By Eddie Pipkin

May 1, 2017

I spent this past Sunday morning on Daytona Beach with 2,300 other Jeep owners.  It’s called Jeep Beach.  The local Jeep owners club hosts it every year, and not only was it a blast, but it offered some great ministry insights.

I own a Jeep Wrangler, as do my son and my stepdad, and the three of us let down our soft tops and headed to what was billed as “the largest gathering of Jeeps on one beach in the world.”  We were not disappointed.  Driving into Daytona Beach from the interstate as the sun rose, we began to notice Jeeps of all varieties and vintages streaming in from the side roads, until we were on the edge of the surf cruising in a long line of every manageable configuration of Jeep (2-door, 4-door, stripped down, jacked up, and themed in every way possible from Star Wars to Margaritaville).  [Here’s a recap from The Daytona Beach News Journal and the link to the Jeep Beach website if you want to plan for next year.]

I spend a lot of time with ministry leaders who are struggling to generate excitement and enthusiasm for their various events and projects, so I always have my radar tuned to pay attention when I am at any event at which thousands of people show up voluntarily and participate with giant smiles on their faces.  Understand that this was no gathering of elites: there were $80,000 4-wheeling monstrosities, high-end luxury Explorers and Rubicons, simple unadorned stock Wranglers, salvage jobs, and vintage military vehicles.  No judgment: just a simple joyful celebration of the Jeep family.  (And the variations in theming and decorating Jeeps is endless – part of the fun of attending an event, even while driving the simplest of commuter-oriented Jeeps is imagining the possibilities.)

One defining factor brought all those disparate people together: ownership and love of a Jeep.

Now, we ministry folk, by definition, are unified for a more eternally significant purpose: a desire to love, know, and serve Jesus Christ (who is way, way cooler than any themed Jeep).  So, why are people who aren’t interested in crossing the threshold of a local church willing to get up before daybreak to drive around with a bunch of strangers with an intensity bordering on religious?

First of all, I think it has to do with fun.  In terms of giving people opportunities to get engaged with us and our ministries (be they service, worship, or study opportunities), we have to remember to give people space to feel comfortable and have a good time.  We are always working against the number one misperception that people have about organized Christians (as shown again and again in Gallup surveys), which is that we are the “no fun club.”  The media constantly portrays us as joy-killing sticks in the mud who just want to lecture folks and complain about the state of society.  And we are also working against hundreds of years of history in which that reputation has been a big part of the church’s identity.  We are called to be living reminders that Christ’s people are a people of joy – and I would add here that it’s joy we are really talking about, not just frivolity without purpose.  Deep joy can be experienced even in the midst of hard work and intellectual and spiritual growth.

Such joy leads directly into a strong sense of community.  As mentioned above, a Jeep driver’s mere presence at Jeep Beach is a passport into the community – we even saw some folks who had rented Jeeps to be part of the event!  And here’s the really interesting part, this natural sense of connection led to earnest conversations up and down the miles of beach: the sharing of stories and the sharing of wisdom.  Sages of Jeepdom gladly shared their knowledge with newbies.  Tips and tactics were freely dispensed, dreamers were encouraged, and those who struggled (to fix a nagging Jeep issue) were given new hope.  Everybody posed for pictures!  I found myself comparing the intensity of those interactions with the standard worship space on Sunday mornings.  Is there celebration that reaches across barriers (literally across aisles for many of us)?  Is there an eager sharing of experience and wisdom?  An opportunity to share stories?

One of the reasons all of this energy bursts forth at Jeep Beach is context.  This gathering is intentionally held at one of the most awesome places imaginable to drive a Jeep: on the hard-packed sands at world famous Daytona.  People tend to buy Jeeps with a specific vision in mind, and here’s an opportunity to live into that vision with thousands who share it.  Think, in contrast, about how sterile many of our ministry gatherings are.  We meet in cinderblock rooms, wedged in around folding tables.  Keep in mind that Jesus did not do ministry in this way.  Jesus engaged in teaching, healing, worship, and fellowship in setting that made sense contextually – he literally met people where they were.  So much of what we do as disciples would make more sense and lend itself to more joyful engagement if we did the same.

How about you in your ministry adventures?  Share some stories of when you have used fun, community, or context to give people an opening to the work of the Spirit?  We have lots of ideas for how disciples can routinely practice these strategies in our Connect! series of leadership and small group materials.  And we always love to hear from you with your stories, questions, or Jeep adventures.