i still remember the first time. an old school bus loaded down with the youth group… driving down brookhurst to huntington beach for a summer day of sun and waves and great fun…in 1977! what cool memories.
…and i was hooked.
there is probably nothing that has defined my four decades of youth ministry better than the life that was shared while traveling on a church bus.
i’ll be the first one to admit that most people don’t get it. especially these days. “an old church bus? you gotta be kidding me?” but to me, it is the iconic symbol of every that is good about sharing life together as a community of faith.
and it was the great rolling object lesson that god used to teach me lessons of leadership, trust, creativity, patience, contentment, and laughter.
leadership – i learned to lead from the driver’s seat of the bus. i developed peripheral vision…as a driver and in my interaction with people. i learned to listen over the roar of screaming kids. (the louder and crazier kids were on the bus, the more i knew they were comfortable with my leading…and the more free they were to live in the moment…i loved it.) bus driving sharpened my decision-making skills. breakdowns on the road sharpened my problem-solving skills.
trust – there is no question that driving an older bus is a risk. not the risk that sometimes exists with the driving of 15-passanger vans. no. it’s the risk of breaking down. at inopportune times. in awkward places. and my life as a youth minister was filled with those moments. late at night. in the middle of the desert…in the middle of summer. hundreds of miles away from home. on the side of the road. at 10,000 feet. on new year’s eve. in the dead of a blizzard. with no cell phones. 60 miles from the nearest paved road. and i learned to pray in a different way. i learned to trust that god was bigger than my plans.
creativity – we made up games on the bus. keep away and bus football were my favorites. long before kids couldn’t exist without a cell phone or an ipod, we learned to sing on the bus. i learned how to use duct tape to repair everything from broken windows to mangled trailer hitches to a faulty air compressor. we once stopped a leak in the gas tank by stopping at a late night liquor store, buying a bunch of bubble gum, having the kids chew it and then we sealed the hole with it. it lasted for over a week until we made it home. and i can’t even begin to tell you of all the crazy things kids thought of to do while we were stuck on the side of the road doing an impromptu carb overhaul or fixing a leaky radiator hose! shear genius…
patience – no matter how hard we would work to make sure our bus was in good working order before we left on a trip, i bet at least half of the long bus road trips experienced some kind of mechanical failure. and those breakdowns were frustrating and time-consuming and confusing and demanding and costly. and there is no doubt that god used those times to breathe patience into my character. and now, that patience spills over into every area of my life and into every relationship i have. not to mention the pouring of patience into our youth groups down through the years. one of the greatest lessons we have all learned is that, no matter what, “stuff happens”.
contentment – the companion lesson to patience is contentment. there is no question that i had to learn the secret of being content in any and every situation while driving an old bus. hours of non-stop driving in 100 degree temperature…sitting in a driver’s seat that felt like the fiery furnace that daniel and his buddies found themselves in. twenty-five mile continuous upgrades at 12 mph in first gear that gave “low and slow” a completely new meaning. laying on my back, re-attaching a u-bolt in snow and mud slush on the side of the road…with freezing hands…pushed me farther than i thought i could go. and all the while, god was teaching me that real contentment would never be found by trying to control my circumstances…but that it could only be permanently experienced through jesus meeting my needs. and it was through those experiences that my passion for teaching godly contentment to kids was forged.
laughter – if you can’t laugh in your pain…and when your plans go down the toilet…and in the middle of chaos…you don’t know the god i know. life on a church bus taught me to laugh. at myself. at circumstances. at the fragile nature of our best-laid plans. at the irony of timing. at the feeble attempts of satan to try and ruin something god intends to bless.
traveling on an old bus with the youth group is something that very few kids will ever get to do again. they want their charter buses or shiny new 15-passengers. they threaten passing out without air conditioning. 15 ipods playing 15 different playlists for the entirety of the trip is the order of the day.
the risk of a breakdown will be too great.
my opinion? the potential of getting to learn lessons the hard way is a risk i will take any day.
and yes. we are going to be that youth group. the one that gets to grow up on church bus. maybe the trips won’t be as long, but we will share that experience again.
we’re shopping for a bus.