Today I bombed through over an hour’s worth of the asphalt maze from Pasadena to Lancaster. My goal? To treat visit David Parker, Lead Pastor at Desert Vineyard, the second oldest Vineyard church in the world, to lunch. Desert Vineyard is a thoroughly externally focused church that takes reaching their community seriously. I’ve been wanting to pick his brain and catch a bit of his heart for Jesus and our lost world. S0 I did.

First of all, the building looked like an oasis in the desert. Very cool. The receptionists were professional and friendly. Within two minutes I’d been welcomed into David’s office, where I shook his hand, sat down, opened a blank page on my journal with “David Parker” scribbled at the top, readied my pen, and got to business. He indulged my curiosity by offering me a candid look at the colourful history of his church and his passion for ministry. Some highlights:

David believes that unless reaching the lost is the number one priority of the church, it will never even make the top ten. I’m still chewing on that one.

Second, he essentially said that when God lays something biblical on your heart (like, say, a vision for reaching the lost), you have to be ruthless (his word) about moving the church into that kind of intense focus. There will be people who don’t like it, who don’t want their little Johnny in Sunday School with “those” kinds of children. There will be people with other passions and hobby-horses and deeply felt beliefs, but we cannot compromise the mission handed to us by Jesus Christ himself and so clearly mapped out in scripture. When I asked how he helps people shift their priorities to an outreach lifestyle, he said that he appeals to the authority of God’s word over our lives.

When it came time for lunch, we ambled out of his office. In the doorway we paused as he explained a portion of a famous painting he’d mounted there: Salome holding a platter with John the Baptist’s head on it. “It reminds me of the price of ministry,” he quipped, chuckling knowingly. Uh huh.

And then he poked his head into a few offices on the way out, inviting a few of his fellow staff to join us. At first I thought, “Hey, I wanted you all to myself.” But by the time we were on our way I realized that I’d just been taken to school. One of the reasons Desert Vineyard is successful in reaching lost people is that their lead pastor is inclusive and welcoming by nature. The little clique I’d tried to form had just been broken up by genuine fellowship. Lunch was tasty Thai, and it was good, but I enjoyed the banter with his team even more. For the most part he sat back and let them talk about the church, which spoke volumes. It meant it was theirs, too, even though he was such a strong leader. Interestingly enough, they showed a genuine interest in me, my story, my setting. Good guys, those.

At one point the we were reflecting on how thrilling it is to see people you’ve invested in (in youth ministry, let’s say) come back and serve in that ministry. They pointed out that nearly two thirds of their pastoral staff got saved at Desert Vineyard. Just in case you missed it, that’s astounding.

“I kinda blew up your idea of buying me lunch,” David said at one point, sheepish—implying that now that he’d made it a party, I was no longer obligated to pay. I tried later on, believe me, but he refused, treating me both to lunch, his staff, and his ministry. I was so blessed.

Our last interchange before handshakes and thank-you’s was: “Driving through LA,” I said, “I’m struck by the hugeness of it all. I mean, even churches (like his) that are really making a difference are… are…”

He finished my thought. “A drop in the bucket.”

Yeah. Lord, help us to make your priorities our own. Your church is still just a drop in the bucket of what you’d like to accomplish. Help us to embrace a broken world for Christ.