall Sunday. We thought maybe that first week was a fluke, but the numbers continued to climb. After the third week of insanity Kyle gave me an assignment.
We were cleaning up after the Sunday morning chaos when he pulled me aside and said, “Before our staff meeting on Tuesday I need you to figure out how we can get three hundred and fifty chairs in here.”
I went home and immediately called four friends: two work horses, a guy I loved hanging out with, and a smart engineering major I knew. I told the crew to meet me at the church Monday night at 8:30pm and bring measuring tapes, pencils, graph paper, and calculators.
The night began with an impassioned speech. I explained that Sunday morning was our vehicle for introducing students to God, and that if the students couldn’t get into the room then we would miss out on the priveledge of seeing them connect to Christ. Inspired, we started measuring the room. Then the brain storming began. We came up with a bunch of crazy ways to arrange the chairs (8 if I remember correctly).
Now a smart team would have spent time developing some mathematical formula that explained approximately how many chairs would fit in each design. I think the engineering major may have even made reference to some such process. But we were not smart team. No, no; we were not about to do things the easy way with math. Bhah! Math! Yuck! We went ahead and set up every single design. That’s right, for four hours we stacked and unstacked chairs. For each new layout we cleared the room completely, marked off the new aisles with masking tape, reset the chairs, and then moved around the room making sure every seat had a clear view of the stage.
The end result was five possible chair arrangements nicely sketched on graph paper. One configuration even allowed for over six hundred people. Getting all the students in and out of the room would have taken two decades, but we got six hundred plus chairs in the room baby! We finally finished around 2am. Most of the gang went home to crash, but Phil and I went to Taco Cabana for tortillas, caso, and cherry coke. I remember sitting outside on the Taco C patio at a plastic purple picnic table and explaining to Phil that all my fears were gone. Some where around chair 3002 I knew, this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
No, not stack and unstack chairs.
Love people by working behind the scenes to help them connect with God.
I’ve never wanted to be a famous preacher or charismatic teacher. I’ve never wanted to be a visionary leader, great evangelist, or brilliant strategist. I’ve never wanted to be the guy in the lime light, front and center for all to see. I’ve never cared what my title or position was. It has always been about loving people from behind the scenes by helping them connect to God.
That was why I went into professional ministry and that was what I loved about it.