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On the road again with stories to tell and successes to share


By J. Hogan

Whenever I’m invited to travel and speak at functions I chuckle a bit, wondering if the folks asking me to come understand that I’m just a knucklehead from the Rocks.

That’s certainly an appropriate sentiment because it’s not really me they’re impressed with, it’s the church I pastor and the way God has been moving over the years, using many other people in a myriad of ways to impact the community.

One reason folks want a report from us is to “light a fire” under some church communities that have settled into nice, comfortable ruts. Those ruts are the lulling, easiest pitfall for older churches, and some of the conventions I speak at have pastors who lead churches nearly as old as the United States.

When the bills are paid and the pews populated, it can be a smooth slide into an almost catatonic existence.

Outreach reaches folks who don’t speak Christianese and don’t understand that nothing but seasonal decorations are to be set on the custom table Miss Jenny’s late, wealthy, great, great Uncle Judge Johnson had made from Mahogany he brought home from a trip to the Amazon in 1954.

See, Miss Jenny gets her feathers ruffled if a stranger leans on the table or - God forbid! - sets a Diet Coke can on it. She wouldn’t speak to one family for that particular sin for the entire two months they tried to attend Old Settled Baptist Church before moving elsewhere.

Of course, when Jesus first started gathering disciples, he said “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” not “I’ll make you protectors of precious heirlooms.”

I’ll gladly address that as a guest speaker. And I don’t have to deal with the recriminations.

Another reason I’m invited is because many folks think it’s insane, heroic, or both to plant a church in an impoverished community with violent tendencies. I understand that, but when I read the gospels I get the sense that Jesus - nearly stoned to death, lied about, hated by the local authorities, and eventually crucified on trumped up charges - didn’t shy away from difficult places. He certainly hung around some challenging folks, as well.

Part of the thinking of some folks who ask me to come speak is that if we can reach people with the gospel in a town they’d prefer to not drive through with their windows up and doors locked, certainly we can inspire folks in more “normal” climes to get out and reach people.

So I do my best to share and inspire, tell a harrowing tale or two to get across our context, and then “exhort” - pushing the people a bit to help them push their own congregations to get serious about reaching their communities.

I actually enjoy getting to go places and share and, sometimes, it seems it truly does help some ministries gain traction. It’s usually the pastors who brought a handful of folks to the convention who give me good reports later, which makes me suspect that they already had folks buying into their leadership at their church. Any vision they emphasize will likely be embraced. Perhaps that’s where I’ll be a help.

I’m flying to Tallahassee for three speaking engagements in October. I’m looking forward to it and hoping it will be fruitful for the folks down there. Truth is, there are a couple of handfuls of folks Faithbridge could send down to talk about ministry. I get invited because it’s my name on the office door, that’s all.

I’m grateful that we have stories to tell and successes to share, and that’s not because of me… it’s because God is working through this group of folks and I’m blessed to be part of it.

If you think of it, please pray for safe travels for me.

Rev. James Hogan is a native of Stowe Township and serves as pastor of Faithbridge Community Church in McKees Rocks.

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