It would be presumptuous for me to speak for all young Baptists. I am, however, the product of Baptist parents, a historically Baptist university and (soon) a Baptist divinity school. This foundation has shaped me as a Christian and will undoubtedly influence my life journey.
So as one millennial, I can say that my friends and I are interested in how we can live now and how we can move forward in our faith. What does that mean and how should it look? Let me suggest at least five emerging realities that will shape the millennial Baptist faith.
First, we are working to create a church life that is ministry-based and not program structured. Sunday school at 10 a.m. is just not cutting it for us! We value and enjoy opening God’s Word and discussing it in light of our life, but we prefer to do that sitting in someone’s living room or at a coffee shop with a latté.
Second, social responsibility is more important to us than a salary or a career. Virtually all of my peers have either held unpaid internships or applied for opportunities like the Peace Corps, Teach for America, AmeriCorps and others.
Social commentators like to call my generation too hopeful and too idealistic. We wear these labels as badges of courage. We know that we can make a big difference by being deliberate in our day-to-day lives. For example, when I go to church, I notice if there are ceramic mugs for the coffee as opposed to Styrofoam.
At Wednesday night prayer meeting, I do not simply want to remember poor farmers in the two-thirds world; I want to support them by buying fair-trade coffee. I was a part of a Sunday school class that volunteered at the soup kitchen one Sunday morning per month. My friends and I thrive on this kind of hands-on activity not just because it makes us feel good but because we take seriously the example of Jesus’ life.
Third, millennials thrive on meaningful creativity. My church began hosting a Saturday morning farmers market on the lawn. We sell locally grown produce, fresh bread, coffees, homemade jams and other goods.
People in the neighborhood come out regularly. They bring their kids; they get to know the vendors. What a wonderful ministry tool. Even if the church doesn’t bring in hundreds of new members, it has shown the community that it cares about the environment enough to support local agriculture and that it cares about the community enough to host the event.
Fourth, for young moderate Baptists, the controversies that arose within the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 20th century are written history not lived history. We can read about the inerrancy controversy or the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message in textbooks. We realize that many Baptists were hurt during those times, but we want to file away denominational disputes as lessons learned and advance God’s kingdom today.
Finally, we live in a more tolerant world of social, sexual, ethnic and religious acceptance. Ecumenical relationships and cooperation between denominations is a given. We shake our heads at the phobias of our parents and grandparents when it comes to envisioning a faith that keeps people out of church instead of inviting all to come and see who Jesus is.
The old phrase of the evangelist that “I catch ’em and God cleans ’em!” is true, at least for the cleaning part. We are more likely to say, “Come and see what we are doing and see if you like what we believe.”
My hope is that these realities will continue to shape Baptist churches and provide a foundation to support my peers and me as we pursue Jesus’ call to love God and neighbor.
Andi Thomas Sullivan is a third-year student at McAfee School of Theology and co-founder of a nonprofit devoted to fighting malaria by distributing insecticide-treated mosquito nets. This article was reprinted from Baptist Heritage Council of Georgia.