My favorite post, with some afterthoughts
[I wrote this a little more than a year ago. I am reposting the original, with some added reflection.]
While we were on vacation recently, we were camping out on Jekyll Island. A few days after we got there a car full of guys rolls in, and they camped pretty primitive, just hammocks strung between trees. Got me to thinking about “dirtbags.”
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A couple months ago I came across Daniel Norris’ instagram account. Daniel Norris is a Major League Baseball pitcher. He is a Christian. Lives in a VW van. You read that right. I guess he has an apartment somewhere, but in the offseason, he lives in a van and goes surfing. There was some concern among teams that maybe a dude who lives in a van is not the right guy. But his pitching speaks for itself.
His Instagram profile shares 2 Peter 3:18. Go read it.
It follows that with “keep living *dirtbag* “
Needless to say, I wondered what “dirtbag” was about.
A dirtbag, in the parlance of our times, is not the insult it used to be. Among a certain crowd, it is a badge of honor. A dirtbag started in the mountain climbing/rock climbing subculture, people who took any old job that left them free on weekends to climb. They lived out of their cars, or slept in sleeping bags on the ground—thus, “dirtbag.” The term began to be applied to surfers as well. If you go to Miguel’s pizza, you can see a lot of dirtbags camped out right there. My son John told me about a guy he worked with who lived in a tent by Miguel’s for two years. Worked in the restaurant, lived in the tent, went rock climbing.
For some, it is an expression of their obsession—rock climbing, surfing, whatever. For others it is an aesthetic.
I suppose we have all known people like this… starving artists, organic farmers. I used to work for a man who was in the oil business. And when he would make a pretty good score, he went to work on his passions—making music, environmental causes-- until he was out of money, and then we went back to drilling for oil! Lived in a trailer on a small plot of land.
I started thinking… we need some dirtbag preachers. Doesn’t it seem that the legendary explosive power of the Gospel comes through them?
Asbury and the Circuit Riders… what pure dirtbags! Too many names to name, but you can look up Peter Cartwright, Jesse Lee, Lorenzo Dow. Asbury’s Journal is an amazing account of adventure through swamps and thick forests, travelling the whole country to preach the Gospel. It is said that Francis Asbury’s face was the most recognized in all of America. He pretty much went everywhere and slept outside as often as not!
My goodness, John Wesley himself! What a dirtbag! Oxford educated! Fluent in at least 6 languages! A complex philosopher! A scientific mind! Sleeping on dirt floors in impoverished hovels, eating whatever meager food they might have! One of my favorite JDub dirtbag stories relates how he and a preacher were on a preaching tour. Wesley was riding a bit ahead, and his horse almost ran over a small child. Wesley noticed the child was naked, and he saw the terrified mother at the side of the road, rail thin and nearly naked herself. They were starving. He stopped and gave her the food they had for their trip, and then rode on. His fellow travelling preacher caught up with him and nervously asked if he saw correctly, that Wesley had given their food away? What were they going to eat? Wesley pointed at the fencerows, where blackberries were growing in abundance.
What about St. Francis and his merry band of dirtbags? His dirtbag lifestyle, his miracles, his Gospel preaching… they were so impressive that he got an audience, during the Crusades, with the Muslim king. He preached the Gospel to him and his court. [I want to forestall something: Francis NEVER said “Preach the Gospel, use words if necessary.” That is a ridiculous statement that Francis would never say, given that HIS LORD PREACHED SO MUCH!! Anyone who says Francis said this… I will fight you in the parking lot.] Almost nobody knows this incident in Francis’ life. It’s all cute stories about birds and a wolf he tamed. That’s awesome, but don’t miss the Gospel!
And there are the disciples! What a bunch of dirtbags! Showing up in towns like Nain, or the villages of Samaria. Taking what they could get, sleeping where they could… Mark, chapters 1 and 2, is the dirtbag lifestyle at its best. How can I forget 1 Corinthians 11?!
The thing is, Methodists know this very well. I would not mean to insult them by calling them dirtbags, but when I think of people who work other jobs so they can be free to preach the Gospel, I have to think of Rick Souder, who worked a factory job in Maysville and preached in 3 churches every Sunday. Mike Adams, who teaches school, planted a church, and preaches on Sunday. There’s Chuck Stutsman, who runs a boy scout camp and has been preaching in rural Georgia churches. This one gets me… Jim Hall and his wife came to the altar at a revival I preached 15 years ago. He worked at Toyota so he could preach in small churches, and he now preaches at the first church I served.
Ah, but pastor, you are not a dirtbag.
No, I am not. At least, not yet. It’s aspirational.
Not that I intend to sleep on the ground. It’s more about being faithful to the calling Christ has on my life, doing whatever it takes to follow Him.
Whenever I go to the ocean, I am reminded of somethings.
1. I love the ocean.
2. Why did I leave the Coast when I love not just the ocean, but the Mexican Gulf in particular?
3. I see the Gulf Coast Marine Research Lab in Mississippi, or Florida State’s lab, and think of how I let organic chemistry keep me from studying marine biology.
4. And then I think, so what? So what if I was studying what I wanted to, catching and tagging swordfish or Gulf sturgeon? I would have dropped it for the call to preach, like I dropped what I was doing before. Jesus’ way is better.
Honest truth: I found out while I ministered to a hurting family during the worst crisis I know of, that I would do this for free. So, I am very fortunate churches have been willing to pay me way too much for what I do.
I don’t know how much longer that can continue. I don’t mean me particularly, I mean the church scene in America generally. Strange days are coming. I firmly believe that in my lifetime, perhaps even before I retire, the Church will lose its tax-exempt status [we are tax-exempt, NOT non-profit]. I think we are in the beginning of a shake-out of attendance and membership. Call it pruning, winnowing, whatevs. The social pressure against Christianity will cause many to drift away, fewer to come into the light. Prosperity will lull people into a false sense of security. And then of course, people will want to sin, and it’s easier to sin if you reject Christianity. More and more pastors will have to work jobs to preach on Sundays and minister after work. There will be more dirtbag preachers. It’s going to be a shock to the system. But if historical trends hold true, it could mean revival.
Asbury. Wesley. The disciples. The local pastors who are the backbone of every Annual Conference. Dirtbags=multiplication.
1 YEAR LATER
I did not expect to become a dirtbag quite so quickly.
Well, to be honest, I am not a total dirtbag yet. But a lot sure has happened in a year. More like a lot has happened in 4 months. The Global Methodist Church (GMC) formed in May of 2022. I have shared with a number of people that I was not ready for what that would mean. I knew it was a likely occurrence, but I simply was not ready for the emotional impact of GMC officially launching. I suddenly knew it was real, there was an off-ramp out of the United Methodist Church where it had become clear there was no longer any room for my calling. And almost immediately the GMC reached out, having heard that I would be someone who might be interested in helping start new churches.
As it stands right now, the GMC in the MidSouth region is run by dirtbags. We are not getting paid. Most of the early work was done by retired pastors; it was not so much just because they had the time. It was more that active pastors had fear of reprisal if they were working to establish the new denomination. It has really been an amazing thing to be part of. Mike Powers, the President pro tempore of the MidSouth region has a trusty vehicle that just passed 300,000 miles. He said since October he has driven, each month, the equivalent of driving to Denver and back. He really did the Asbury-type work: driving around, talking to pastors and lay people to let faithful Methodists know how they could join the GMC. Time would fail me to tell of all the men and women, clergy and the dear laypeople, working, getting it done without a budget, without any pay. It’s extra hours and lots of driving.
That’s the dirtbag life! Doing what it takes to get out to where the action is. I have looked back at the original post a number of times, reflecting on a couple of points. First, that being a dirtbag preacher is about doing whatever it takes to follow the call Jesus has placed on my life. And second, I am really, truly, thankful and honored beyond words that Methodist people have been willing to feed, clothe, and house me and my family, paying me way too much along the way to make all this possible.
And here’s the cool thing. It has resulted in increased passion and energy. I have to be sure to get good rest, but at the same time, working with the lay people and planters has increased my drive for the Great Commission in my own neighborhood, which kind of shocks me because I feel like I have always been pretty rabid when it comes to evangelism! I guess that’s kind of how the dirtbag life works. You go out to the mountains, the beach, wherever, to get pumped up full of what you love. It can’t help but spill over when you get back. There have been times, coming back from another meeting with people who are planting new churches that I feel so full of the Holy Spirit.
The amazing thing about the GMC work right now… it is so Spirit-drenched that I feel like all I do is throw gasoline on the fires He has started. It feels out of control in the best way—God is unleashing dreams and visions and gifts, and we can’t keep up.
If you had asked me back in December “what are your plans?” I would have told you that I would be planting a new church sometime in 2024. I have wanted to plant a church since 2002. But even in that desire, the Lord also made it clear that one of my tasks was to identify, recruit, equip, release, and encourage church planters. I used to cry the blues, thinking what if I had all those guys I sent out, what if I had them in one place? But God kept making clear that there is way more Kingdom work being done as they do their work across the country, than if I had them all in one place in a church. But I was still feeling pretty sure I was supposed to go plant a church.
Then the Asbury Revival hit. You know some of the story. I was scared to go in because I knew I was going in to die, die to self. I knew it was about entire sanctification. But I did not expect it to happen so quickly. The old man died easy that day. He went down without a fight. Or maybe I had been fighting him so long? But there was more. There was such a clear word. I had permission to go plant a church. The Lord made it clear that yes, I could plant a church. It might do well. It might even plant a church. There could be multiplication. But how much more could I help get done if I did not plant a church, but rather would do what I have done well: find planters and encourage them? Maybe that was part of the dying to self.
Man, I had to admit, there would be more churches, more Kingdom fruitfulness if I did NOT plant a church myself. I won’t lie, some days it sucks. I love church planting. I wanted a taste of the glory, to quote Nacho.
But this is how things are happening. In 4 months, we have 7 churches. 4 are up and running, 3 more are about to be. About two days ago, that is the report I gave. After I had given the report, I got an email that said some buds of mine from the Ashland area were starting a new church.
Not bad for a church planting network that has no paid leader and no budget. Dirtbag church planting. It’s a thing. I am hoping that is how it keeps on. Decentralized. Permission-giving. Disciple-making. Right now, the beauty of having no money is all we can say is “you want to plant a church? Go do it!” So while all of you who have taken this leap know how nerve-wracking it can be, when there is freedom and encouragement, you have gotten it done.
8 churches and counting. In 4 months. What if I had done what I wanted, and gone and planted a church? I would not have even started yet.
Things happen when God has the guiding hand. Things happen fast.
No money. Just heart and hard work and a healthy dose of the Ghost! I admit, I had no idea how I would become a dirtbag. But I look back to a year ago, when this post first hit. It’s hard to say: if I had gone off and planted my own church, I would not be the dirtbag I am!
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