CLERGY CORNER: Confessions of a regional pilot

Posted on 11 August 2016 by LeslieM

At the time of writing this article, the population of the United States is 324,192,360. Of those, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 130,000 of them are employed as a commercial or airline pilot. That means only .0004 percent of the U.S. population fly cargo or people professionally. If you were to attend a sold-out Yankees game, of the 54,251 spectators, statistically there are only 22 pilots in the stands. That’s three less people than one team’s active roster! It’s a prestigious career with few completing the extensive training, unrelenting testing and demands that professional pilots experience. I know this because I was one — a captain by age 24, even.

Six years after my departure from the airline industry people still ask, “What kind of plane did you fly?” And when I reply that I operated the CRJ-200, a 50-seat regional jet, forget what I wrote above. I might as well have said that I pulled a Radio Flyer wagon behind my Big Wheel and, yet, some would still consider that the more prestigious.

Easily disregarded by the public is the fact that regional aircraft and crew are held to the same certification and reliability standards as the mainline carriers, which is proven by the regional airlines’ exceedingly unprecedented safety and reliability record. Also ignored, regional pilots — one could argue — possess surpassing “stick-and-rudder” skills as a direct result of the increased amount of operations in what is statistically considered the most dangerous part of the flight which is the take-off and landing (or terminal) environment. Finally, consider how the regional jet has positively impacted the market for the customer by expanding to service smaller cities and providing greater schedule flexibility. Yet, no one wants to fly on the “tiny” jets — the scourge of the industry. Vacation, yes; via a regional jet, no.

As a pastor, the size game continues. How many people go to your church? How many youth went on the summer trip? How many students attend the Wednesday night experience? Numbers, numbers, numbers! In aviation, you’re not a real pilot until you’ve flown a plane with 100 seats or more. And in ministry, you’re not a real pastor until your weekly attendance exceeds 2000 with the additional “pastor street credential” bonus for being multi-site.

Please hear me; I believe God has, and will, use varying church styles and sizes. But what’s being increasingly neglected by church-goers is the focus of what’s most important in the ministry — Christ. Somewhere we’ve come to measure the health and success of a church solely by two metrics: attendance and giving. Can these two be indicators of health or deficiency either way? Yes, they can. But should they be the sole qualifiers? I say absolutely not! As recorded in Matthew 7:20, Jesus says, “[Just] as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.”

Timothy Keller, in Shaped By the Gospel, writes, “The most important [action taken] is that a ministry be faithful to the Word and sound in doctrine,” with Christ at the center. We must resist the temptation to be ensnared by shallow number-crunching and instead hold fast to the promise of what God desires to accomplish through a handful of people fully surrendered to His will.

It is we, who call ourselves Christians, that have been commissioned to gather as the body, the Church, and to be known by our actions. We are people with a “passion for His presence, a deep craving to reach the lost, sincere integrity, Spirit-led faith, down-to-earth humility,” and a recognition of our own “brokenness” (It: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It, Craig Groeschel).

When we act in such a way, we’ll see rebellious hearts turn toward God and He will “add to the Church” because we abandoned seat-counting and returned to devoting ourselves “to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayerActs 2:38-47.

C.J. Wetzler is the NextGen pastor at First Baptist Church of Deerfield Beach. Before transitioning into full-time ministry, CJ was a commercial airline captain and high school leadership and science teacher. For questions or comments he can be reached at cj@deerfieldfirst.com.

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