January 5, 2022
In a recent podcast interview, the host asked me a question that sounded something like, “Dave, you’ve seen and experienced the church from a variety of leadership perspectives. What concerns do you have about the church today?” Unfortunately, my first thought was pretty cynical. Maybe it’s because of all the wrangling that seems to distract the church from her primary mission these days, or worse, my complicity in it.
Though I don’t exactly recall my full answer, I remember pausing ever so briefly to reflect on my internal dialog. When I did, I found my heart sitting with unexpected hope – and not because the memories of this past year have all been positive. While flashing through past conversations, meetings, texts, Facebook posts, pandemic debates, racist rants, and theological bantering, I found an authentic trickle that had grown into a stream of hope. In genuine soul reflection, I found the presence of Christ, who was constantly wooing me to come, even when I am struggling to truly trust and fully rest in God.
As I later thought about it, I realized that a big part of the hope that was growing in me for the church was in many ways related to my first year of teaching full-time at NTS. No question, amid all the challenges, God used students to stir something fresh and faithful in me as I drew from those I encountered on the journey of living out their call. For bi-vocational ministers, there is hope because they find that God provides in various ways. For pastors leading through division and abandonment, I hear hope. Because of their faithfulness, God is proving faithful to them in ways I had not imagined. From those leading change in post-Christian culture, I hear hope-filled pastors finding fresh ways to bring the never-changing Gospel to their ever-changing world. From marketplace missionaries, I hear renewed vision and purpose in their calling. In the “voices” of ecclesial district leaders, I see hope expressed in the creative ways they are leading in their areas of responsibility.
I am not so naïve as to believe that everyone is joining me in holding out hope for the current struggles of the church. It may be that some things will yet need to die for resurrection life to come about. Admittedly, I have days when I pause at the door of positivity as the trials of vocational ministry grab my attention. Yet, in this season of Epiphany, I am choosing to join the Magi in taking an unexpected and less traveled route, one that goes from places of encounter with Christ and others, and sends me out to share the story of the hope found in Christ. Join me.
Dr. David Sharpes
Associate Professor of Christian Ministry
Smith/Cooper Chair in Evangelism and Christian Witness