Our pastor has a story he likes to tell about when he and his wife were in the early years of their church plant in Baltimore.
If you’ve been involved with a church plant, you know how hard it is. It’s a movement of tremendous faith. There is little money. There is little support. You spray seeds in every direction and hope and pray some of them catch hold. Even if it’s in a tiny crack in the pavement.
Jeremiah and his wife Margot were ministering during the day, then renovating their house at night, in an attempt to rent out rooms to stay afloat. The work was non-stop and they were exhausted.
Their small worship service would meet Sunday mornings in their under-renovation rowhouse, wedged in-between a sofa and their dining table. Jeremiah would play the guitar and Margot would lead the singing.
As the small ragtag group of Christians and the merely curious slowly grew, they graduated from the living room, to the basement, to a neighborhood rec center.
Despite the growth, the church lived from offering to offering, with none of the privileges – like a rainy day set-aside – of an established congregation. They’d be encouraged when a new family started attending regularly, only to be crushed when two others had to move away.
Similarly, Jeremiah and Margot were living month-to-month, a situation that felt more dire when Margot became pregnant.
So it was an answer to prayers when a friend of a friend of Jeremiah’s let them know of an amazing opportunity: A lightly-used school bus for sale for $500. This wasn’t a special short bus either – it was full size and just recently decommissioned.
Oh, how they could exploit this bus! They could use it to pick up and drop off Sunday morning worshipers, many of whom were without transportation. They could use it for retreats, and mission trips, and youth events.
The owner said the bus would go fast and at that price, Jeremiah and Margot knew it too. “We’ll take it!” Jeremiah affirmed.
He was still pumped a day later at an evening deacon meeting, barely able to suppress a smile. “I have a big surprise,” Jeremiah announced. “You know that van or bus we were hoping and praying for?” He opened the curtain to reveal the hulking yellow cheese-mobile parked in the alley. “We got it!”
Whoops and high fives. Except for Earl. He felt like an ass for asking but he did it anyway: “How much was it?”
“Half a grand! Can you believe it?” Jeremiah almost shouted.
“That’s 2 or 3 weeks worth of offering, but I guess we can swing it,” said Earl, trying to bridge the gap to the euphoria of the others.
He pressed on: “What about maintenance and oil changes?”
“Oh, I can do oil changes,” said Jeremiah, who was used to doing everything from typing up the bulletin to replacing toilet paper in the bathrooms. “You think there will be other maintenance?”
Another deacon – Lenny – was starting to fidget. “Did you look into getting it inspected and licensed? That almost cost me 300 bucks when I did it for my car.”
“What did the insurance company say the monthly premium for liability and collision insurance would run?” asked Earl.
Earl looked up to a row of glum faces. Jeremiah suddenly didn’t feel so good. “I gotta use the toilet.” As he left the room, his finger subtly hooked the curtain to pull it closed.
When Jeremiah returned, the room was dead silent. “Guys, I made a mistake – I should have consulted you first. I know God doesn’t want me to be a lone ranger. That’s why the role of deacons is prescribed in the Bible, right? What do we do now?”
“Sell it.” Earl and Lenny said in unison.
So sell it they did, for $400. Seems that the buyer was calculating the full cost of ownership, and wouldn’t go a cent higher. Go figure.
It wasn’t a complete loss though. Jeremiah has used the lesson a number of times in his messages, educating hundreds about how God can use our failings to carry out His perfect plan.