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Caring on the road

January 14th, 2010 at 11:19 am

In a crowded parking lot filled with chrome and horsepower, Jeff Claes finds himself most at home. Weaving through a maze of patch-decorated bikers, he talks with others about motorcycles, rides and miles of open road.

But as a biker chaplain, he is looking for more than the next ride. He’s looking for the next opportunity to point people to God.

As the first two biker chaplains endorsed by Texas Baptists, Claes and his ministry partner Rod Stallings are a spiritual presence in the horde of metal and machinery. The chaplains are sources of comfort, hope and spiritual guidance for the bikers, many of whom do not attend church.

“When they’re going through stuff, they turn to me and ask ‘Pastor, will you pray with me?’” Claes said. “Basically I’m in a pastoral role with many people due to loose connections and involvement with the local church. I’m constantly trying to point them toward God.”

The duo serves the American Eagle Harley Davidson Owners Group, a North Texas association of about 500 riders. They also pray with people individually and sometimes distribute tracts at events.

“Biker chaplaincy is a ministry of presence,” Stallings said. “Ninety percent of what we do is just being there.”

Claes, who is licensed by First Baptist Church in Carrollton, also has performed weddings and a funerals.

“I always say the parking lot is my church and the curb is my pulpit,” Claes said.

Having ridden thousands of miles across the country, Claes and Stallings also understand biker culture and how to create opportunities to share the gospel. Though many bikers claim not to be spiritual, Stallings notes that many of them hang items from their motorcycles to keep bad things from happening to them.

Often, bikers also are interested in having their motorcycles “blessed,” Stallings said, allowing the chaplains to pray over the bikers and for the upcoming ride. The blessings invite the chaplains to talk about Jesus.

Together, Claes and Stallings recently created www.bikerchaplain.com, an Internet resource that trains other people to become biker chaplains. About 30 from across the country have participated in the training. The curriculum helps people understand biker culture and how to minister in it effectively.

Bobby Smith, director of chaplaincy relations for Texas Baptists, praised the ministry of Claes and Stallings and looks forward to seeing how God continues to move in people’s lives to share the hope of Christ in biker culture.

“Biker chaplaincy is a very new and exciting opportunity to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of many people who have no other venue to receive a caring, Christian pastoral touch,” Smith said. “It is so exciting to see how God is working in the lives and ministries of these biker chaplains. It is my privilege to minister to these biker chaplains and help them as they minister to bikers.”

“We feel God’s call to not only be chaplains and serve our community, but provide training to all biker ministry organizations because they don’t have this type of training available to them,” Claes said.

Through chaplaincy, the pair are connecting with people, Stallings said. By caring about people as Christ would and sharing the gospel when the Holy Spirit prompts, lives are changed. People encounter the gospel.

Stallings said lay ministry of this sort is a glimpse of what effective ministry will look like in the future.

“We really strive for people understanding that we believe the coming age of ministry is not one of megachurches and all that,” Stallings said. “It’s going to be schmoes like me and my partner pulling off the road into a gas station with our colors on and people asking “what’s that all about?”

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