Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tattooed Preacher

Click picture for Shane's blog
This post is a response to one of the questions I received on my November 27th post when I asked my readers for things they would like me to write about. This question comes from Shane Morgan of In Shane's Brain.

What was the motorcycle ministry really like?

I have only very briefly even mentioned this on my blog before, but approximately five years ago while I was senior minister at a church, I started working as a professional piercer in a tattoo shop. This happened slowly over the course of several months.

I met the owner of this tattoo shop in my bowling league. At that point, I had only been in a tattoo shop once in my entire life and that was just to look around out of curiosity. After getting to know him, I dropped by his shop once to check it out. I quickly discovered that his clientele was a totally different kind of people than I normally crossed paths with in my minister job.

I started hanging out there more during the day to talk with people and built a few relationships with his regulars. It suddenly became apparent to me that this was a mission field not being reached in our area. I was daily talking with a lot of people who would never go seeking out a preacher. I felt drawn to reach out to these people. I soon learned that hanging out in the shop would not be enough to have a real impact.

In order to get to spend real time with them, I needed full access, so I started apprenticing as a body piercer. Piercing was only meant to be the tool I used to evangelize, but it turned out that I was actually pretty good at it. Within the next year, I resigned from my position at the church and bought the shop to do this as my full time ministry. It was amazing the credibility and respect I gained as a preacher just by walking into and living in their world. These same people would not have given me the time of day had I approached them on the street. In the first six months, we had over a dozen baptisms, saw two marriages healed, reunited a child with her parents and I counseled with several people every week. It was the most exciting and successful ministry I had even been a part of.

Since so much of our customer base was made of up of bikers, it was suggested we start a motorcycle ministry. Within a few months, I bought a Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide and no longer looked like a preacher. We founded a club called SONS OF CHRIST and started recruiting members. I was the chaplain and vice president.

We were very intentional in our presentation. We did not want to be known as a Christian group who likes to ride. We decided it was very important to be recognized as bikers first. We went to all the biker events we could get to. We regularly rubbed elbows with several 1% clubs, their support clubs and affiliates. In fact, our associations got us into some pretty hairy situations at times.

We began hosting our own events and the membership started to grow. We had a great group of guys and I loved every minute of it, but trying to build the club and running the shop at the same time was a lot of work and all the members were feeling the pressure. Pressure not only from the work required to maintain and build a new club, but pressure from other clubs that were beginning to take notice of ours.

We had already been forced to change the patch on the back of our vests because it originally gave the impression that we were claiming a territory despite the word HEAVEN rather than a city. These patches and their meanings are taken very seriously by clubs. I, personally, had received several death threats after an interview I had done for the local paper about our club and several of our members reported being followed by rival clubs when out riding while wearing their colors.

Eventually, we were approached by another club, who offered to absorb us into their club. I was not interested for a variety of reasons. The main one being that it was not a Christian club and there was a whole lot going on in that first meeting with them that I wanted nothing to do with. Being around when certain things are happening is one thing, but being part of a club involved in those activities gives me more association than I am comfortable with. I did still value my reputation. However, not everyone held the same opinion as me.

Debauchery aside, there were several advantages to being absorbed into an established club. There was a sense of protection. We would become part of a larger group making it harder to intimidate us. Another big draw was the fact that it was already established. It was not a brand new club that would require as much work. After several meetings and lots of discussion, our club decided to merge with theirs, despite my objections. In a matter of moments, the club I had co-founded no longer existed.

The club changing hands seemed to be the pivotal moment for the entire ministry. Almost immediately, overwhelming financial crises hit the shop, my partnerships dissolved, my customer base died off and I had to walk away completely.

Despite the abrupt halt and apparent crash n' burn, I still consider the experience to have been my most successful ministry. I saw a lot of lives changed and was blessed to get to help a lot of people. I still have many close friends from that adventure and don't regret resigning from the church position to follow this path.

"And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Acts 2:21 (NIV)

Everyone includes bikers, metalheads, punks, skaters, emo kids, scene kids, headbangers or any other group that would not stereotypically be associated with faith.



18 comments:

  1. To be honest, those pictures of you look pretty intimidating. I guess that helps prove a huge point people need to understand. You looked scary (no offense, I hope) but that does not mean a thing about what your personality is like.

    I wish things would have gone better for your club so that even more people could have been helped, but I think what you did was truly amazing. You changed so many lives, probably more than you actually realize.

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    1. Thank you. I don't take any offense. I did look intimidating. I am also really tall, so that helped to add to it. People walked wide circles around me. Plus, these pictures don't show what I looked like once my ears were gauged out and my hair got really long. However, the entire effect was ruined as soon as I smiled.

      I enjoyed that ministry, but I think it just played out. I did what I was there to do and then it was over. It was strange that everything collapsed at once. That made me believe it was just time to move on. I was working for the Sheriff's Office a week later.

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  2. Wow, what a story! You have done a lot of things in your life. I love that you had the courage to move into such a different environment to do what God was calling you to do. And it's quite fascinating that when it was over, God called you right back out of it.

    Once it was over and you started working for the police station, did you change your biker appearance, or did that hang around for a while?

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    1. Thank you. I don't mind stepping into other environments. I love other cultures and see plenty of them right in my own town.

      I knew I was leaving the shop and got a call about the job at the sheriff's office. I applied and as soon as I got a call for an interview, I shaved, removed my piercings, and cut my hair for the interview. I got the job. I still had big holes in my ears from the gauging that had to heal back down, but my tattoo customers didn't even recognize me anymore.

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  3. Death threats over leather vests...sheesh. After reading your story and googling 1% clubs...I think I'll continue to avoid biker gangs. It really sucks that your club essentially got taken away from you. Sorry, bro. Mad props for giving it a go, though.

    How many members did your club have before getting absorbed? Oh, and is there any way I can find out if I live in a territory 'claimed' by a club? Just curious.

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    1. Send me a private FB message telling me where you live and I will tell you if it is claimed. If I remember where you live right, you do live in a staked area.

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  4. You are a rare breed, indeed. To walk into a room and say "none of these people are like me. I've never met anyone like this" and decide "I'd better stick around and come back enough to find out what makes them tick" shows a kind of openness that is lacking in this world.

    Much more common? Walk into a room, say "none of these people are like me. I've never even met anyone like them" and decide "let me slowly back out the door and hope nobody noticed me."

    I'm so lucky to be your girl. I love your heart.

    ...oh, and "HOLY HOTNESS!" indeed. I want to run my fingers through that hair. Oh wait! I can! Ha! Double-lucky!

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    1. As much as I say, "I don't like people," they do fascinate me. I love jumping into a new group and observing them. I'm sure I will pull you into several uncomfortable situations in the future.

      My hair is all yours.

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  5. I'm not religious at all but you seriously rock!
    I think it's great what you and the group did, reaching out to people who wouldn't necessary seek out the word of god.
    I may be an unbeliever but the way you went all out to help others, earns nothing but my deepest respect.

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    1. Thank you. I couldn't really expect them to walk into my world. I had to go to theirs. In a person's own setting, they feel less threatened, more comfortable and freer from perceived judgment. Plus, with the better light they saw me in, it automatically made my words carry more weight because of the extra respect I had earned from being there. It's actually a pretty simple strategy.

      Thank you for seeing this for what it is.

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  6. This was a really interesting post and it was fun learning more about your past. I hope you have a happy and safe New Year.

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    1. Thank you and I hope you have a great year.

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  7. That was very incredible story, Brett. I remember you greeting me at Southwest and I had no clue who you were until you came up and after church and told me. Good stuff, Brett, as always.

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    1. Thank you. I loved walking up to people who hadn't seen me in a while. I always got the same reaction.

      Who is this scary guy?

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  8. First, I found this post positively fascinating. I'm a culture geek meaning: I love the differences both glaring and subtle between cultures all over the world. When you know the ground their moccasins have traveled, it's easier to establish meaningful, open dialogue with them, even if you don't speak the language. So I give you kudos.

    Second: "Comments on my blog are like finding a Chicken McNugget in my fries at McDonald's" is brilliance. :)

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    1. Thank you. I am working on a Mater's Degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Langauges, so I am surrounded by people of other belief systems and practices all the time. More of my study seems to be about understanding and accepting other cultures than about language. It is fascinating.

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  9. Wow! I'm so glad you linked to this from your current post. What an incredible story! And what the varied range of experiences you've had! From pastoring at a church, to your unique ministry at the tattoo shop to working with LE to now the TESOL program! THAT is a journey! (And I'm guessing there's far more to it!) I often think I have no clue what sudden, unexpected twist God's going to throw into my life, and my friends often say my life is far from dull - but that's a gross exaggeration in the face of stories like yours!

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    1. It has been a wild rife. I love my life.

      Thank you.

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Getting comments on my blog is like finding a McNugget in my fries. It just doesn't get any better. Leave a comment while you're here.