Motorized ministry: Church leaders stepping forward to drive Georgia school buses


CHATSWORTH, Ga. — As a school bus driver, Robert Richardson feels the weight of responsibility in hauling the most precious of all cargos — children.

But, as a Baptist minister, he gladly shoulders that responsibility.

With school districts across Georgia struggling to fill bus driver positions, church leaders have been stepping into the role, fitting bus routes into their daily ministry routines.

Richardson, worship pastor at Holly Creek Baptist Church outside Chatsworth, said the bus driver role dovetails perfectly with his other duties, giving him daily facetime with children who might need a few kind words or a smile to lift their spirits.

Five people from Holly Creek Baptist Church are serving as bus drivers in north Georgia, making sure children get to and from school safely.

In a real sense, the nationwide bus driver shortage has opened the door for practical children’s ministry outside the traditional Wednesday night and Sunday morning time slots.

Russell Jackson, family pastor at Holly Creek, said he couldn’t imagine a more appropriate ministry than driving a school bus.

“The bus driver is the first person children see on the way to school and the last person they see on the way home,” he said. “That puts you in position to be a real encouragement, and kids need that.”

People with commercial driver’s licenses are in high demand in the private sector, and many school bus drivers have been lured off their routes with offers of higher wages and better benefits. That’s why school districts have been having had a hard time finding and retaining bus drivers.

In some school districts across the nation, bus drivers have been running two separate routes each day, even when it means bringing children to school late or getting them home late.

“The big benefit of being in ministry and having a bus route is that you get to know the kids and their families,” said Alan Pacheco, a retired teacher who leads the Brown Bridge Ministry Center in north Georgia. “It allows you to build strong relationships with the kids and their families.”

Jackson said Baptist ministers are careful to remain within school district policy, which means not forcing their Christian beliefs on children who ride their buses.

“The key is to just be the person they can talk to,” he said. “Sometimes that’s just what they need to make their day a little better.”

Richardson said he would encourage church leaders across the state and nation to sign on as school bus drivers so they can be a help to children.

“For us, it’s a God thing,” he said. “It’s a door that God has opened up. It allows us to build trusting relationships with the children and their families, and some do end up coming to church even without us pushing it on them.”

“The kids pick up that you’re different just by the way you carry yourself, just by behaving as Christian,” he said.

Holly Creek Senior Pastor Danny Cochran said he's pleased people from his church have stepped into crucial roles in the school district.

"I can tell you their primary motivation for doing this isn’t grocery money," Cochran said. "Their primary motivation in this is to help children and to be connected in the community."