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Story by Karen Grizzard. Photos by Steve Booth and Polly Hamel.

“Each of you should use whatever gifts you have received to serve others,
as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms”  (1 Peter 4:10).

“You’ve got mail.” My inbox contained a letter from Senior Pastor Jim Somerville. It got my attention! “I am excited to offer you a unique opportunity,” the letter began. As I continued to read, I learned I had been nominated for the 2017 Legacy of Leadership class. This program, now in its fourth year, is designed to develop emerging and maturing leaders at First Baptist Church in a structured and engaging manner during six Saturdays, beginning in January and ending in March. Participants experience a variety of readings, presentations, exercises and community service projects. These guide them through a discernment and spiritual transformation process to discover their unique gifts and places of ministry in the church and the community. Each Saturday, participants gather for a full day of worship and presentations by church staff, lay leaders and graduates of the program.

I enthusiastically accepted Dr. Somerville’s invitation and joined 17 fellow church members. The 2017 class was led by Bucky Neal, facilitators Ruth Anne Walker and Jim Mairs (all program graduates), and staff liaisons Steve Booth and Brett Holmes. Prior to session one, participants completed a spiritual gifts inventory and read two books by Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups and Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation. These resources were the basis of our discussion throughout the sessions.

Session one, held at Roslyn Conference Center, began with a study of the Enneagram – a model of human personality that looks at nine interconnected personality types. Subsequent presentations included personal and corporate discernment, personal integrity and faithful living, FBC organization and governance, mentoring, honoring the body, and managing conflict and facing changes. A panel of church leaders and volunteers discussed a variety of ministry programs and opportunities. There was an especially meaningful time with Virginia Supreme Court Justice Bill Mims on servant leadership.

Legacy of Leadership groupSpiritual practices—tools to become keenly aware of God within the normalcy of life—were emphasized and discussed at length. Presenters challenged and inspired participants to focus on prayer, the Word and the presence of the Spirit. Participants used these tools to cultivate a “Rule of Life”—practices, behaviors and attitudes to see, hear and live fully in the presence of God in the ordinariness of everyday. Think solitude and silence, self-examination and confession, and keeping the Sabbath, to name a few.

At the final session, participants shared their Rule of Life and personal plan of ministry, received Communion and were commissioned by Lynn Turner. Dr. Somerville offered his sincere gratitude to the participants for their time and commitment.

Lagacy of Leadership certificateEighteen newly-commissioned FBC leaders have begun their ministry plans. A women’s Bible and support group will begin in a participant’s home to honor the support she found in Divorce Recovery. She wrote, “It made me want to share with others going through any type of relationship loss that there is hope.” Another participant is forming a men’s Bible study group and said, “The goal is to meet twice a month and to study one book of the Bible at a time.” My personal plan will involve working with the homeless ministry and budget committee.

Because many expressed an interest in following Jesus’ habit of slipping “away to be alone so He could pray” (Luke 5:16), a fall retreat at Richmond Hill is planned. Those attending will review their Rule of Life and their personal plan of ministry, as well as renew friendships made during the 2017 Legacy of Leadership program.

According to Steve Booth, “the Legacy Course is ever evolving, being further enhanced and improved by each new leadership team and ideas offered by the participants themselves in the evaluations.”

Legacy of Leadership groupAuthor’s note – 2017 Legacy of Leadership participants: Sarah Amick AlZubi, Jon Buckbee, David Carter, Maron El-Khouri, Claudia Harris, George and Cathy Lee, Leigh McCullar, Tom Osborne, Mark and Sharon Potts, Karen Riggs, Joe Ritter, Melody Roane, Stephen Tyndall, Jeannie Welliver, and Betty Zacharias. Nominations for the 2018 Legacy of Leadership class will be accepted in early fall, following notice in First Family News and the Sunday bulletin.


Karen GrizzardKaren Wood Grizzard is from the Shenandoah Valley and graduated from James Madison University. She works as a Business Supervisor in the Henrico County Attorney’s Office. Karen serves on the Henrico Area Mental Health and Developmental Services Board and the Board of Directors of the Virginia Association of Community Services Boards.

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Story by Mark Larson. Photos by Susan Brown, Ann Carter and Win Grant.

calloutRecently, I’ve been asking people what comes to their minds when hearing the word “movement.” The first response is almost always an object in motion or a change in locations. Some will even wiggle about to illustrate the point. When I ask again but put “movement” in the context of a group working towards a common vision, the response is usually something huge and historic—struggles of the suffragettes or the 1960s fight for civil rights.

We as a church discerned the 2020 Vision to be God’s will for us. As the Implementation Teams create plans and activities to fulfill that vision, they consider how their work can become a movement to change us and change our city. How are we trying to accomplish that? Here are a few examples.

2020 Vision becomes a movement.Some groups like the Marriage Enrichment Team dove right in, building on efforts started last year. They created a Facebook page, Us First, to share articles and inspiration. In the spring, the team presented a series of Sunday morning programs on family relationships and on Sunday, July 30, will sponsor another program during the Bible study hour. This group’s vision is for Richmond’s First Baptist Church to become as well known for marriage enrichment as we are for divorce recovery.

2020 Vision becomes a movement.In one of our 2016 town hall meetings, Bill Wilson reminded us that First Baptist is already doing many things quite well but we want to build on that success. Our outreach to local schools is one example. Working with Glen Lea Elementary School in recent years helped us realize that our church could make a lasting impact on children. With that goal in mind, the School Implementation Team reached out to Albert Hill Middle, the closest school to our church. The school’s principal was excited about the possibility of a partnership and also connected us with her counterpart at John B. Cary Elementary. This spring before school ended, the team provided lunch to teachers and staff during teacher appreciation week and returned to assist teachers in the pack-up and clean-up of their classrooms—a great, personal way to get the partnership started. Going forward, the effort will be finding mentors to connect with children—to commit to nurturing, ongoing relationships through the lunch buddy program and tutoring for those students needing help with homework or reading and math skills.

2020 Vision becomes a movement.Sometimes a team recognizes its mission is not exactly what they first thought. The team connecting to the neighborhoods around our church started envisioning many activities that could be created for our neighbors. Wanting to do something right away, they gave out 400 bottles of water and Koozies® to spectators at the spring 10K race. The Koozies, which referenced mission work done by our church, helped this team realize that their real task might be less about creation and more about communication. FBC already has many great programs—we just need to let our neighbors know and invite their participation. To start that process, each team member will establish a relationship with one of the neighborhood associations. In addition, the team recognized that more than 500 non-member families regularly come into our church through Vacation Bible School, Weekday Preschool, Scouting, and Upward Basketball. To expand FBC’s connection with these families, the Neighborhood Team’s next goal is to personally invite each of these families to events like concerts and the outdoor movie series.

2020 Vision becomes a movement.September 10, ONE Sunday, is an important day at our church. During the Bible study hour, the church family will gather in Flamming Hall to fellowship and hear more stories from the 2020 teams. How will these stories transform into a movement that brings the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, that changes us and our city? The transformation depends on each of us connecting with the mission of one of these teams and getting involved. What will your part be in the movement?


Mark LarsonMark Larson serves as co-chair of the 2020 Vision and Oversight Teams. He is a deacon and teller, but most known for his long service as a preschool teacher and Scout leader. A recently-retired architect, Mark now volunteers as Council Commissioner for Central Virginia Scouting. He and Carrie were married at First Baptist 35 years ago.

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by Nancy Mairs

You may be aware of, or even participate in, one of the many communities here at First Baptist—Bible Study groups for all ages both on Sunday morning and Wednesday night; choir groups ranging from the very youngest to the senior adults known as the JoySingers; groups that meet specifically for prayer; or even the community of those who sit near you each week during the worship service and whom you have gotten to know as friends. The list is quite extensive. But did you know that there is a faithful part of our community that you most likely will never see? They are the Friends of First Baptist, or FOFB.

Friends of First Baptist
Since 1986, First Baptist has been a visible presence throughout the Richmond area, and beyond, through the weekly TV program at 11 a.m. Sundays on WRIC TV8. Through the years, thousands of viewers have tuned in each week, with a group of over 100 faithful viewers expressing a desire to have a deeper connection to First Baptist; many of them have come to view it as their church home. As a result Jim Somerville, senior pastor at First Baptist, initiated a way to reach out to these faithful viewers and take their involvement to a different level. He discussed this initiative with some church leaders and a new group was created—the Friends of First Baptist—so that those viewers who felt that First Baptist is their church home could have a deeper sense of being connected. In a video that aired at the end of the 11 a.m. televised service each Sunday for several months, Jim Somerville specifically addressed the Friends of First Baptist and welcomed any other viewers who hoped to learn more about First Baptist. This video continues to be aired periodically at the same time as a way to let our viewers know about the FOFB group.

Friends of First Baptist: A Faithful CommunityAs Jim puts it, “by forming the Friends of First Baptist group, we established a sense of community for those who join us through the weekly television broadcast. It helps give them an identity of belonging and feeling a connection on a more personal level.” Every week Jim receives cards and emails from television viewers saying they watch our televised worship service every Sunday, “and they want to feel a part of our church. If they decide to include their name and address, the deacons occasionally send notes to our new Friends, which helps to make them feel like First Baptist is their church. In 2016, the deacons and staff sent out over 150 cards and notes to our Friends.”

Some of the members of this community are dealing with illness or physical limitations, a few are incarcerated, and as one couple described themselves, some are just “ol’ geezers.” A few attend their “home” church before heading home in time to watch First Baptist on TV, and consider it to be their second home church. One of the Friends attended the Brownie troop, and later the Girl Scout troop, years ago at First Baptist, and still considers First Baptist to be her home church.

One poignant FOFB story came from a woman who cares for her sister’s developmentally disabled daughter and son. The mother of the children was overwhelmed by many unfortunate events in her life and was unable to care for her children. When the aunt became their guardian, she wanted to make sure that the two children were raised in the church. But once their home church closed and she became homebound, she discovered that First Baptist could become their home on Sundays. They watch the 11 a.m. service faithfully.

Another Friend, who just turned 103, was introduced to the television ministry through neighbors who were former missionaries. She has been involved in church her entire life and now is able to be a part of our church through the 11 a.m. service.

The common thread throughout the many varied stories is that people not only found the worship services to be a source of strength and inspiration; they also wanted to have a way to make their connection to First Baptist more permanent.  They wanted to feel like they belong to our community.  Friends of First Baptist is a wonderful way to give them the connection they long for, or as one person put it, “Thank you for inviting us to become Friends of First Baptist.”

If you would like to become a Friend of First Baptist just send us a card, letter  or email with your name, address and email address if you have one, and we’ll add you to our growing list of “Friends.”
Richmond’s First Baptist Church, attn: Friends of First Baptist, 2709 Monument Ave., Richmond, VA 23220

Watch Friends of First Baptist video

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Story by Ann Carter.

Reflecting God OnlineSocial media has a bad reputation these days as a place where political opinions and personal insults are hurled with a lack of respect and downright cruelty, where you are shouted at for posting what you think and where you can’t tell real news from fake news. Many people I know are taking a break from social media because they can’t stand the hate and the vitriol. And I can’t blame them. Some days I have a hard time reading my newsfeeds. But I won’t give it up. You see, I love social media. It is where I connect with friends I have made from every stage of my life and every place I have lived and traveled. It is where I find interesting newspaper articles and blogs and daily devotions. It is where I watch a giraffe waiting to give birth. It is absolutely the best on my birthday when I get literally hundreds of birthday wishes. What’s not to love? Oh yeah, the political posts. But you know what? I think social media has great value in our society today—even with the political posts. “Why?” you may ask. Because it is a place where community happens; a place where people of different views can show up in my news feed and get equal reading time; a place where we can be called to action as well as called to encourage or pray or comfort; a place where we can share our joys and our sorrows and be joined in our grief and celebrations.

Reflecting God Online

Ann Carter

In January 2016, I was asked to take over the social media accounts of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. I gladly said “yes” because I love being on social media. First of all, it gives me the perfect excuse to be on social media. You know, “I have to be on here for work!” But seriously, just about everyone else in the world has a voice in social media and the church needs one too.

What is the purpose of church social media platforms? I believe there are three main purposes. First of all, social media can inform our congregants about what is happening at church. Second, it can provide an avenue of invitation to our neighbors for events that may be of interest to them such as the Church Choir Concert, Upward Basketball or The Physician Within. Third, and I believe most importantly, it is a place where we are the presence of Christ.

I believe the church should be the voice of peace and justice and hope and love in our broken and polarized world. Many churches are just that for the people who come in their doors and sit in their pews. But what about people who don’t come into our buildings and sit in our pews? How are they going to hear words of hope in their times of despair? How are they going to feel the loving presence of God in a world filled with hateful, judgmental words? How are they going to experience peace in the midst of so much political and social conflict? How are they going to know a just God in an unjust world? And so as I administer our social media, I try to capture moments when our church reflects a God of hope and peace and love. I try to capture God at work in our world through the people of FBC. I try to invite people into the adventure of serving God with us. I try to highlight where God is at work in our world through people outside of Richmond’s First Baptist Church—good things are happening all around us if we only take the time to look!

But I don’t need to be the Social Media Associate for a church in order to do these things. I can do them through my own personal social media accounts.  I can be the voice of peace and justice and hope and love in my own world. I can give grace-filled answers to my friends who disagree with me. My social media accounts can reflect a God of peace and hope and love and a God at work in our world. And so can yours.

Meredith Gould, Ph.D., is a digital strategist for churches. In her book, The Social Media Gospel, she shows how our faith provides a framework for using social media. I want to highlight a few of her points:

“Believing in a gracious and merciful God calls us to be gracious and merciful during online interactions.”

She also says that “believing in Gospel teachings calls us to model what we believe while using social media by offering helpful information, providing comfort, sharing joy and engaging in conversations that build and unite, rather than tear down or divide the people of God.”

And in 2010, Gould created this contemporary take on Saint Teresa of Avila’s prayer, “Christ Has No Body”:

Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours,
Yours are the tweets through which love touches this world,
Yours are the posts through which the Gospel is shared,
You are the updates through which hope is revealed.
Christ has no online presence but yours,
No blog, no Facebook page but yours.

This is what guides me as I post both on the church’s social media and on my own. And I hope it can guide you as you evaluate your own social media presence. May our social media pages be used to touch the world with God’s love. Amen.


Here are a few of our most popular Facebook posts:

Reflecting God OnlineJune 19, 2016 – the youth leaving on their mission trips: Ahhhh… I love this image; the doors of our church flung open and all of us spilling out to go be the hands and feet of Christ wherever we find ourselves in our world.

Reflecting God OnlineJuly 14, 2016 – This picture was snapped in the pool in Helena, Arkansas where a team from Richmond’s First Baptist Church has been serving this week. I was immediately struck by the beauty and the power of this image – especially in light of the recent racial tension our nation is facing. Let this image inspire to us open our hands and our hearts, reaching toward one another in love, as we venture into the waters of reconciliation.

Reflecting God OnlineNov. 9, 2016 – A prayer for whatever it is you are feeling this post-election morning. And now…Church, let’s go be the presence of Christ wherever we find ourselves today. And tomorrow. And the day after that. And for all the days.

Reflecting God Online

April 16, 2017 – Christ is risen indeed! Hallelujah!

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Story by Mimi Bennett

Who would imagine that Deuteronomy 29:29 (The secret things belong to the Lord but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever…) could have been written as the vision statement of the FBC Scholarship Fund Team? Do you know who they are? Or what they do? It is an amazing and gratifying story.

calloutThe FBC Scholarship Fund has been in existence since the 1930s but the details of its inception have been lost to history. Yet, since that time, college bound FBC students have been awarded scholarships year in and year out. All the funds have come from FBC members, some unrestricted and some with specific stipulations. Carl Johnson, President of the Endowment Fund, which manages the investment of the scholarship funds, reports that they currently stand at about two million dollars. This comprises approximately 10% of the church’s total endowment. Each year an amount equivalent to 5% of the Scholarship Fund is awarded to students. In 2017, this will be a little more than $100,000.

FBC's Best Kept Secret

Chaired by Jim Markham, the dedicated members of this standing committee are Sue Atkins, Susan Hughes, Bart Dalton, Jim Norvelle, Martha Selden, and Richard Szucs. They have worked together for many years and annually review all applications submitted and determine the amount of each award.  Amounts vary according to a point system and are confidential, but virtually everyone receives something. As the team works through their process, they consider such things as active FBC involvement, church membership, GPA, family income, how many other college students may be in a family, and the applicant’s year in college. Extra points are awarded if the student will be a college freshman and bonus points are awarded to those who are in seminary. Students must submit an application annually to be considered for continuing funds.

The work of this ministry begins in mid-December when high school seniors are sent a letter inviting them to apply for a scholarship. In January, an informational meeting for students and their families is held to clarify the process and answer any questions. Information and deadlines are available on the FBC website under the Communities tab and are published in the Sunday bulletin and First Family News. Applications are submitted online and the deadline must be adhered to strictly. No application will be looked at that is submitted after the published deadline. This year that date is May 1.

The work of the FBC Scholarship Fund Team begins in earnest once the deadline passes. Through the spring, all the information is prayerfully and carefully reviewed and decisions reached by unanimous consent. Hope Cumbia is the lynchpin here. She assembles all the applications and organizes them for team members to use as they determine each scholarship. Once students are notified about their awards, Hope coordinates sending the checks directly to the individual colleges and schools. In the past 18 years, $1,400,000 has been awarded to 840 FBC students. This is a remarkable achievement.

FBC’s steadfast commitment to provide financial assistance toward the education of its students is not truly a secret. The Scholarship Fund Team, however, operates below the radar for many. Now that this ministry has been revealed to us all, it belongs to us all and to our children forever. The opportunity to contribute to the future is compelling.

Editor’s note: For more information contact Jim Markham (804-261-5527) or any other team member.

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Story by Jeannie Dortch. Photos by Jeannie Dortch and Sean Cook.

Author Alexandre Dumas immortalized three heroic musketeers who served their French king with unflagging devotion and courage. Currently First Baptist Church members are encountering three young men, all working in service to their King, the Lord Jesus. Unlike the musketeers, however, they work under different staff members and in unrelated capacities.

In Service to Our King

Brett Holmes, Scott Biggers and Justin Pierson

Justin Pierson, 24, is from Roanoke and a first-year student at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. As second cousin to Steve Blanchard’s wife, Susan, Justin lived with the Blanchards when first in Richmond. This led to conversations about part-time work in FBC’s Compassion Ministry. While earning his MDiv degree at BTSR, he spends 18 hours a week as a Compassion Assistant, reporting only to Steve. Operation Christmas Child and CARITAS have been two responsibilities, along with attendance at Grace Fellowship and weekly participation in FBC’s Community Missions. Justin has been impressed with how well volunteers in the Compassion Ministry interact with people in need in the community: “When they perceive a need, they brainstorm to determine how to reach out to help in the best way possible.” Justin’s call to ministry is strong, and he feels fortunate to be able to work in such a large church with so many opportunities for growth.

Scott Biggers, 25, from Harrisburg, NC, is in his 3rd year at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond. After much soul searching and study of the differences in Presbyterian and Baptist theology, Scott discerned that he longed to live out his call as a Baptist pastor. That is how he made his way to FBC; he joined in October 2015 and was baptized in January 2016. Last summer, Scott fulfilled an internship as a chaplain at MCV, and this year he is serving as an intern to Jim Somerville, whom Scott will shadow until June 2017. He also has secured a part-time preaching position at a church in Keysville, VA. Scott remarked about his experience at FBC: “Because so much ministry and mission is done at this church, I am beginning to see and know what I like best. In this way, my internship is helping me shape my pastoral identity. My impression so far has been that everybody who comes here wants to be here. They love their church. “A common question I hear is ‘What will the church look like in the future?’ To me, FBC is a good example of what church should be (like in the future).”

In Service to Our King

Brett Holmes, 29 and a Mississippi native, is a graduate of Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University in Waco, TX. As FBC’s current pastoral resident, he is being mentored and supervised by Steve Booth until the summer 2018. While working as a bank teller after college, Brett volunteered at a local Baptist church, working with youth and college groups. Encouraged by the experience, he enrolled in a hybrid program at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary that allowed him to work, take online classes, and attend in person once a month. Brett’s desire, however, was to attend seminary full time. Learning that Truett offered a student loan program, Brett visited, applied, was accepted, quit his job, and moved to Waco. While there he evolved from wanting to teach and talk about theology in a university setting to wanting to teach, preach and discuss theology within a church setting. The shift came when he recognized that inside church is where theology happens, and theology had become Brett’s passion. One of his friends at Truett, Nick Deere (former pastoral resident), encouraged Brett to apply to FBC for their two-year residency program.

As FBC’s new pastoral resident, Brett is a paid employee on FBC’s staff for two years. Brett’s first year is spent working in each ministry area with each staff minister learning how to do ministry applicable to that area. In his second year, he will focus on what comes after his residency while maintaining an active presence within the congregation and in worship.

Brett shared, “What most impresses me is how healthy the staff is. In a church this large, it is rare to avoid conflict and yet, here, everyone works well together. It is good to see a model of what a healthy staff can be. That bleeds down into the congregation, providing safety and a place to feel comfortable.”

The motto of the three musketeers was, “All for one and one for all!” Though Justin, Scott and Brett do not hold the same position, their motives reflect the same purpose—to glorify God and bring honor to Him in their joint service to God’s people at FBC.

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By Lynn Turner, with Brett Holmes.

It started with a prayer breakfast at U-Turn. Gail and Jim Markham invited me to hear Jamie Radtke, founder of WE Believe, talk about a city-wide initiative—Explore God—coming to Richmond in September 2016. WE Believe had taken responsibility for the Outreach, or advertising, portion of Explore God in Richmond. Individual churches were asked to lead in the evangelism portion. Jamie shared the goal of this effort: to reach millennials (18- to 35-year-olds) in our community by exploring the seven questions most Googled by that group:

  1. Does Life Have a Purpose?
  2. Is There a God?
  3. Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?
  4. Is Christianity Too Narrow?
  5. Is Jesus Really God?
  6. Is the Bible Reliable?
  7. Can I Know God Personally?
The Holy Spirit at Work in our Questions

photo: Sean Cook

Explore God launched in Austin, Texas in 2013. When God’s spirit moved in that city in a mighty way, the Explore God team wanted to share the experience with other cities. The prayer breakfast ended with our praying for God to use this initiative in our city.

Our church leadership enthusiastically embraced this seven-week series as a way of “Bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia,” specifically to its millennials.

In mid-July, billboards went up around the city, radio interviews were heard, “Explore God” became a buzzword on social media. On September 11, 150 churches across 13 denominations participated. Sermons and 300 discussion groups all over our city offered a safe place to ask the tough questions about the Christian faith. For these seven weeks Jamie directed us to: “Set aside our differences in favor of exploring the larger truths of God. And in this way, Explore God is achieving something that politicians, lobbyists, and special interest groups have failed to do in years past: stand together upon our common ground … for the sake of offering hope to young people.”

Brett Holmes, FBC’s pastoral resident and a millennial, felt this series impacted First Baptist Church:

The Holy Spirit at Work in our Questions“In my estimation the Explore God series taps into the longing for something more that we all experience in some way. Millennials, though, seem to be at a stage in life where this longing is new and the questions are nestled deep within our beings. So in that way, the series was directed toward millennials, but it kind of had something for everyone. We had life-long Christians who were able to take a step back and look at these big questions once again; we welcomed struggling Christians who through these discussions found their existential wrestling didn’t have to happen alone; and we had people from different religious backgrounds pushing us and our conversations such that we needed to learn what it meant to take dialogue seriously.”

The Holy Spirit at Work in our QuestionsWhen Jim Somerville decided to use a dialogical approach with his sermons, he not only created a space for millennial voices to address these difficult questions, but he also embodied what it looks like to have a conversation around important topics. It would have been fairly easy for him to stand in the pulpit for seven weeks and simply teach. Instead he chose to sit alongside someone—and thus with the entire congregation —and take all those individual thoughts seriously.

As the Explore God questions demonstrate, the Christian life is rarely neat and tidy. We are each called to a particular understanding and a particular way of living out that understanding. As we wrestle with these questions, our responses are reflected in our daily lives, and our lives are reinvigorated as we look for the Holy Spirit at work within and amidst us.

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