Stephenville, Texas (PressExposure) May 21, 2007 -- When a Cowboy preacher friend named Charles Higgs heard that I was going to work as a Workplace Chaplain last September, traveling to ten facilities to minister to our staff of 500+ all over Texas, he smiled and exclaimed, "Like an ol' Methodist Circuit Rider!"
If you aren't aware of who the Circuit Riders were, they were the Methodist preachers who traveled through wilderness and villages on horseback throughout colonial America, preaching anywhere they could - cabin homes, courthouses, fields, meeting houses, street corners and the like. They traveled with few possessions, carrying only what could fit in their saddlebags; a Bible a blanket and a hymnal, generally. Unlike preachers of settled denominations, Circuit Riders were always on the move (most circuits were so large that it would take 5 to 6 weeks to cover an assignment). This frontier ministry brought the church to the common people of America. It's said that the Rhett Butler character of Gone with the Wind was actually based upon a rogue named Rhett Turnipseed who became a Circuit Rider and ultimately married the "Scarlet O'Hara" character, opening an Indian orphanage with her as his wife.
One Circuit Rider, Francis Asbury (1745-1816), traveled 270,000 miles and preached 16,000 sermons as he made his way through his circuits. Gosh, I've traveled only 30,000 since September in an air-conditioned Kia on paved highways and I'm exhausted!
A MEETING TO REMEMBER
Yesterday, Saturday, May 19th, my wife, Barbara, and I were in Riverside, California. We were privileged to have been invited to join a group of Itinerant Ministers who joined together for a summit meeting where like-minded people could share their hearts and bare their souls and compare notes. I don't know when I was ever so impressed, so INCREDIBLY amazed, at the level of faith, the measure of power, the commitment to the Cause of Christ, as I was that day as these mighty men and women of God shared their testimonies, shared their ministries, shared a meal and shared ideas. These weren't wealthy saints. They were ordinary Christian folks with a passion for their Christ; an army of EXTRA-ordinary people whom God is using mightily all over this world. For those who don't know, the word "itinerant" is defined as "traveling from place to place to work; working for a short time in different places; a person who travels from place to place with no real home."
Now, I've been in the church world long enough to have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Where traveling ministers are concerned, I've seen them blow in, blow up and blow up for so-called revivals that left no one revived. I've seen the faxed "estimates" for exorbitant sums (up to $65,000 by one popular healing evangelist for a New Year's Eve gig; another requesting a 4-star hotel with a room for the kids and one for their nanny) sent by people who weren't going through the trouble of ministry for a penny less. Hardly Paul's Macedonian call.
Saturday's summit was different.
These people lived by faith, trusting God that their tires wouldn't wear out and they'd have enough food and a place to sleep. They would have made the Circuit Riders proud. The godly warriors in this group were made of the stuff that causes the world to scratch their head in wonder - even the Church world. After all, who in their right mind would drive cross-country, spend $500 on gasoline to preach and receive a $50 love offering unless God was driving THEM? They do their best not to be a burden to The Church as several discussed with me how they have done painting, carpet-laying and the like in exchange for room and board and as a means for making ends meet.
What was the purpose of this gathering of Fellow Workers? These people were fact-finding. It was an introductory meeting where ideas were exchanged and networking was key. They laughed, they cried, they prayed, they worshipped and they were encouraged. It's lonely on the road, involved in a ministry that few people can relate to. On Saturday, they had each other.
One man, a gifted singer and teacher named Daniel Markoya (firstname.lastname@example.org for his incredible CD's where he sings God's Word...it's amazing!), apparently shared the vision for such brotherly fellowship with our friend, Robert Fitts (www.robertfitts.com). Robert invited me to join them and was gracious enough to allow us to stay at his home. Those two men shared the facilitating of the meeting. They used the acronym AIM (Association of Itinerant Ministries) and, like Betsy Ross unfurling our nation's flag, Daniel even showed us a logo he had developed for the group.
They stressed the fact that they were NOT starting another denomination, NOT starting another organization with a paid staff and hierarchy, nor were they pushing a particular doctrine; they wanted nothing more than to give one another an opportunity to sit and eat and meet with others involved in the same kind of work on several occasions each year. They wanted nothing less than to nurture God's traveling ministers who had accepted this incredible call.
The concept of a website and calendar came up as well as a monthly conference call. Through these various forms of communication, they could provide one another with teaching, accountability, encouragement, prayer, counsel and a sounding board while making The Church aware of their availability.
Just as Paul had established his itinerant teams, such still exist today. These people are "sent ones" - the definition of the word "apostles," a job description, not a title - and are being sent by God to strengthen and "coach" The Church.
Is the Institutional Church embracing this ministry gift from God? Hardly. Quite often, these Circuit Riders are asked the question, "Who is your covering?" In one another's company, they'll answer as one, "Jesus!" Unfortunately, that's not good enough for many traditional church pastors who insist that they have some sort of manmade organizational affiliation or "overseeing body" in order to establish accountability before they will ever surrender "their" pulpits.
Apparently, with AIM, there is now such a body.
THE CHURCH AND THE ITINERANT
In 3 John 5-8, we read the following: "Dear friend, you are being faithful to God when you care for the traveling teachers who pass through, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church here of your loving friendship. Please continue providing for such teachers in a manner that pleases God. For they are traveling for the Lord, and they accept nothing from people who are not believers. So we ourselves should support them so that we can be their partners as they teach the truth."
Read that again. Slowly.
We have an obligation to these people. But we've been burned. We've seen the charlatans. We've guarded our hearts...and when we do, Satan wins.
My wife and I were in Anza, California on Friday night and will speak in Andrews, Texas in a couple of weeks. In Anza, we spoke about House Church and prayed together and encouraged those who were there. Our hosts drove 1.5 hours to pick us up at the airport, then waited 2 hours. We were fed delicious Chinese food and given a soft bed, a shower, sweet fellowship and a ride to the AIM meeting on Saturday, 1.5 hours away in Riverside. The very next night we slept in the home of a widowed woman who was ministering in China. She had loaned her home and car to an itinerating couple for five months. We stayed in her spare room.
I mention these details because it's exactly the kind of experience these wonderful men and women of God need from the rest of us, The Body, according to 3 John 5-8. They need our help and it only serves to help us ALL as a whole. My wife and I have made our home available to any of them as they pass through the center of our state where we live. Since I had broadcast an eMail message this morning which included the information you're now reading, several others have also pledged their homes.
If you would be willing to host one of these Itinerant Ministries, have them teach in your church, or support them financially, then let the communication begin! If you know of anyone who has been charged with such an apostolic or church-planting ministry, let them know about AIM. It will bless them! It will give them encouragement and a new enthusiasm.
These people are my new heroes.
For further details, please contact Robert Fitts at RobertJoni@aol.com