By Ronald E. Keener
Rick Lemons’ interest in NASCAR came out of the number of people at his church, Fellowship Bible Church of Forney, TX, who love the sport. The more he listened to them talking about it, the more intrigued he became. And Texas Motor Speedway is just up the road from where he lives. NASCAR became the basis of a series of messages to his congregation, and that series became a book (see sidebar).
Cars, as well as four high school sports, became an early interest as a youth. “My first car was a 1964 Plymouth Fury like the one Richard Petty drove in NASCAR races. My brother passed on to me his 1965 Pontiac which looked more like a dragster. We did have drag races on some of the rural roads in our community.
“We never got caught but it wasn’t because the police didn’t try. My Pontiac was fast on take offs and had 140 on the speedometer. Let’s just say I saw the needle reach 140 many times,” he recalls.
What is your metaphor of racing to ministry and to life?
The more I became familiar with NASCAR teams and how they work together the more I began to compare it to the Christian life. The book of Hebrews talks about running the race, and the Apostle Paul wrote of his own desire to run to win the race. Those references are to a foot race, but as I thought about how the followers of Christ support one another, it seemed to me that NASCAR teams were a great metaphor.
Each member of the team has a different role: One fills the car with gas, others change tires, one spots for the driver, and so forth. In the Christian life we need people to help keep us running and winning. But we also have the added privilege to serve on the team for others. As I began to learn more about the responsibility of the team members I began to see comparisons how these individuals help us run the race of life.
What is the link between the team around a driver to the team around a pastor?
I compare the pastor to the one who puts fuel in the car, because the word of God is what we must run on. In my book I compare God’s word to the only fuel that will last. When we run on emotion or experience we stand the chance of running out of fuel, but when we run on the word of God we will endure to the end. Fuel is very important to a car’s performance and so the role of a pastor to speak into our lives the word of God is very important.
Other people serve around the pastor such as a worship leader. I compare worship in my book to four new tires because like fresh tires bring balance to a racecar, worship is what brings balance to our lives. The pastor is one member of the team but we also need a “crew chief” (God), spotter (accountability partner), etc.
You say there are six “pit stops” to helping us become better equipped in life’s journey. How so?
The six things I address in my book as pit stops are really Christian disciplines. God’s word, worship, prayer, accountability, fellowship, and staying spiritually fit are all simple disciplines that many people have written about in the past. I tried to present them in a way that people can relate to them. Jesus used analogies when He taught that the people of the first century could understand. His illustrations came out of the culture.
We try to do the same today when we teach. We try to illustrate timeless truths in ways that people can relate to them today. These six disciplines are foundational to our faith and living a successful Christian life. Most people understand that a car cannot run without fuel, so I wanted them to see how essential God’s word is to their lives. If they try to live the Christian life but do not make frequent stops for fuel (God’s word) they may not finish the race well.
If they ignore worship in their lives they can be like a race car driver who blows a tire in turn three. If they don’t spend time in prayer they can be like a driver on his own on the track and not hear the plans to win from the crew-chief. If they ignore people who have an outsider’s view of their life, and avoid accountability, they will not have the benefit of someone watching out for them like a spotter does in NASCAR.
If they do not fellowship with other followers of Christ they may find themselves like a car with a dead battery, not energized for the race ahead. And finally if they live an undisciplined life, and abuse their body, not realizing it is the temple of the Holy Spirit, then they may end up like a driver who cannot last during a three-hour race.
In the book you use the words “being disqualified;” what do you mean by that?
The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:27 that he did not want to be disqualified. He lived a disciplined life because he did not want to minister and win so many people to Christ, yet because of some lack of discipline in his personal life, be disapproved by God. A NASCAR team can be disqualified for breaking rules, wrecking the car, or blowing an engine. Victory for the follower of Christ is getting to heaven and hearing the Lord say “well done!” Just as there is always another race next week for NASCAR teams, there is opportunity for the follower of Christ to do better next time. Being disqualified does not mean not going to heaven. I think it just means that we can lose our influence on people here on earth when we fail. With a strong team around us and a Father who cheers us on to victory, we have every reason not to fail.
Can you describe the analogy of the pitfalls in relation to the life of a Christian?
A pitfall is something that can knock the car out of the race. It can cause you to come in for a pit stop while the other cars are still racing. It can cost precious time, laps, and ultimately the race. Satan throws a lot of debris at us to try and make us fail.
When you gave the sermon series, what did you do to catch attention?
We painted a car with all the ministry logos at the church such as AWANA, Student Ministry, Angel Food, TEAM, etc. We drove it in the annual Homecoming Parade in our town and put it out in the parking lot with red flags around it each week. We also decorated our stage like Pit Row. We decorated the lobby of the church with all the NASCAR paraphernalia we could find. We invited our members to bring things they had and we used that to decorate as well. The praise team wore all the same shirts with our church logo, and our members told their friends and neighbors. People came from all over the county because of the series.
Not many pastors have 34 years in a single pastorate. Aside from God’s leading you and your wife’s encouragement, to what do you attribute your long term pastorate?
As a young pastor I noticed that most of the churches that grew were led by pastors who had long tenure. I didn’t think when I first came to Forney that I would stay that long because the church was in a rural community and the prospects of growing significantly were not good. But the community did begin to grow and our church grew in percentage to the growth of the community.
It takes perseverance to stay in one place. The people have to trust your leadership and you have to be willing to give the ministry to them. The role of a pastor is to equip the people to do works of ministry, and as they take ownership of the ministry it makes the role more enjoyable. For me it would have been difficult to stay if the church had not grown steadily. Because the church did grow annually I was fulfilled, and I think the church members became more trusting of my leadership.
What few things have you done to grow your church from seven in 1977 to today’s nearly 1,700?
We have tried to be relevant. I went to Criswell College in Dallas where expository preaching is instilled in the students. Dr. W.A. Criswell was an expository preacher and believed that God will honor the teaching and preaching of his word. I have from day one tried to teach the Bible the best way I knew how. Everything centers around the Bible at Fellowship. It is our number one core value. But along with expository preaching we have tried to offer uplifting worship. Our worship leader and team strife for excellence but also active participation by every worshipper.
The church has 1,670 members today and we minister to about 1,200 people every week. For several years our community had just a handful of churches but in the recent years we have added many. Presently there are 40 churches ministering in a community of about 15,000 people. Where once we had a unique ministry, there are now several churches that offer the same style and ministries that we have.
Our focus today is on being missional. We offer a lot of ministries to the community such as Celebrate Recovery, TEAM (after school program for kids at risk), Angel Food, and Impact Weekend (an annual event where we work on houses and provide community service). This past year another church joined our Impact ministry, with others asking to participate.
Might you have a practical example of equipping believers and relying on God’s strength?
At Fellowship we encourage people to do three things: Worship, Walk and Work. This is our philosophy of ministry. We encourage each member of Fellowship to actively pursue a life of worship.
We also encourage everyone to get into a Bible Study along with a small group. Jesus taught people in large groups but instilled his heart with the 12. Ultimately this was to send them out as his hands and feet into the world. At Fellowship we encourage every member to serve in the church and outside the church. We use our gifts to serve inside the church and then as a body of believers we serve as Christ’s hands and feet to the world. This is what we do through our missional opportunities. We try to get every member to participate in at least one of the missional ministries we provide.
Was there a time in 34 years when you were ready to chuck the ministry thing? Every Monday morning, maybe?
The night I surrendered to the Lord to be a pastor I was given a note from my pastor’s wife. The note read: “You may chose to forget tonight, but no one here will.” That note has been a motivation to me through the years that when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore, it wasn’t about me.
There are many times when a pastor would like to do something else. But I am sure that is true of any other person who works. All I can think about is the reputation of my God who I publicly declared had called me into the ministry. To not be a pastor would be to cast doubt on the one who called me. I have thought about leaving Fellowship a few times over the years but never about leaving the ministry.
Who was the greatest influence on your Christian life?
The greatest influence on my life was my father, J.T. Lemons. He passed away in March 2009, but supported my call to the ministry. My parents moved their membership to Fellowship in 1978 to help me. My dad was a deacon, small group leader and served in just about every possible way through the years to help the church. He was that way my entire life. He was my biggest fan and supporter no matter what I did. www.FellowshipForney.org
NASCAR opens way to reaching people
“There are many NASCAR fans and NASCAR members who are followers of Jesus Christ. Each race still begins with a prayer where people unashamedly pray in Jesus’ name. There are chapel services held at each race for fans, participants and NASCAR professionals. Several of the drivers and owners are committed believers, and share their testimony at these services as well as other venues.
“A highlight for me was speaking at the chapel service at Texas Motor Speedway in 2009. I became familiar with The National Raceway Ministries and have volunteered some with them. They minister to the people who camp at the racetracks during a typical week at one of the events.
“I would also say that it has opened a whole new dialogue for me with people who follow NASCAR. I never had any real problem talking to people who were sports fans of the sports I played growing up. I really didn’t know how to have a conversation with someone who followed NASCAR until I began to do research for my book. The more I researched it, though, the more I got into it, and by getting into it I can now take a conversation with someone who loves NASCAR and talk to them about Jesus Christ, whether they are a follower or not.” — Rick Lemons
“The real lesson of the book is that we are not in the race alone. Many people who do not understand NASCAR think it all depends on the driver. Jimmy Johnson just won another championship and he is a great driver, but he could not win without his crew-chief and pit crew. They do an incredible job of getting the car ready for each race, and making the car better as the race goes on. Many of Christ’s followers do not understand how important other people are in the race of life. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” There are 35 times in the New Testament that we are told to do something for one another. We need each other to run well.” — Rick Lemons