I am excited about the future of the church. While it seems to go against the grain of many national trends and predictions, I am noticing an emerging directional shift. In just one short week of normal pastoral ministry, these real-life examples offer a hint of something else awakening across our country.
- A conversation with a young college student studying Greek and Latin who becomes animated when speaking of his personal revival of faith while reading Rudolf Bultmann.
- A recent visit to a small-town Baptist church with a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship commitment that is experiencing a bumper crop of babies in strong, active and involved young families.
- A young single mother who realized her valium addiction was a dead-end street and seeks the help of God in beginning a new relationship through the grace and promise offered by the Lord Jesus Christ to become a better mother and person.
- A young couple, he from a Jehovah’s Witness/Baptist background, she out of a Pentecostal/Episcopalian background, seeking to get married and figuring out an integration and a solid foundation for future expressions of authentic Christian faith.
- A soon-to-be retiree whose eyes light up when he talks about his excitement about the community garden and his volunteering to go with the youth on their summer mission trip.
- A young couple with a child involved in our child care center who take the initiative, saying they want to join the church and be involved, realizing the importance it has for their lives.
- A group of women in their 60s who have been friends for decades through many accomplishments and transitions—including serving in church leadership positions elsewhere—discovering new possibilities for their participation in a Christian community of faith.
- A conversation with a Presbyterian pastor under age 30 about her willingness to be a mentor for young Baptist women seeking preaching experience.
- And a group of five seminary students in my Benediction class at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky who articulate a love for the church and an enthusiasm to offer their gifts in service to the church for the future.
Yes, these examples buck the trend, especially this last one, but are they “for real?”
Could something new really be emerging? I’m enough of a scientist to realize that these examples are mere anomalies unless proved repeatable across other places and times. What I know are my experiences, and these types of things appear to be happening with greater frequency each week.
Connecting these folks are common themes: a desire for authentic experiences of permanence and transcendence, a revival of social consciousness and concern for the other, a repudiation of American waste and excess, a hunger to integrate faith with a more rigorous and sensible approach to openness and diversity, a commitment for the church to embrace a “Jesus-style” concern for the poor and disadvantaged, a hope for a community where everybody is accepted and important, and a fellowship that seeks forgiveness and unity more than power and control.
There is a great future for this type of church, a community that values holding hands more than pointing fingers, people who embrace sincere questions more than pat answers, who aren’t afraid to engage their neighbors and friends with dialogue and service without prior assumptions of how they are superior.
This is the new kingdom, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.
Mark Johnson is senior minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.
Mark Johnson is senior pastor of Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky.