I had just come to a new church that was very small and very dry spiritually. I had been there three weeks. I knew that the church needed some new blood and some new life. But there were some other issues that were front and center that needed to be resolved quickly.
The church I had come to had no parking lot. That wasn’t a real problem since there weren’t many people and therefore not many cars. But I was hoping to see that change.
The church was actually right next to a bar. Between the bar and our church was a parking lot, owned by the bar, which in times past the owners had allowed the church to use. However, the pastors before us had managed to offend the bar owners. So they put their foot down and prohibited the church from using the lot. And this had been the case for a few years.
I knew this was a real problem, not just for parking, but also for our church’s reputation in the community — and because a church needs to have good relationships with their neighbors.
So I kept my eye out for the owners of the bar so I could hopefully meet them, make amends, and perhaps secure use of the parking lot again.
One afternoon I exited our church to run an errand at about three-thirty. As I did I noticed a man pulling into the parking lot and walking toward the bar. I reasoned… “Perhaps this is the owner or an employee. They may be coming to open up.”
I backed my car up to him as he walked in the direction of the bar, opened my window and asked, “Do you work at the bar?”
When he answered in the negative I asked, “Do you know the owners?”
He answered, “Yeah, but not very well. Why do you ask?”
“Well,” I said. “I am the new pastor at the church here and I wanted to meet the bar owners to let them know we are new neighbors and would like to be friends.”
He asked, “So you are the new pastor at the church here?”
I said, “Yes, I am.”
It started a conversation that went on for nearly a half an hour. The man’s name was Mike and it seems that he had given his heart to the Lord several years before and was a committed Christian for many years. However, he had gotten mixed up with a ministry where the pastor had led poorly and another where the pastor had a moral failure. It all was too much. So Mike decided he would always be a Christian. However, he was going to quit going to church. He concluded…churches were bad. But he had been away from church for twelve years and he was feeling that he might give it a try again. He had actually been asking God if He would lead him to a ministry he could trust and one in which he could be used by the Lord.
He said, “I’ll tell you what. I will visit your church this Sunday. I’ll see what I think.”
I never expected to see him again. I have confronted people in all kinds of places where they say to me, “I’ll see you in church”; and I never see them. I have come to figure that they are thinking…”I’ll tell the preacher what he wants to hear but I’ll never actually go.”
But true to his word, the next Sunday, Mike showed up…and he stayed. In fact, I found that Mike was a devout Christian and knew the Bible almost as well as I did. And he became one of the key leaders in our church.
I have come to learn that God has encounters for us if we will keep in tune with Him. That day in the parking lot was indeed a blessed encounter for me and for our church. But it was also that for Mike. His life has taken on a whole new destiny. The encounter reminds me of encounters in the Bible, like the one the two disciples had with Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-27).
These are God-encounters. Yes, it was a man I ran into in the parking lot that day, but it was God who orchestrated it. And I find that the more we continue to trust God, the more of these kinds of experiences seem to crop up in our lives.
FYI, we get along just fine these days with the owners of the bar and they are happy to allow our church to use their parking lot. Now that parking lot is full on Sunday mornings, as well as another lot we use near the church.
That encounter was the beginning of a miraculous work God has done in that church. Mike has become a strong leader in that church. We have given Mike a nickname. We call him “The Parking Lot Guy.” He’s not at all offended. He wears it proudly.