So here’s a look at my life and family – timeline below. Places we’ve lived. Kids, parents, weddings. School (a big deal with the Perrys). And work.
Cheryl and I met in college – I first saw her and heard that delightful, raspy St. Pierre voice at a prayer meeting of all places! We were in InterVarsity together but didn’t know it till we went to the same meeting (IV was a big group spread out all over Illinois’ huge campus). I kept hearing that “Cheryl St. Pierre is moving to our side of the campus.” Intrigued! I must confess I don’t remember a thing that we prayed for that day in the meeting. But I remember Cheryl! No one who meets this lady ever forgets her incredible smile. After 29 years of marriage to me – she still has that same incredible smile. “She smiles so much, with so much of her face… even her eyes smile.” That’s what my mom said after meeting Cheryl.
State Farm or Mutual of Omaha?
“Just like a good neighbor… State Farm is there.” Remember that one? The two towns my family has spent the most time in are home to these two insurance giants. If you ask someone “Hey, what city is home to the insurance company Mutual of Omaha?” its a bad joke – like “What date is the 4th of July celebrated on?” But far fewer people know that Bloomington Illinois is home to State Farm Insurance. Cheryl and I spent 14 years of our child-raising life in Normal, Illinois (twin city to Bloomington). 22 Briarwood was home to the Perry kids as well as Dawntreader Academy. Dawntreader was the name we gave Cheryl’s homeschool. Cheryl graduated her first student about 6 months after we moved to Omaha. Perry kids graduating from Dawntreader went straight to Omaha Central High School, one of Omaha’s biggest, oldest, most diverse schools. Aaron and Phoebe loved Central. Central loved my kids well, investing in their gifts for learning. Phoebe just graduated from UMKC in Dance. Aaron and Savannah are graduates of University of Illinois. Aaron is currently working on his PhD in Aerospace Engineering. Silas just finished his first year at Central High – the third Perry to have Mr. Wilson for Honors US History (a very big deal believe me).
The guild or the factory?
I’ve done two kinds of ministry work. If you compare ministry to guitar-making (bear with me here) there are luthier guilds, and then there are guitar factories. InterVarsity is a ministry guild. Christ Community (and other large, commercial-esque churches) are ministry factories.
A craftsman’s guild is a network of individual builders. Here’s a brief list you’ll find at the Guild of American Luthiers. Plenty of them! Probably not many names even most guitar players would recognize. All of them, incredible artists with mad skills! Of course factory employees are also skilled – machines can’t do everything. But on the whole, a custom built guitar will have multiple times the energy, creativity, skill, attention to detail, and dare I say passion invested in it. The materials used will be painstakingly hand-selected.
I once got the chance to meet a world-class builder in Holland, Michigan – Del Langenjans. At the time I was putting together an instrument from a kit – an Appalachian lap dulcimer. It was so inspiring to have this guy show me an instrument he was working on and give me a couple of random scraps of advice. Del would produce incredible guitars – just a handful of them a year. Very, very expensive. North of $4K on the lower end.
By comparison, you can have this starter guitar made by “Fender” in a factory in Guangzhou, China for $119. Your average guitar factory worker in China makes roughly $1,000 per year (yup, per YEAR) and works on a production floor that makes hundreds of guitars per shift. If you’re as much of a guitar freak as me, you’ll find these two articles on the global starter guitar market of interest:
From my 3 decades of ministry experience, guild ministry versus commercial ministry is just about as stark a comparison. Mega-churches can be a matter of 3,000 to 10,000 or more people in a single ministry environment per week. The guild… could be a tiny church of barely 100 participants or a parachurch group working with 3,000 people spread out over three states at 75 different locations. Numbers, budgets, and goals are important to smaller churches and parachurch organizations to be sure. But the guild will just never be economically driven the way the mega church typically is. Great people with mad skills lead commercial churches. Great people with mad skills also lead guild ministries.
Commercial churches do “make a good product” if you want to put it in those terms – the volume of good quality is undeniable. I wouldn’t say that if it weren’t my own experience from the past 10+ years. Yet, the mega-church alone isn’t enough. The mission of Jesus will move ahead best with church and parachurch working well together. As I return to the environment of the ministry guild, I’m eager to regain a sense of artisan camaraderie in my work. We’ll see how this chapter plays out. Time to dig out all those sharp knives and clamps I used to be so familiar with.