Yesterday, at First Baptist Church of Greensboro, I shared these reflections on the theme of “journey,” as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina celebrated 25 years:
We are on a journey from birth to death to life, from the home we’ve known to the home for which we yearn, and from fear to love.
We are pilgrims on the road with Jesus, on the way that is Jesus, with the destination of our being like Jesus.
As we celebrate 2½ decades of CBF’s mission and ministry, let’s remember that Christianity’s earliest name was simply, “the Way.” It was about seeking more than settling, adventuring more than arriving. A path, not a program; a movement, not an institution.
I’ve not always remembered because path and program, movement and institution, Spirit and structure are not either/ors—not finally separate from each other. Vision requires strategy. Mission costs money. Passion needs practices. I’ve tended to these things, because the word must become flesh. Even the new wine needs wineskins—just not the old ones.
But, we lose energy and joy for ministry when we forget the purpose of it all. Programs should be guides to the path and preparation for the ongoing pilgrimage. Money must always be a means, never an end, a resource and not a goal. Visions sometimes need revision. Structure ought always to bend to the Spirit. Institutions are made for movements, not movements for institutions.
Remember: it’s about Jesus and the journey.
When I was eight years old, I ran away from home, because, for reasons that don’t matter now, it wasn’t home to me. I packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a brown paper sack, made sure I had my pocket knife, took a book of matches from the junk drawer in the kitchen, slammed the back door as hard as I could, and ran into the woods near our house. I hadn’t gone far when I climbed a tree, ate my sandwich, and cried. I didn’t want to be home because it wasn’t home, but I lacked the skill and courage to keep going. I was stuck between leaving and moving on.
Twenty five or so years ago, many moderate—and, now, mostly older—Baptists left a denominational home that wasn’t home anymore. We didn’t all leave for the same reasons. Some left because they were angry not to be in charge anymore. Some, especially women, left because, even though they did most of the housework, they never got seats at the table. Some left because they were told that, like unruly children, they should learn to be seen but not heard: Your dreams for justice and peace, for equality and freedom, are too disruptive.
Among those who left are people who didn’t get very far. They climbed a tree not far from the house and got stuck. And, even though it has been a long time now, the lyric they mostly sing is “You’d cry, too, if it happened to you.” If you’re among the stuck—there have been times when I have been—I invite you to climb down and move on.
Let’s also bless and celebrate the leadership and gifts of people who never lived in that old house, or who barely remember it, or who had the courage to keep moving. I’m especially grateful for the younger leaders among us; to them I say: “Go ahead; show us the way. Don’t wait on us. I’m glad to follow you.”
Historian Dayton Duncan called the explorations of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery “the original road trip.” He also said: “’We proceeded on’” is the most recurrent phrase in the journals of the Lewis and Clark expeditions.” It appears in the diaries and letters of many of the officers who took that remarkable adventure. “We proceeded on” was their “motto, a mantra that kept them going in the face of every obstacle”
It’s about Jesus and the journey. Proceed on.
As we do, let’s travel like the Good Samaritan, with our eyes focused, our ears tuned, and our hearts open to the side of the road where the culture, and, too often, churches have beaten people and abandoned them, wounded and bleeding, to the ditch of indignity. There are so many thugs and thieves: patriarchy, toxic masculinity, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, poverty, addiction, elitism, legalism, literalism, traditionalism, shame, guilt, and despair. We forfeit our identity as authentic Jesus-followers if we pass by the battered and bereft.
It’s about Jesus, the journey, and our sisters and brothers on the side of the road.
We are trav’lers on a journey/Fellow pilgrims on the road;
We are here to help each other/Walk the mile and bear the load.