At the Baptist General Association of Virginia annual meeting in Roanoke this year, five FBC members, myself included, got to learn from other Baptists across the Commonwealth about how God is renewing churches – and how we too might be a part of that. We learned about how even small steps can help a church change its trajectory and begin to grow and serve dynamically again. We heard from inspiring speakers about how we can plug in to these kinds of ministries by partnering with others.
One of my favorite gatherings was on Tuesday night, when New Testament professor and keynote speaker Scot McKnight talked to the gathered worshipers about how churches need to be places of true goodness – not places where people feel emotionally (or physically!) unsafe. We need to be places where younger generations feel free to be authentically themselves, not a place they feel cynical about. It’s easy to be cynical in an age where churches are so behind they are becoming irrelevant to the world around them. And it’s even easier to feel unsafe when more and more we see churches and church leadership failing some of the most vulnerable as it relates to sexual abuse.
Churches can renew when they remember that the Kingdom of God should be a place and a people of trust. That means we are a place where little ones, teenagers, parents, and older adults all feel safe to come and share their lives. And Dr. McKnight had some ideas about how we can go about doing that:
- Remember that church is about people. Not just about numbers of people, but the messy, beautiful full lives of people. Leadership in church must begin with love for their people. Caring for one another and discipling one another to be more like Jesus should be our focus.
- Church needs to work on formation. We are to “hold fast” to God and be committed to knowing God deeply. We are not just sharing information about Christ, but we should be emulating Christ. He called this “Christo-formity” – being formed into the image of Christ.
- Church is full of priests. We are all temple-like priests to people in this world (a very Baptist understanding of the priesthood the believer!). People should come to us as Christians, trusting that they can share their burdens with us and find healing. We are also “mobile temples” (Romans 12-13). We need to be a place for people to bring their whole selves to the feet of Christ. We need to be that bridge between the hurting world and the wholeness of Christ.
God’s renewing presence is already here, and we simply must tap into it and share it in our own way as the people of the Kingdom of God known as First Baptist Church of Martinsville. As we think through how that Spirit might infuse our work in this world, I hope we consider how important it is that we always be a safe place for all people, providing a connection to a God who loves us all unconditionally and provides grace so freely.