The Transformed by the Spirit initiative has been a major focus of American Baptist Churches USA since its introduction in June 2011. Rev. Jeffery Savage, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Springfield, Oregon, reflects on his experiences and the need to be open to dream in a time of hope and change.
Transformed by the Spirit is about ministry and mission in the midst of change. Our global, national, and local contexts are undergoing profound shifts. And, as the recent Pew Report confirms, these changes are affecting the life and landscape of local churches and regional-national religious organizations. In the midst of these realities, there is at work in and among us a movement of the Spirit that is opening up possibilities, inviting innovation, bringing pastors together as resource to one another, birthing hope in skeptics, and re-connecting local congregations with their neighborhoods. That movement is Transformed by the Spirit.
I have been involved in Transformed by the Spirit as a member of the Journey Team, as a coach for Beta Group Pastors, and as the pastor of a participating church. Out of this experience, here is what I would most passionately want you to know: this is a hope-filled and promising movement, based on 3 core theological convictions:
- We believe that God the Spirit is present and actively working in the midst of change.
- We believe that God the Spirit is at work in and among us as an ABC family, inviting us into a new way of ministry and mission together.
- We believe that God the Spirit is already out there — ahead of us — inviting us to participate more fully in God’s mission in the world.
Imagine what happens when willing folks enter their neighborhoods in the strength of those convictions, with a listening ear rather than a pocket full of answers; going without the baggage of preconceived notions of need or prepackaged programs. In the words of a leader in one Transformed by the Spirit engaged church, “One of the questions in the initiative is, ‘What is God up to in your neighborhood?’ And all the sudden, we found out! God was already there.”
Or imagine folks deciding to actually move into the neighborhood where their church is located and fully commit themselves to that community. TbyS has already influenced at least one family to do just that.
Small beginnings, to be sure, but let us not despise small things. Not too long ago, I sat outside on a boulder we call prayer rock, pondering these few minutes with you. The shadows were long and all was still. Suddenly, a single bracken fern began to dance; an almost insignificant movement animated by an unseen force. For some time it danced alone. Then another fern began to sway. Then another. And another. Soon the meadow was alive with movement. The Aspen leaves applauded in response. And then it was still. From where did that wind come? How did it begin a movement by stirring just one fern? And where did it go? Jesus said the Spirit is like that. Moving; animating at will. Birthing new life; transforming the landscape, spawning dreams and visions . . .
The Spirit is doing just that through Transformed by the Spirit — imagining and igniting a movement throughout the ABC family: inviting church folk, pastors, regional execs, and national leaders to step out of sanctuary and silo to pay attention and discover God present and active “out there” and in the other. Calling every one of us to engage the world God so loves in innovative and collaborative ways.
- E. Lawrence observed, “All men (and women) dream, but not all equally. Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake to find it was all vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous, for they may act their dreams with open eyes and make things happen.”
It has taken courage to dream with eyes wide open.
Now it is up to us to join the dance; to be dreamers of the day; to join God in the challenge and opportunity of change. What is God already up to in your neighborhood? Transformed by the Spirit beckons us to keep the windows of our hearts – and the soul of this denomination – open to the transformation being birthed in us. May we act the dream of Transformed by the Spirit, knowing the Spirit goes ahead of us and with us, always.