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Fresh Eyes

I am now firmly entrenched in my assignment of the next 12-18 months, as transitional pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Johnson City, Tennessee. Lori and I served this church as Minister of Youth and Education in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Our time there was significant in that it was there that my leadership and ministry philosophies were developed in the crucible of a growing but traditional church. The end of our tenure there was turbulent as the church went through several pastoral changes in quick succession after many years of stable leadership.

Since then, they have enjoyed one long pastorate and much upheaval in leadership, There numbers have pretty consistently declined over the last 15 years although that long pastorate led to some years of growth and some great ministry. They recently found themselves again without a pastor and even spent some months considering merging with another church as the Bible Study attendance dipped below 100 for the first time in decades.

There is a lot more to this story but I just needed to give you a little backdrop. As we settle into our part-time home near the church, we bring with us fresh eyes not only to look at how they are doing church but also to look at the community. It is an unusual “transitional community” The places nearest the church are still small family homes along Antioch Road, but within half a mile are condos and apartment complexes filled with college and graduate students along with young professionals. A half mile past the church is a growing subdivision of nice homes ranging from $150-350 thousand dollars. There is a city green way park and a mosque within a mile of the church on the same road.

I guess what I am saying is that the blue collar neighborhood I ministered in twenty years ago simply doesn’t exist anymore. The two most telling things our fresh eyes have seen involve some early morning walks from our home to the university campus. First, a majority of the people we meet as we walk are young with an inordinate number of Asians from among the grad students. There is nothing scientific about that observation, but we remember walking there many years ago and seeing young families with children playing in yards and on sidewalks and almost all of them were native to East Tennessee.

A second observation of who lives in the neighborhood now involves the supermarket on the corner. It used to be known as White’s, a hometown supermarket that billed itself as a local company and marketed itself in a folksy way. It has been replaced by Earth Fare, a supermarket for the ecologically concerned and the health minded. The presence of that store indicates the presence of a new kind of thinkers in the community. I am not sure of the exact demographics but stores like Earth Fare locate in an area for a reason.

Interestingly enough, White’s Supermarkets are now out of business. I pray Antioch Church learns a lesson from their failure and makes the changes necessary to again be a viable member of this neighborhood. We do not know yet what changes have to be made but for now, we are just trying to observe with fresh eyes before we get too accustomed to things around here.

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