I’m Senior Pastor Rufus Smith of Hope Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Memphis. I’ll be guest preaching this Sunday at CSPC. Here’s how I’ve been living deeply.
One new believer was mourning a death, while a newly married couple -also young in their faith- was celebrating the start of life together. Over a two- or three-month period about three years ago, I found myself officiating two opposite ends of the spectrum: a funeral and a wedding. In each case, the new believers needed help. One was struggling with how faith is connected to bereavement. The married couple (both before and after the wedding) was trying to understand the foundation they really needed to flourish. Those two diverging stories caused me to ask, ‘What can I do to I’m Senior Pastor Rufus Smith of Hope Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Memphis. I’ll be guest preaching this Sunday at CSPC. Here’s how I’ve been living deeply. in new Jesus-followers; to root and ground them in the faith?’ The Lord was pointing out afresh how impactful it could be if I spent more time doing that. I realized I’d gradually gotten away from interaction and intersection with new Jesus-followers. As a pastor, it’s very easy to get involved in the maintenance of things and find yourself insulated from people who are unchurched, religiously unaffiliated, or even new Jesus-followers. But after officiating these two events, it occurred to me anew how important it was to carve out some regular time to interface more with: 1) those who have made new professions of faith, and 2) those who have made professions of faith but have really not grown in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. So I’ve started doing that in groups of three or four over the past three years. I will ask those young men to join me in my schedule for something I’m already doing, as opposed to trying to create more space. It’s me saying, ‘I’m going to do such and such, and will you join me in that?’ Examples would be going to Memphis Grizzlies basketball or Memphis Tigers football games, going fishing with them, or bowling, or some other activity. This isn’t about just the time of gathering around to study the Bible, though that is done as well. It’s involving them in activities I’m already doing, especially since I have the bandwidth now that my children are grown and gone.
Spending time with new believers reminds me of how men in the past poured into my life and what a difference it made. That’s a great reminder and refreshment from the Lord. But it also helps me keep my finger on the pulse of another generation. It really has been an education on how this generation is forced to apply the Word of God differently than I did as a younger man. Same Word of God- how do I help them apply it? Our time together has kept me from becoming tone deaf on some of the life issues they face, generationally, that I did not. I mean, I had more of a structured Bible-believing context than they did, though I wasn’t raised in church per se. For the most part, they have quite a different context. I will quote the dynamic young new generation leader Grant Skeldon, who says we don’t have a Millennial/Gen Z problem- we have a discipleship problem. I’m trying to do something about that, one group of three or four at a time. When I look at the generations coming up, I’m cautiously hopeful and optimistic. Though the critical mass of Jesus-followers may be shrinking in America, the commitment of those Jesus-followers is deeper. Over time, I think that will really help to distinguish those who are following Christ fully from those who aren’t. So, the critical mass issue can help us in the long run. In the short term, I think we’ll continue to see a falling away. But once that plateaus, I’m optimistic that those who are solid Christ-followers will be able to impact society with salt and light even more. I’m deeply glad God’s refired my passion for spending time with new believers, discipling those solid Christ-followers of the future. Through it He has refreshed me personally, helped me keep my finger on the pulse of younger believers, and reaffirmed to me the continuity of His Word, which works from generation to generation.