I saw the future on Tuesday.
I was teaching eleven future pastors in my Pastoral Theology class at SEU Concord. They were totally engaged as we talked about the challenges of doing ministry in a culture that is rapidly changing. I said to them, “Ministry has to change. Engaging our culture with the gospel has to find new expressions. You are the ones that are going to lead us into that new reality.” I think they actually believed me, and I could see the curiosity and excitement in their eyes.
I saw the future on Wednesday.
I was sitting at the on-campus restaurant at Southeastern University with Kaylee, Elissa, and Kevin. Three students with a passion to see a multi-cultural expression of oneness on the campus of our university and in our culture. I asked them to describe to me their experiences and what they were sensing for the future. The conversation started slowly with reserved answers and unsure statements. However, the more we talked I could see their confidence grow. They simply needed someone to listen to them and remind them that they have a voice and a perspective that is valid and needed. We talked about speaking truth in love and delivering important messages of equity to people in positions of power. The uncertainty and reservations became full-voice statements of what our world could be if we love each other well and see each other as one in the body of Christ.
I saw the future on Thursday.
The chapel at Southeastern University was absolutely bursting with energy. 500 students filled began to spontaneously sing the chorus to a song that had just finished. “Holy Spirit, we need a fresh outpouring.” Over and over again… the students passionately sang this out until the band joined in and the entire community sang with full voice. I looked around the room and saw asian, black, latino, white, and Caribbean students singing the same song. I saw a brief glimpse of the Revelation 7 chorus that describes every nation and every tongue joining together to give glory to God. Tori Hammer, the campus pastor posted a story on Instagram that summed up the moment so well. She said, “This is revival.”
I saw the future in 1997.
I was a freshman at Southeastern University singing a similar song in the same chapel. I had no idea what God would do in and through my life, but I learned how to sing a song with others that pointed me to God. I distinctly remember moments in Bush Chapel where I would envision a future in which I was doing ministry full-time with my future wife and children. I couldn’t see what the future would hold, but I remember the hope that filled my heart every time I closed my eyes and envisioned what was ahead. Twenty-two years sure goes by fast. God has been so faithful and he’s done so much more than I could have ever asked or imagined in and through my life. I genuinely believe that there’s plenty more to come in my ministry and I love closing my eyes and imagining what that future may look like. I know Dara, Max, Mary, Jack, and Ben are with me in that future and I am overjoyed to have them by my side.
One of my students, Harrison, shot me a text message after class last Tuesday. He said, “I appreciate your voice and influence in my life. God is using you as a huge blessing to the next generation.” This text hit me differently than he intended… not in a bad way. It was good. I was encouraged, but for almost two decades in full-time ministry, I’ve been looked at as the young buck in most ministry settings. It hit me that the students that I’m now teaching have now and next as we envision a future of sharing the beauty of the gospel. That text meant a lot to me. First, it hit me that I need to make sure that I’m investing everything I possibly can into the generations that will follow me in ministry. God has been so faithful to me and my family. Second, the gratitude in that message gave me so much hope for our future. There is a remnant of young men and women that are being raised up to lead all of us into the new realities that will be present in our future.
Harrison, Elissa, Kaylee, Kevin, Elaina, Matt, Reuben, Michael, Hannah, Quincy, Easton, Caitlyn, Wesley, Uchenna, Joey, Mikayla, and Eric… you have now and next as we envision the future and all that God will do in and through us. Stay close to Jesus and always remember that when you remain close to Him he promises to be with you. When you stray away from Him, it’s like a fruit-bearing tree that’s been uprooted. Always remain rooted in Him and he will faithfully produce enough fruit for you, your future family, and those that fill your world. God is faithful and he has called and empowered you to be the ones that re-imagine new methods in ministry that will continue to advance the peaceable and beautiful Kingdom of God.
Now and next. I can see the future in your eyes.