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Motor Racing Outreach uses 'arm on tire' approach
Wednesday, Dec 3, 2008
By Lee Warren


KANSAS CITY (BP)—In the world of NASCAR, an open garage in the infield of a racetrack is transformed into a weekly chapel service on Sunday mornings with a microphone, a guitar, a set of speakers and about a hundred fold up chairs.

Other than the tool boxes and various other instruments that NASCAR teams use, the setting looks and feels a lot like any other worship service.

It’s probably shorter, but such is life in NASCAR — a world in which drivers are sought after by fans and media alike in one of the longest seasons in professional sports that runs from February until November. But firmly planted in the middle of this fast-paced culture is the ministry of Motor Racing Outreach which has become a constant that drivers and their teams can depend on.

“Time is of the essence out here, and you get so little of it with these guys and you’ve got to capitalize on it with little windows and segments of time,” said Tim Griffin, the vice president and director of spiritual formation at MRO, as well as being the lead chaplain for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. “That’s just part of the culture. So you have to look at every little conversation at a stack of tires as an incredible teaching moment.”

The MRO Web site calls this “the ministry of hanging out” and points out the importance of establishing relationships.

“Jesus modeled this with his ministry to the woman at the well (John 4),” says the MRO site. “Paul, also modeling this philosophy in his ministry, often spent time building relationships and understanding existing culture before preaching (Acts 17).”

In addition to looking for such moments, Griffin leads the chapel service on Sundays for the teams in the Sprint Cup Series. Lonnie Clouse leads the chapel service for teams in the Nationwide Series (one step below the Sprint Cup Series). Griffin, Clouse and other MRO staff members make themselves available to the racing teams throughout the weekend.

As well as drivers being extremely busy, Griffin knows that drivers come from different backgrounds. Some have grown up in church, so their understanding of the Bible is sound, and some have no familiarity whatsoever with Christianity or the Bible because they’ve never been exposed to it. So, Griffin tries to meet the people he ministers to right where they are.

“We know everybody is on a different and unique journey,” Griffin said. “And our responsibility to this community is to be present and to be available to them in a consistent fashion. If we can do that, then we really feel like that when the opportunity comes with individuals who may be uninterested at this point in time, God might just allow a circumstance to be created in their lives where that will be different.”

Availability is key when attempting to meet the needs of those who are already believers as well.

“We feel like our ministry is really like a classic chaplaincy,” Griffin said. “If we can make ourselves available and people can find us in the garage and if we can get up between a couple of haulers or over a stack of tires or behind pit road and we can have a conversation, then that might be our discipleship moment.

“You can’t really bring a church perception into this environment and think that you’re going to get a 12-week, in-depth study in the book of Romans. It’s not going to happen. The culture is just not built for that kind of thing.”

MRO’s “arm on tire” or “ministry of hanging out” philosophy allows it to be present throughout the garage and track area as things happen, which is something that drivers find helpful—especially when things get tough.

“It’s so amazing, what those guys do,” said Brad Coleman, who drives in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series. “They are not only there to teach you the Word and help you become a better Christian and to help you with whatever problems you have, but whenever I get into a wreck on the racetrack and go to the infield care center, the first person I see after a doctor is one of the MRO people.”
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