Fifty years ago, a rural school district in south Texas ran into a predicament. One of the students lived in such a remote area, no one wanted to drive the school bus all the way out to his home to pick him up or drop him off.
The student’s name was E.W. Dromgoole. I overheard the story as a couple of his younger classmates reminisced about local lore from decades past. Not only was E.W.’s name memorable, but his place in the county’s history became legendary. After school administrators failed in their efforts to recruit willing bus drivers and convince people to make the long trip early in the morning and late at night, they took drastic action that was absolute genius. They asked E.W. to be the bus driver.
One of E.W.’s admirers exclaimed as he told the story, “After E.W. dropped off all the kids, he just drove the bus home. The next morning, all he had to do was jump in the bus, pick up a few students and drive the bus to school. He loved it! Everybody loved it!”
For a seventeen-year-old boy, it was a dream come true. For school officials, it was an answer they should have seen long before. E.W. was responsible; he agreed to the training; he showed himself to be a good driver; and all the families involved were happy with the solution. Every kid in town remembers seeing the school bus parked out at the Dromgoole place. They loved that one of their own was driving the bus.
There are people and places the church is having a difficult time reaching. In some cases, pastors can’t get to those communities, find it impossible to be sustained financially in those locations or just don’t want to stay in those places very long. In other cases, there are no relational connections to the cultural enclaves and segments of society in need of the Gospel. Imported pastors are, and always will be, outsiders in those unique communities.
What’s the answer? Better recruitment for seminary education? Increased class sizes? Greater candidate availability? Or do we need to find responsible and trusted people from within the community to “drive the bus”? What if we intentionally identify people like E.W. Dromgoole who live in the community, have rapport in the community and are excited to take fellow community members to new and life-giving places? What if we add training and formation tracks that honor God’s gift of ministry, but expand the ministry preparation process from a one-dimensional European-American accredited and expensive system to more flexible options suited to local predicaments?
What if we adapted our systems and habits so everyone could have a chance to receive the Good News of Jesus? There is no need for fear. The school district didn’t get rid of conventional bus drivers. Leaders simply ventured outside the box for a unique need. We don’t need to throw the current reality away. We just may need to open the door so some unexpected people can do the driving, too.
By: Rev. Michael W. Newman
Mission & Ministry Facilitator, Area C