NEW ORLEANS (BP) – When NOBTS evangelism professor Jeff Farmer discovered he could stay in the homes of other bike enthusiasts during his 16,400 mile “motorcycle sabbatical,” it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Farmer booked his stays through a website where bikers and bike enthusiasts open their homes to traveling bikers. Farmer’s first experience was in the home of a couple where the wife had been raised an atheist but had embraced Cherokee spiritualistic beliefs.
“I had such a great discussion with both of them I decided, ‘I’m going to do this more often,’” said Farmer, associate director of the NOBTS Caskey Center for Church Excellence.
Farmer had originally intended to spend most nights during his 46-state road trip camping out, staying with friends or family, or in churches on his sabbatical journey to research growing churches. Farmer’s research will be used to provide resources to help churches sharing similar contexts to connect with each other and to encourage church growth.
But when a friend told him about the website Bunk-a-Biker, he switched, making it a favorite go-to option for housing.
“I actually flipped [my plan] after my first Bunk-a-Biker stay,” Farmer explained. “I stayed with just great people and they had great hospitality, too.”
By the time Farmer returned home 18 weeks later he had “bunked” in 43 homes of fellow biker enthusiasts, all of them unbelievers.
Gospel conversations ‘off-limits’
The Bunk-A-Biker website “strongly discourages” discussing politics or religion with the host, Farmer said.
“Which, honestly, is always something we have to navigate,” Farmer said. “But when [the Gospel] is my purpose for travel, it’s hard to avoid it.”
Conversations about faith came up naturally as Farmer answered questions about his Indian Chieftain motorcycle, where he had traveled, and why he was visiting churches.
“Glad you asked,” Farmer would respond.
Farmer practices what he teaches his students to do – sharing the faith with grace and kindness. Through his work at the Caskey Center, Farmer leads students to share their faith weekly, a requirement for the full-tuition scholarship each Caskey Center student receives.
“It’s always going to be their choice to follow Christ or not. It’s my choice to share,” Farmer said. “If you’re humble, loving, matter-of-fact about your beliefs and friendly, people will talk to you about anything.”
Where the majority go to church
Farmer’s travels took him west across the lower United States, up the Pacific Coast Highway, through the West and Midwest, to the Northeast and then back home to the South. Now home in New Orleans, Farmer’s sabbatic research will continue as he visits churches a day’s ride away.
The churches Farmer visited numbered 150 or fewer in worship, the size of 80 percent of Southern Baptist churches, Farmer noted. While Southern Baptist churches of this size are in the majority, many feel overlooked, he said.
“A good number of them felt honored to be noticed,” Farmer said. “A good bit of my trip was encouraging these pastors.”
As Farmer visited churches, he offered encouragement, some direction on what they can do to grow, and helped them see that despite setbacks such as COVID, their church was still growing.
‘One of us’
While traveling, Farmer handed pastors a Caskey “challenge coin” with a QR code on the back that accesses Caskey Center resources suitable for majority-sized churches. The coin is patterned after a military “challenge coin” that identifies members of a unit.
At every stop, Farmer invited pastors to the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting June 11-14 next year in New Orleans. As he handed the Caskey challenge coin to each pastor, he encouraged them to know they are not alone.
“You’re one of us,” Farmer would tell them.
Riding alone for hours a day and out “in God’s creation” was a great time with the Lord, Farmer said.
“One of the best things about being on the bike and having that ‘wind therapy,’ there’s just you and Jesus,” Farmer said. “It really was a very productive spiritual retreat for me.”