I was surprised last Friday when I received a call asking: “Can you have the Mustang here on Monday? We are ready to get started.” This call came from the body shop I have chosen to do major work on my 1968 Mustang GT/CS (California Special). Part of my surprise was because they initially (around three weeks ago) asked if we could wait until around Thanksgiving to start so they would have time to finish a current big project. I agreed to their timing, though I told them to let me know if they found they could start sooner. Sooner has happened!

Although I have owned several classic vehicles in the past, I always tried to find classics requiring minimal body work. Part of the challenge with this approach is previous owners have determined what the vehicle would look like. All of my classics have needed mechanical work. Luckily, I have a friend who is an excellent mechanic when it comes to classics. I haven’t had, however, a body shop. My current classic is in rougher shape, and I have a different vision for how I want it to look. I need some rust and bad spots addressed, along with a new paint job. Before new paint can be added, layers of old paint need to be removed. How hard can it be to find a good body shop?

It turned out to be way harder than I ever expected! Not only have I been interviewing body shops, but they have been interviewing me. Most of the body shops make their money working with insurance companies on repair jobs. These jobs need to be taken care of pretty fast. My Mustang is a project that will take months (maybe as long as six months) to complete. It is the project my body shop will work on around their other jobs. Not only is this a huge commitment for me, it is a huge commitment for them! They had to decide if this is a car they want to work with. When people ask, “Who did your paint job?”, it will be their name shared. The unspoken part is they also had to decide if I’m someone they can work with. I had to make the same decision about them. After dropping off my Mustang (the owner of the shop gave me a ride home), I had a sense of mutual respect and trust. We are entering into a relationship where we are going to see a lot of each other!

How hard is it when a person is looking for a new church? I call myself an “itinerant church attender” as I travel around the South District. Most Sundays I ask myself “Is this a church where I would want to attend?” The truth is I have little experience deciding what church I want to join. For most of three decades I have gone where the Bishop has appointed me. For those who have attended the same church for a long time, it might be hard for you to remember what it is like, too. One practice that can be informative is to ask newer members what it was like looking for a new church. Granted, these are the people who chose your church, so I expect they will have a lot of nice things to say about your church. How informative would it be if we could hear honest reflections from those who didn’t decide to join with our church?

My guess is visitors experience both spoken and unspoken messages when they attend our church. As the visitor is “interviewing” the church, are we as church members “interviewing” the visitor? Decisions are being made about potential long-term relationships. We declare verbally everyone is welcome. Do our unspoken messages support our spoken messages?

What is our church identity and situation? Do we love having the opportunity to help guide brand-new Christians, or prefer those who have already started their faith journey? Do we have the time and energy to be in relationship with those who are in really “rough” condition, or are we better equipped for those who need less work? Are we open to many new people joining with us, bringing with them change, or is it our desire to have less change? This might feel awkward, but it is important to clearly understand our church identity as we address many questions facing us. Since the church is made up of multiple members, there needs to be broad support for the chosen identity. Can this identity be written down in a simple way, and agreed upon by your local church members? If we are feeling brave, once we have this written identity, we can ask God if there are any ways God would like our identity to grow and expand—or even change (this is also a great question for us individually)!

              Your brother on the journey, Mark

Further thoughts: As I prayed for the right body shop, I noticed the first one recommended to me two years ago is the one I ended up choosing. Could God have been giving me a sign with it being named “Mark’s Body Shop”?

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