A writer from a national religious publication called me last week to garner a few quotes for an article. She was interested in me describing the degree of “decline and devastation” (her words) our church was experiencing because of current cultural unrest. I asked her to elaborate on the particular cultural unrest to which she was referring. Her list was predictable: decline in the stock market, rise in interest rates, tentative nature of Roe v. Wade, gun violence, congressional hearings, gasoline prices, and of course, the pandemic. I asked why she had called me. She informed me First Baptist Greenville is the largest progressive Baptist church in South Carolina, we are annually among the top three mission donors to our mission affiliates, and she assumed “the bigger they are, they harder they fall.” (Again, her words.) “The trend,” she said, “is decline and devastation in many churches.” I responded, “We don’t follow trends at First Baptist.” It became a wonderful moment for me to bear witness to the power of the Holy Spirit and the ongoing work of the church.
Apparently, it is assumed that during the worst of times, people pull away from their faith community. If the stock market is down, then it’s assumed we give less. If political issues are divisive, it’s assumed we avoid each other. If gasoline prices are high, it’s assumed we don’t drive to worship. This could not/should not be further from the truth of Christian faith or of our particular experience at First Baptist. When life gets hard, when resources are limited, and when despair seems to gain the upper hand on hope, that’s when the church doubles down. We pray more, give more, gather more, talk more and invest more of our time in matters of the heart and spirit. The church, empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, exists to serve, lead and model the kingdom of God during the worst of times. I assured my inquisitor that First Baptist Greenville is strong, healthy and committed, and we will fill the pews, meet our budget, support our partners, fund our missions, teach our children, and perform our ministries as we have every other year. Our work is not devastated by our cultural context. Rather, we seek to provide hope amid devastation.
The profile I presented did not fit the angle of her article. I was informed my quotes would probably not appear in the article. I thought to myself, “That’s okay. I’ll write an article of my own.” And here you have it. I’ll see you Sunday.