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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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