Before we move very far into 2024, I’d like to take a minute to remember some highlights from 2023. In a number of ways, it strikes me that 2023 was a year in which God was making all things new.
We heard from new voices.
In January, we brought Wheaton professor and New York Times Columnist Esau McCaulley to speak at South Main. Professor McCaulley is a renowned New Testament scholar whose work is helping the Church see it is imperative to respond to the Bible’s call for racial justice. Esau’s presentations found deep resonance at South Main as they are all across the country. Todd Still, the Dean of Truett Seminary, is not only our church’s friend, but a world-renowned Biblical scholar, as well. Todd preached for us in both April and July. Then, in June we hosted N.T. Wright, the preeminent New Testament scholar in the world. 500 ministers from around the globe gathered in our Sanctuary for three days to hear Bishop Wright teach through the book of Acts. Finally, in September we hosted New York Times columnist David French, who shared both the dangers of Christian nationalism and the power of the Gospel to draw people together. One of the gifts I believe South Main offers the city is convening important conversations led by public intellectuals and global scholars.
We equipped new teachers.
In addition to outside voices, we have been developing our own teachers at South Main. The year 2023 saw the formation of the second cohort of Adult Bible Community teachers begin the work of earning a Certificate in Ministry through Truett Seminary. This course of study was designed to equip rural pastors with a deep knowledge of the Bible, church history, and theology. The cohort is made up of eight teachers: four experienced teachers and four brand new teachers. The experienced teachers mentor the new teachers. In this way, our Ministry for Discipleship, Matt Walton is building a cadre of fabulous teachers to lead the church in sound and effective Bible study.
We are writing new curriculum.
Creative, thoughtful, and life-shaping Bible study is a gift we want to give to every person who comes to South Main to receive. This is why our Family Ministry is writing and original, from the ground up Bible study curriculum for everyone from 2-18 years old. Each week every age group is studying the same text, but one tailored for the specific age, so when families get in the car and head home all the children can talk about the same passage. Over the span of three years, each child who attends will study all the major characters and themes from the Bible, learn the seasons of the Church year, and put into practice Jesus’ call to love our neighbors as ourselves — neighbors both near and far. It is an enormous project that I believe will bless not only our church but churches around the world.
We added new members.
2023 saw 49 people make the decision to join our congregation. Four of those are awaiting baptism as we come into 2024. We had people join from every age group. Those 49 people come from 25 families and are a powerful embodiment of the promise we make to each other to share our love, care, kinship, and hopes.
We called a new minister.
Alyssa Carter joined our Family Ministry team as Minister to Children. Alyssa joined us just in time to go to camp with the kids last summer. Alyssa's infectious joy and obvious love for children are adding great vitality to an already strong ministry.
There is one thing not new, but still worthy of pointing out and remembering about 2023. Let me set it up first with some context. So much of what is right about South Main comes from a gifted team of ministers who work hard and who work joyfully together. The average tenure of a minister in a Baptist church in America is less than 4 years. 2023 saw several significant ministerial anniversaries on our team: Matt Walton, 5 years; Dolores Rader, 15 years; I completed 20 years; and Susan Moore completed 25 years of service. My pastor growing up used to say, “It is really hard to make new, old friends.” I am grateful to have old friends on our team. And I am grateful for every member of our team, and pray each will see many anniversaries in the years ahead.
We head into 2024 with both some real challenges and some incredible opportunities. As I look at the year ahead, I am mindful that the same God who blessed us in so many different ways and through so many different people is still Sovereign over all creation. And I have absolute confidence He will continue to bless us abundantly in 2024.