What might it mean to be a Baptist Christian at the mid-point of the 21st century?
I’m hesitant to try and answer such a question. In my experience, actual developments over time usually take unanticipated forms. If someone 50 years from now happened to read my words, I suspect their first reaction might be: “How quaint! Poor Smith could not imagine what we’ve become.” Odds are I won’t be around to endure the humiliation, so I think I’ll risk a few guesses anyway. Fifty years from now, I think Baptist Christians in the United States will look something like the following.
The majority will think of themselves first as Christians and only secondarily as Baptists. They will treat the term “Baptist” as an adjective rather than noun. Most will assume that all Christians are — well — Christian, regardless of their denominational flavor. Baptists will move freely into and out of other Christian communities, and they will welcome others who do the same.
Worship will occupy center stage in their lives, followed closely by personal engagement in ministries. Those most deeply rooted in worship will see themselves as icons, as persons through whom others may experience the love-centered justice of God. Clergy and missionaries will remain important components of Baptist life, but the cutting edge of the church will be centered in active laypersons.
Prayer will be the most common, shared spiritual discipline. Baptists will engage the full range of prayer-shaping resources in the Christian tradition in ways that might astound their grandparents. Much of Christian formation will be based in teaching, modeling and practicing community and personal prayer.
Most Baptist Christians will disengage from secular political agendas, as they recognize the danger of idolatry inherent in such pursuits. Through their prayers, ministry actions, and humility they will sidestep culture’s bent toward dividing people into enemies and allies in favor of treating all persons as children of God.
Churches will use a variety of governance systems. The most effective will find ways to free members to invest their time in worship, relationships and ministry rather than church maintenance. Churches will have fewer committees, more ministry teams, and more efficient decision-making systems. Technology, coupled with the church’s increasing willingness to trust those gifted with leadership and administration, will transform this area of the church’s life.
Baptist Christians will learn to value and embrace the role of a faithful minority in larger society. They will rediscover the kind of spiritual power that comes with surrendering social position and power in favor of humility.
All such developments will require that Baptist Christians become nimble and flexible, able to change tactics overnight while pursuing the great goals of the church. Such a change would be good, for it would lead us to become once again a pilgrim people, ready and willing to follow the ever-moving God.