Despite the shrinkage this year in car shows due to the coronavirus pandemic, Assemblies of God chaplain Steven L. Preston looks forward to 2021, when he will enter his fifth year of ministering to auto enthusiasts. Preston’s optimism stems from the personal relationships he has developed lately within a 90-mile radius of Wichita, Kansas.
A recent shift in status from missionary church planting to chaplaincy ministry helped facilitate these connections. It changed his emphasis from church starts to ministering to car guys (and gals), creating a different perception of his ministry. That helped cross divisions among the hobbyists.
With the transition, Preston had T-shirts printed with the ministry’s Highway Chapel logo on the back and “Chaplain Steve” emblazoned on the front.
“There are always divisions between Ford guys, Chevy guys, and others, but a chaplain transcends all that,” says Preston, 67. “It’s brought a transformation.”
One way he built bridges in 2020 involved using a camera supplied by Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge to photograph enthusiasts’ cars. He posts them on his Facebook page, which includes a link to Highway Chapel’s website.
The pictures have proven popular, with members of one large club in Wichita downloading more than 100 images. The group also invited “Chaplain Steve” to their meetings to snap more photos.
“The minute they saw the chaplain on my T-shirt and I talked about pictures on my website, they became my friends,” says Preston. “They have been open and friendly and willing to talk.”
His website includes a calendar of events, car videos, and a link to Network 211, an AG-affiliated international online evangelism and discipleship presence. Because Network 211 has resources aimed at military veterans, Preston calls more attention to the link around Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
The chaplain looks at Highway Chapel as building bridges that Christ can walk across.
“Every hour I spend building a relationship is a plank in that bridge,” Preston says. “Some have 100 planks, some 30, and some two. To be invited to take pictures of cars and talk about cars, adds planks.”
Among those aware of the change in Preston’s outreach is Rick L. Prather, who built his first car nearly 40 years ago. Ironically, as the owner of a cake shop, Prather’s business prevents him from attending most car shows, but he sees Preston at a weekly car guys’ luncheon.
“He’s really changing his role in getting more visible,” says the 57-year-old Prather, who recently settled in a permanent church home because of the chaplain’s influence. “He fits in because he’s a good car guy.”
Although this year’s car show season concluded Nov. 21, Preston is now leading a pair of one-on-one Bible studies.
“This is a season we’re going to pass through,” he says of the pandemic. “I’m able to stay in contact by email, online, in meetings, and at the restaurant.”