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Guide in a Continuously Shifting Culture

Draw Bigger Circles, Take Risks, Love Wildly, Share Generously, and Embrace Opportunity

Central Baptist Bearden copyThree years. 1,095 days. That’s how long I’ve been the Senior Pastor at Central Baptist Bearden, and I’m overwhelmed by two emotions: humility and pride. Humility because I’m so appreciative they called and trusted me to be their friend, teacher, preacher, family member, and fellow traveler on such an important journey. Pride, dangerous as that emotion is, because of this congregation’s overwhelming capacity to draw bigger circles, take risks, love wildly, share generously, and embrace opportunity.

For three years we have explored our congregation’s mission to “Know” Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to “Grow” as his disciples, and “Share” his love in word and deed. The church scene has shifted dramatically in the 21st century, and we assume that such changes will continue. Although some see such transitions as polarizing and divisive, we choose to see them as incredible opportunities.

I am often asked what I envision happening in the future. I think these three emphases should be our guide in a continuously shifting culture.

1. Unity and Diversity
We are a both/and kind of church, and that makes us unique, unusual, and, I think, quite Christian. I say yes to discussing, debating, talking, and learning from each other, and I say no to arguing, hating, vilifying, or demeaning each other – especially when we disagree.

I say yes to prioritizing our mission and purpose for existence, and I say no to allowing secondary issues, beliefs, or convictions to sidetrack us.

I say yes to the continuing support of our roots and traditions, but I say no to allowing politics, religious or secular, denominational or para-church, to divide us.

I say yes to a church that embraces the willingness of early Christians to cross ethnic, economic, social, cultural, and political barriers, but I say no to a church that looks too much alike, sounds too much alike, and does not reflect God’s wide creation.

I say yes to a community of faith united by love for Christ, committed to a lifestyle of service, and motivated by joy and hope, but I say no to a church energized by strife, stubbornness, self-centeredness, and a future that’s always looking backwards, longing for what was rather than the what-can-be.

I say yes to a church that moves with caution, prayer, and is always in step with its core values, but I say no to a church whose inactivity or fear of change resigns it to irrelevance, impotent to engage in its mission and left only with stories of once-filled halls and once-sung songs of praise.

2. Inward Care and Outward Dare
Opportunities require careful, constant, coarse corrections, or we will fail our mission. We must care for and nurture those who come to this place even as we find new, creative, meaningful avenues to reach those who will never walk through those doors. The biblical images of the Church as the body of Christ and the people of God embrace both our need and opportunity for “inward care and outward dare.”

I say yes to a church that cares deeply for those who join our fellowship and our journey with God, but I say no to a church that will not sacrificially engage its community.

I say yes to a church that educates its members and helps them process their inward faith with outward experiences, and I say no to a church that will not seek creative means to improve the lives of those whom they pass each Sunday as they drive to worship.

I say yes to putting the needs of others first, ranging from the basic needs for life, the desire for love and encouragement, and the need for worship, but I say no to defining the church, worship, or meaningful Bible study by my preferences, my background, my likes and dislikes, or my prejudices.

I say yes to lives characterized by prayer, meditation, and quietness in a world that continues to spin beyond our ability to control, but I say no to a spirituality that denies the needs of others, ignores the homeless and hungry, or hides behind comfortable piety.

3. Savior and Servant
We know that while Millennials, people born in the 1980s to early 2000s, “like” Jesus, they do not care for the church. They are suspicious of institutions that are too focused on its own life and future and too concerned about status quo instead of a willingness to engage in open discussion and frank dialogue.

The church does not exist for us or for itself. The church exists for the Kingdom of God and to bless others. We must share in word and deed, near and far, with those like us and those unlike us. Anything else is failure.

I say yes to a church that takes Jesus’ words and Jesus’ life seriously, valuing others over self, love over hate, service over power, and peace over conflict. I say no to a church that puts its needs before the needs of its neighbors, its institutional struggles over its mission, and its fear of failure over the possibilities for transformation.

I say yes to a budget and servants seeking to respond to needs we have overlooked, individuals we have forgotten, and those whom the world is reluctant to acknowledge. I say no to a budget and servants seeking only to serve ourselves, please our desires, and honor those who are already like us and may not really need us.

I say yes to a church that is generous in word and deed, bringing good news to broken lives, and I say no to programs that separate the spiritual needs of people from their holistic self, a separation Jesus was unwilling to recognize in his life or in his death.

I say yes to a church that embraces the tension of individual responsibility and the corporate life of community, but I say no to a church that abandons those who make mistakes, who flounder in their humanity, or have trouble trusting when they have been hurt so deeply.

Such authenticity requires effort, determination, and intentionality by all of us. I’m convinced, however, that it’s worth the struggle. Who knows what can happen in the next 1,095 days.

We welcome you to Central Bearden. You will be surprised at what you find.

Central Baptist Bearden
6300 Deane Hill Drive at Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN 37919

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