A View from the Pew: A New Kind of Bus Ministry

Note: After 10 years of writing “View from the Pew,” I will be offering 12 monthly installments in 2024 to round out the collection and end this web log in December. Thank you for reading, and I hope these final expressions are meaningful and helpful.

Bus ministries are few and far between in today’s church culture, but they were once seen as an innovative approach to reaching the community.

It was a simple concept: a church bought a bus or van, on Sunday mornings they drove through surrounding neighborhoods picking up kids or anyone needing a ride and bringing them to church.

As parents became less likely to release their kids to attend church unsupervised, bus ministries morphed into a way to help those without transportation attend worship. Those reasons for a bus ministry, too, have waned over time.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of a different kind of bus ministry, one that is more metaphorical than literal. With this bus ministry, it’s not so much about the passengers about the church’s decision to offer it. I think it’s time churches started a ministry for people on the “struggle bus.”

This turn of phrase, intended to be humorous, originated in 2006 and spread as the internet and social media grew between 2008-2015. You may have never said “I’m on the struggle bus,” but you can probably relate to the idea of struggling to get through the day.

When it comes to church participation we often expect too much of ourselves and others. It’s not realistic to think we will always have everything together. The typical approach is denial, but there’s another, more honest approach—churches can acknowledge and validate those feelings. Sometimes we’re on the struggle bus, and we do better if we name it.

The church can operate a struggle bus ministry by welcoming into its doors people who are at their best, their worst, or any point in between. In fact, I think the church maximizes its benefit to the world when it is honest about the human condition. We are all struggling in one way or another. We could experience healing and support from the message and community of the church if there was a metaphorical struggle bus to pick us up and take us to worship.

A struggle bus ministry could mean sharing more personally and honestly in small groups, especially in prayer requests. Instead of lapsing into “organ recitals” (naming people who have internal organs that are failing), we can allow parishioners to admit they are struggling and provide a safe space for them to share those struggles.

It could also mean notifying the pastor, church staff member, deacon, or friend when we are on the struggle bus and need comfort, connection, or even confession. The idea of struggle is broad, and, to me, can be related to physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual circumstances that challenge us beyond our own resources.

As we enter 2024 and think about ways to revitalize our faith practice, I’m increasingly interested in honesty. Being our authentic selves in community provides us opportunities to support each other and to be supported. It strengthens our connections and builds our reserves against difficulties that we all face as humans.

It may be too straightforward to break out the old church bus and paint “Struggle Bus” on the side, but it might be just what we need to come to church and let our faith family know we came on the struggle bus today. It might be the best way to make room for God to work in our lives.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does higher education marketing and communications at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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