The last month or so of my life, a lot of my attention has been grabbed by the fact that my family bought a house, put the one in which we’d lived for more than 15-and-a-half years on the market, and moved into the new one.
It was an in-town move, but with four kids, two dogs, and a cat, it wasn’t a simple one. Utilities and such have to be switched over. We had to make sure Christmas presents didn’t get lost. I wore shorts on New Year’s Eve not because I’m one of those guys who do that, but because all my pants were either dirty or at the old house, and I’d just changed out of my last clean pair after giving the dog a bath because she either rolled around in mud or … something else.
In the moments when the pace lessened a bit, I couldn’t help but reflect at least some. One day this week I went back to our previous home to get some leftover items. Walking through the empty rooms, I watched in my mind again having teatime with our now-17-year-old. I remembered bringing my other three children through those doors for the first time. I recalled birthday parties, family gatherings, meals in the dining room, 15 Christmases of putting up the tree and decorations.
I’ll admit it; I got emotional about it all. At that exact moment I get a text from my wife.
That was enough to bring the moment of reflection to an end. Back to reality.
The new year typically brings an air of excitement. We have our goals and it feels like a blank slate. We’re going to get healthier in all kinds of way – spiritually, physically, and relationally. We make promises to watch less TV and read more. Hope usually is in the air. That hangs around for a few weeks before the gyms begin to thin out again.
Like many years, 2020 began with hope. That hope and the goals for it to be a good year are still there. But it feels there’s also a heavy sense of what 2020 could devolve into, distractions and divisions that can keep us from our mission. The list can be much longer, but there are three areas I feel will greatly impact how 2020 progresses for Georgia Baptists and Southern Baptists as a whole.
Changes in state conventions
Yes, this one is close to home through the ongoing restructuring of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. And since I see those changes and the groundwork for the advances in sharing the Gospel they can bring, it’s the one that jumps out at me first.
A year ago, Georgia Baptists began a process that is far from over. Decentralizing the state Mission Board staff and placing those missionaries closer to the churches should make resources more readily available. Meanwhile, new staff brought on board in both full-time and part-time positions throughout the state are reflecting Georgia’s growing diversity in not only ethnicity but younger pastors answering the call to minister here.
Speaking of pastors, more steps to support their ministry can only help. That calling has become as tough as we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Last year listening sessions brought an initial dose of feedback. I attended several and often that feedback got serious. I expect pastors to be just as forthright at similar listening sessions slated to begin later this month (story coming) centered around health and wellness.
I’m excited about Mission Georgia and how it can help the state in five focus areas: human trafficking, pre/post-natal care, literacy, refugees and internationals, and foster care and adoption. Baptists are often criticized for what we’re against. In most cases there’s little we can do about that. But work in areas such as those on the Mission Georgia platform and being light gathers us an audience for the Gospel that compels us to do such things.
The ongoing response to sexual abuse in the SBC
It’s human nature for us to lose steam, and thereby focus, on a subject. But the ramifications of a history of sexual abuse in the SBC aren’t going away. Therefore, the ongoing response to it isn’t either.
The Caring Well conference held in October can’t be seen as having talked through the issue and now it’s time to move on. Susan Codone, a member of Ingleside Baptist Church in Macon and a professor at Mercer University, shared of her own experience as an abuse survivor.
“[M]y faith has fluctuated over the years, and my service to [God] has been interrupted by my inability to trust Him completely and to trust the church completely,” she said. “The church must do a better job of being a place of healing and refuge.”
Hear those words. We talk a lot about reaching the next generation. That generation is gauging our actions as Baptists and commitment to root out sexual abuse in our churches, doing everything possible to prevent it. They’re comparing those actions with our talk to see if the two match.
In those aforementioned listening sessions a year ago, this was the subject pastors most expressed they’d like the Georgia Baptist Mission Board to avoid. However, politics has an unavoidable impact on all of us. Georgia Baptists have always had a presence in state politics, for example, and will continue to do so. The Index will be there to cover it, as we always have.
On a larger scale, the 2020 presidential election certainly looks like it will be one of the most contested and divisive in my lifetime. Four years ago I made a similar statement. Both times I was right. My prayer is that we will remember our salvation isn’t found in politics, but Jesus. Let’s continue to pray for our elected leaders that they, too, will find that salvation if they haven’t already done so.
I also pray that hope continues further into 2020, because we’re going to need it. It will be important to cling to it and remember the common mission we have through the Gospel. That’s the reality check we need to guide us.
Scott Barkley serves as editor of The Christian Index.