Note: This past weekend, we celebrated the 125th anniversary of First Baptist Church in Conroe. My deep and sincere thanks go out to the members of the steering committee who worked for months to make this event happen, to the donors who made it possible, the community leaders who were gracious enough to attend, and all the members of FBC. At the banquet Saturday night, I had the opportunity to speak briefly on the future at FBC.
This has been such a great day. It’s been so good to spend time in the presence of our community leaders, to meet members of our church family that have since moved away, and to eat good food and hear wonderful music. I am honored to be the pastor of this church, and to follow in the footsteps of men like Cliff Herrington and Rusty Walton. I am privileged to work alongside the men and women of First Baptist, including our amazingly gifted, dedicated staff. And it’s been great to listen to the stories of what God has done for this church over 125 years. I think it’s always good for us to remember what God has done. If you’ve never written down your testimony, including all the big signposts that God used to get you from where to started to where you are now, you’re doing yourself and all your loved ones a disservice. So this has been great. But, for just a few minutes, I get to talk about the future now.
Jerry Clower tells the story of a guy in his hometown of Yazoo City, Mississippi who looked up into the sky just after a skywriter had written “Pepsi Cola” in the heavens. The plane was gone, and Jerry’s friend happened to be illiterate; he ran through the streets of Yazoo, screaming, “It’s Judgment! God done wrote it in the sky!” I have to be careful when I talk about the future. Better and more esteemed preachers than I have made absolute fools of themselves by trying to read the signs and predict what God is going to do. If I’m not careful, I could end up as misguided as that poor redneck from Yazoo City. And that’s not the kind of leadership this church needs.
So I’m not going to talk about what I think will happen in the years to come. I’m going to talk about what I know about the future. I base my comments on the way the Lord has worked in the past, right here in Conroe and further back, in the Scriptures.
God won’t change, so we’d better not stray from the Gospel. Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. God is the one thing on Earth that doesn’t need to change. He is perfect as He is. The same Gospel that changed Saul of Tarsus from a Christ-hating persecutor of the church, the same Gospel that turned the Roman world upside down, is the Gospel that Conroe, Montgomery County, the United States and the world need today. It would be a huge mistake for us to try to make ourselves seem hip and relevant. God has never been irrelevant. It would be a waste of resources for us to focus on being a lobbying arm of some political party or ideology. Jesus is the King of Kings, and His agenda is the only one we should care about. We will make some mistakes in the future, I’m sure, but if we continue preaching that God loves every person in our community so much that He’d rather die for them than spend eternity without them, and that Jesus Christ is the Savior they’ve been looking for, we can’t go wrong.
The world will change, so we’d better be ready to adapt. God doesn’t change, but the world does. I was a teenager when the Back to the Future movies came out, and they speculated that in 2015, we’d be driving flying cars, scooting around town on hoverboards and wearing self-drying clothes. It also said the Cubs would win the World Series. 2015 has come and gone and none of those things came true, but think about the stuff that has happened: For just one example, I carry in my pocket a device that enables me to keep track of my calendar, check email, take pictures, figure out how far I’ve run when I go jogging, listen to any song ever recorded, download and read any book ever published, and watch my favorite TV shows and sporting events, along with posting my thoughts and pictures on social media for the whole world to see. Oh yeah, I can also make phone calls on it. I don’t know anyone who predicted the smartphone. And that’s just one of thousands of changes we didn’t foresee.
The Gospel hasn’t changed but society has. We need to recognize that the way we reach society with the unchanging Gospel needs to constantly be reevaluated and revamped. Outreach used to be easy: Send out teams to visit people door to door and share a canned Gospel presentation. Then in the Spring or Summer, bring in a hot shot evangelist and hold a week or more of revival meetings. Today, most people won’t open their doors to unexpected visitors. And most unchurched people wouldn’t come to a revival meeting if you paid them. The way we reach people has changed; Now, it seems most likely to happen through personal relationships with their Christian neighbors and co-workers, and through practical ministry, like mentoring at-risk students or helping people break addictions. We don’t know yet what it will take to reach people ten years from now, but it will probably change again.
Here’s what I do know: The Bible is a history of God’s relationship to His people, from Adam and Eve to the apostolic church. As you read it, you see that God constantly had to drag His people where they didn’t want to go. The Israelites wanted to stay in Egypt in slavery rather than go to the Promised Land. The Religious leaders of Israel didn’t want Jesus to be the Messiah. The Disciples didn’t want to believe Saul of Tarsus had really been converted. Jewish Christians didn’t want to worship alongside Gentiles. We need to recognize that we’re no different. We want things to stay the same, but they never do. And God is constantly on the move. As Henry Blackaby says, “You can’t stay where you are and go with God.” So whatever the future holds for us, we need to be willing to constantly reevaluate what we’re doing, and think of new, better ways to get it done. Otherwise, God will find some other congregation that is less stuck in the mud through which to reach the people of Conroe.
Following Him will require faith, courage and sacrifice…but it will be worth it. Reading the stories of the men and women who most faithfully followed Jesus is sobering. None of them got rich or lived what we would call comfortable lives. Many of them died in His name. But they changed the world forever. Every church has a decision to make in regard to its future. If they want to follow Jesus into the future, they will need faith enough to make decisions they know will be difficult in the short term. They need courage enough to stick by those decisions even when some people in the congregation say, “We liked it a whole lot better back in Egypt…” And they need to be willing to sacrifice their own comfort and preferences for the sake of others. Most churches, sad to say, choose not to follow that path. They choose instead to stay the same, remembering the good old days and hoping that somehow, they’ll reappear. But think of what will happen if we follow the path of true discipleship and become a church that cares more about the people outside our stained glass windows than we do about ourselves…think about the positive change right here in the heart of Conroe. Think about the joy we will feel as we do God’s true work together. Think about the families that will be transformed and the souls who will have a very different eternity because we choose to be the church, not a religious history society. And think about someday hearing our Lord say, “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”
I don’t know the future, but I know who wins in the end. And God’s grace means that even if we are content to rest on our laurels and never become the church God wants us to be, we will still spend forever in His presence. His grace is enough to cover our lack of faith and shortsightedness. But I want something better, something far more glorious for us. I want to see us be the kind of church First Baptist has been in the past, a church that says, “Whatever it takes to advance God’s Kingdom and reach the people of this city, we’ll do it.” How about you?