Real Numbers: SBC In Free-Fall Compared to Southern Population, But Green Shoots Are Everywhere

We need a Southern Missiology combined with faith in Christ and manifesting in personal sacrifice for the sake of the gospel and the people among us.

We all know about the flatlining and then declining numbers of the SBC related to baptisms, church membership, and worship attendance. We’ve talked about them for years, heard Ed Stetzer’s warnings years ago (“facts are our friends”), and we’ve seen it with our own eyes. While SBC megachurches are still doing well numbers wise, there continues to be consolidation going on, churches struggling, and many churches in steep decline. With the new numbers set to come out in the next few weeks, I thought some overall analysis might be helpful.

From last year’s ACP report:

While the number of SBC-related congregations increased (up 294), reported membership declined more than 200,000, down 1.32 percent to 15.3 million members. Average weekly worship attendance declined by 1.72 percent to 5.6 million worshippers.

Southern Baptists also experienced a decline in baptisms, down 3.3 percent to 295,212. Reported baptisms have fallen eight of the last 10 years. The ratio of baptisms to total members decreased to one baptism for every 52 members.

“God help us all! In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News,” said Frank S. Page, SBC Executive Committee president and CEO. “May God forgive us and give us a new passion to reach this world for Christ.”

If you look at those numbers more closely, the SBC had 414,657 baptisms in 2000. In 2015, we had 295,212. That’s a 29% decline. In 2005, we had 16.6 million Southern Baptists. In 2015, we had 15.3 million. That’s an 8% decline. Now, we all know that those numbers have been inaccurate for a long time, so the decline might partially reflect more accuracy in reporting overall numbers, but it is still a decline of 1.3 million in one way or another. We can only work with the numbers we actually have.

Average weekly worship attendance is down to 5.6 million people. It was over 6 million a decade or so ago, if memory serves. I have not found the actual numbers online, so I could be wrong. That is also a sketchy number because people might be heavily involved in a church and not actually be there every Sunday due to travel, illness, etc. We live in a very mobile society. But, even the most generous assessment of those numbers show that they are way down.

However, we do now have over 20,000 students in the six SBC seminaries, up from around 15,000 students over a decade ago. Church planting is increasing, so perhaps those seminary students will plant new churches? Replace aging pastors in established churches? Go into the regular workforce as missionaries in a variety of vocations? Lots of possibilities there, as well as questions.

When you look at these current numbers and compare them to past numbers, they show a significant decline. But, when you look at these numbers and compare them to the increasing population of the U.S. South, where the vast majority of SBC churches and members reside, we see not just a flat-lining or a decline, but we see a massive free fall.

The first map shows us what the U.S. Census calls the “US South.” The second map shows the area that is considered to be the “Bible Belt.” The third map shows the counties where Southern Baptists are the largest religious group per county. The final map shows who Republican voters chose in the GOP primaries per county, just to give a picture of where this region aligns politically with candidates (blue is Trump, gold is Cruz, red is Rubio). Obviously, each Southern state went red in the general election and Southern Evangelicals were a huge part of that.

 

According to all statistics that we have, the US South is still largely synonymous with both the “Bible Belt” and the Southern Baptist Convention, as far as what the predominant religious expression is. Southern Baptists clearly have their largest expression in the South and are the most significant religious body by far. This is also where the Republican Party dominates and Evangelical affiliation with the GOP is well established.

This, however, shows that the decline in the SBC over the past 10-15 years is even more drastic than just looking at the numbers would suggest. I contend that it is inaccurate to just compare the SBC numbers in 2015 to the SBC numbers in 2000 or 2005. Rather, you have to compare the numbers to the region of the country where we have the largest numbers of Southern Baptists.

Free Fall statistically, but, great opportunity. 

In 2000, there were 100 million people who lived in the US South. In 2015, there were 121 million people who lived in the US South (according to US Census reports). That is a 17.5% INCREASE. An increase of 21 million people. So, while the SBC has decline by around a million people overall in that time frame, the region where the majority of SBC churches and members exists has increased by 21 million. So, SBC churches are in decline while the region is in dramatic increase. We aren’t talking about the Rust Belt here. We’re talking about what is by far the largest region of the country with 38% of the US population.

121 million people would make the US South the 12th most populous nation in the world with the 3rd largest GDP, if it were its own nation. The US South has been called the “economic engine” of the United States. In this region, Cooperative Program giving was $195 million in fiscal year 2016. However, it was $200 million in fiscal year 2005. So, CP giving is still down in real dollars over the past decade. But, adjusted for inflation, that $200 million in 2005 would be worth $253.74 million now. So, we’re looking at a real loss of over 23% of CP giving over the past decade.

In a region of the country with the population booming, people moving in from all over the nation and the world, and having the 3rd largest GDP in the world (with over $5 Trillion) on its own only after the rest of the United States combined and China, the SBC is in decline – steep decline in relation to the massive growth of the region.

In addition, the Nations are coming to the South as the region is becoming more and more diverse. 13.1 Million people in the South are first generation immigrants from all over the world. That’s almost 11% of the population. More significantly, 46% of all first generation immigrant growth from 2000-2015 in the whole United States happened in the South (according to data I discovered while working through the US Census data state-by-state). 4 million of the 21 million newcomers to the South from 2000-2015 are first generation immigrants (that’s 19% of all growth). Immigrants are attracted to areas with booming economies and they contribute to entrepreneurship and the business start up culture (1 in 4 new businesses in America are started by immigrants). Fortunately, over 50% of new SBC church plants over the past several years have been predominately ethnic minority, so we are addressing this to an extent. But, there is so much more to be done.

Green Shoots: New Hope

My purpose in this post is not to just say that everything is terrible. It isn’t. I am full of hope in the Lord and in what I’m seeing God do in the South. I travel all over the Southeast encouraging and equipping churches to minister to and advocate for immigrants and refugees. I constantly go in and out of cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham, Orlando, Birmingham, New Orleans, and more and I also go through smaller towns and cities. The sheer numbers of people are incredible, traffic grinding, businesses booming, and immigrants from all over the world are everywhere doing business and living life alongside their neighbors. The idea that the South is primarily a rural, traditional, white, religious, conservative area is still true in many ways, but it misses the much larger narrative that is emerging.

In these travels, I am seeing some amazing work being done by Southern Baptists to reach people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. I’ve visited incredible churches, met sincere pastors and church leaders, and have spent time with associational and state convention leadership who are working through difficult problems in innovative ways. There is so much good gospel and ministry work happening all over the South that it is really hard to keep up with it all. There is not a need for a new initiative to emerge out of nowhere. The best approach would be to build on the great work that is already happening everywhere and help link good work with areas and churches that are struggling. God is alive and so is the SBC in many respects through the gospel working and producing fruit in churches, ministries, and all over the South. You can’t look at overall numbers from a 30,000 foot view to get the true picture. You have to get on the ground and see what is actually happening in many places and then build on the good – strengthen what remains.

The numbers overall are dire if you’re pining away for glory days of ascendance. If you compare the current numbers to the massive growth happening in the South with population, economics, and diversity, the SBC statistics represent an actual comparative free fall, not just a slight decline, and that is important for us to recognize. But … (and this is also important), what if all of this represents not some kind of a failure, but a new beginning and an amazing opportunity to not just try to rebuild the past but to thank God for it and put it behind us while we look to what God is doing today and what He wants to do in the future? If we keep looking back to the past and comparing ourselves only and then we make decisions based off of that, we will miss what God could do with us today. The past is passed, even in the South, despite what Faulkner told us.

Some questions for all of us that have emerged from some of my many great conversations with Southern Baptist pastors and leaders over the past year and a half:

  • How can we actually love God and love one another sacrificially? To bear one another’s burdens? To hear the cry of desperation and need from all parts of our cities and towns and then suffer alongside one another? How can we love the way Jesus loves us?
  • With an increasingly diverse South, how do we prepare our churches to reach the nations among us? How do we welcome the immigrant, refugee, and newcomer to our churches, our homes, and communities?
  • In a racially and politically polarized region and nation, how can we consistently BE a people that will love all people and sacrifice our lives to take the gospel to them and share in the partnership of the gospel with people ethnically, racially, and socioeconomically different from us (no matter what ethnicity or demographic you are)?
  • What does real repentance and reconciliation look like in our communities across racial lines? Shouldn’t Baptists take the initiative in that?
  • We need significant movements of African American, Latino, Asian, and Arab pastors and leaders into SBC leadership at every level not so we can just say this happened, but so we can all learn from each other, submit to and follow one another, and BE the body of Christ together in this land.
  • How can we see our faith as not something that exists to promote, protect, and defend our own way of life, but how can we lay our lives down for others so they will experience the love of Christ and the gospel?

We need a Southern missiology desperately. We need to walk in the way of the Cross according to Philippians 2:1-11 in ways that truly seek the good of others and not just ourselves. We need a way to see the South and our churches that no longer considers the Southern region of the United States “home base” for the gospel. It isn’t and it hasn’t ever been, really. We need to stop culturally locating our understanding of Christianity in a Southern white perspective and find ways to join with all of the people in our communities and throughout our area in revived church expressions as we humble ourselves and learn from and submit to brothers and sisters from all kinds of backgrounds from all over the world that God is sending to us for the purpose of revival and renewal. All of that is happening in many places and as it happens, I would contend that a gospel renewal of the cultural South will make us more vibrant, more loving, more hospitable, more open and caring and joyful and free than we’ve ever been before. I’m seeing it every week everywhere I go. There is incredible vitality, sacrifice, and gospel fruit being born all over the South at this time. God is at work in powerful ways. But, we need more of it and that story needs to become more of the dominant narrative. We need an infusion of hope and a recognition that declining numbers may just position us for gospel advance … IF we will humble ourselves and look to Jesus instead of seek to protect ourselves in a culture that can’t ever provide salvation, no matter how “down home” it feels to us. Only through Jesus can we “tell a better story” together – a story of sacrificial love for God and people.

Jesus is at work on the margins and all through the center. Let’s join Him there no matter what the numbers say.

Author’s Note: If you or your church or association would like help thinking through how to reach the nations and immigrants in your midst and engage in gospel-centered reconciliation across races and ethnicities, let me know. I’d love to help. I have gospel-centered resources and approaches designed for that purpose.

Jesus, the Last Adam, Resurrection, and a Syrian Family

I spent part of Holy Week in Nashville visiting with pastors, church leaders, and missionaries who are working to minister to refugees and immigrants who have come to the area from all around the world. I heard about what churches were already doing, their plans for the future, and why they cared about refugees. Then, one evening, I visited an apartment complex and had cake with a Syrian refugee family who had been here for about a year. They fled Hama, Syria when the Civil War started, spent a couple of years in Lebanon, and were then selected for refugee resettlement to the United States after two years of intense vetting and interviews. They are now here and life is difficult for them, but they are sticking together and are making it.

I met the oldest son of the family when he was leaving a Bible study that was attended by around 40 young men from countries like Syria, Nepal, the Congo, and other places where people flee from war, violence, and persecution. But, here in this apartment complex in Nashville, they crowded in to an apartment to hear from Genesis 37 about how Joseph is a picture of Jesus’ faithfulness. As we talked with this young man and his family, he was happy and generous, offering us cake and conversation. The Bible study had been led by college students from a ministry and a couple of churches. Three guys moved into an apartment and lived amongst the refugees and built relationships with them so they could help them and share the love of Christ with them. It was so encouraging.

Jesus makes all things new. The joy that I experienced this week in meeting Christians who were giving of themselves to love refugees from all over the world sticks with me. And, it reminds me of how different Jesus makes things. His resurrected life lives through us and makes an evening walk through an apartment complex in South Nashville with Syrian boys running behind and eating cake in an apartment with their family come alive and burst with the promise of eternity breaking in. Even in the midst of the poverty and difficulties there, I had this sense that the night was alive. I often experience that when I’m seeing things through the lens of the truth of the Resurrection. Jesus makes all things new.

John Stonestreet today on Breakthrough drew a comparison between the First Adam who failed because he chose himself and his way and the Last Adam, Jesus, who fulfilled God’s will in redemption. I read this and I couldn’t help but think about how Jesus tells the better story, how He makes all things new, and how He shows up in the midst of a Syrian family in South Nashville with Christians who have incarnated into the neighborhood to live, suffer, and rejoice alongside them.

The first Adam yielded to temptation in a garden. The Last Adam beat temptation in a garden. The first man, Adam, sought to become like God. The Last Adam was God who became a man. The first Adam was naked and received clothes. The Last Adam had clothes but was stripped. The first Adam tasted death from a tree. The Last Adam tasted death on a tree. The first Adam hid from the face of God, while the Last Adam begged God not to hide His face.

The first Adam blamed his bride, while the Last Adam took the blame for His bride. The first Adam earned thorns. The Last Adam wore thorns. The first Adam gained a wife when God opened man’s side, but the Last Adam gained a wife when man opened God’s side. The first Adam brought a curse. The Last Adam became a curse. While the first Adam fell by listening when the Serpent said “take and eat,” the Last Adam told His followers, “take and eat, this is my body.”

Jesus took our place and forgave us of our sins. He also took our messed up world and life that is self-focused, fear based, and that strives to be at the center of things and He gave Himself as a ransom for many. He became sin so we might become the righteousness of God. He emptied Himself, took on flesh, made His dwelling among us, and was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus made all things new. And, that is what we remember and celebrate this weekend as we journey to the Cross on Friday, sit in silence on Saturday, and arise to celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God on Sunday. Jesus stepped in to the brokenness, alienation, sin, loneliness, rejection, and death and moved in to our neighborhood and took it all upon Himself. Then, He died. But, death could not hold Him and He rose from the dead giving new life to all who call on His name.

My friend Josh who works with refugees in South Nashville took me to the apartment complex to meet the Syrian family last night and when we got to their apartment, the young man we were looking for was not there. But, we were told he was in the other apartment where they were meeting. I didn’t know what was going on or what to expect. So, we walked down the street and arrived at another building. Bursting out of the doors were all these young me from so many nations. They were all smiling and laughing and they shook our hands and introduced themselves to us. They were leaving the Bible study on Genesis 37 about Joseph. The young Syrian man was with the group and he came out of the apartment and joined us. Then, we went back to his apartment and had cake together and I learned about his family and his life.

I already shared all of this, but I share it again because in the light of Jesus, the Second Adam, reversing the curse and restoring us to life and making all things new, the whole scene comes together. Christians moved in to the neighborhood and a new community is being formed and light is breaking through darkness. And, this young man and his family came from Syria fleeing the horrors of war to experience this light and life and the love of God through His people. It was unexpected. The night was dark and I didn’t know what I was going to experience. But, life burst out of that apartment and everything seemed new and there was hope, not just for those living there but also for me. I was able to see sacrificial love and people giving and receiving and relationships being built and things happening that I keep being told don’t happen. “Muslims don’t respond to Christ. They want to kill us. They shouldn’t be here. They are dangerous.” Yet, I saw something different and it was revealed when Christians stepped in to that place and lived and loved sacrificially, laying down their lives for their new friends. And, these young men from all over the world are hearing a better story.

Jesus makes all things new. He is the Last Adam, the one who emptied Himself. He gave His life for us that we might live for Him. And, He calls us to do the same – to give our lives for Him and for others. I saw that happening in Nashville this week and it was a good thing. It looked like resurrection.

Vance Pitman Podcast Interview: Church for the City and the Nations Among Us

Last year at the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, I got interviews with a significant number of SBC pastors and leaders and asked them about immigrant and refugee ministry and advocacy. I have slowly been uploading them to my When Heaven and Earth Collide podcast and posting them here in blog form. They are also on iTunes and on the web at When Heaven and Earth Collide. So far, I have posted interviews from Ed Stetzer, Richard Land, Danny Akin, Matthew Hall, Bruce Ashford, Bryant Wright, and Bart Barber. Really good stuff there if yu want to understand what Southern Baptist and Evangelical leaders are saying about immigration, refugees, how we engage with prophetic witness in the current political climate, and most importantly, how we engage the nations who have come to us with the gospel and the tangible love of Christ.

The latest interview with Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church in Las Vegas, was really enlightening. If you want to jump straight to it, you can listen to it here: Vance Pitman Podcast.

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Below are some notes I took while listening to it today. These notes are not meant to be direct quotes (don’t take them as such), but they give an idea of what we talked about and provide a good reference. The podcast itself will be some of the most edifying 17 minutes of your day.

Vance Pitman, pastor of Hope Church

Q: What might God be doing through the movement of peoples across the world?

A: The Nations are coming to the cities. Over 400-500 refugees coming to Las Vegas each year in addition to Latino immigrants from Central America. God in His sovereignty is allowing the nations to come to us so we can see a gospel movement to the ends of the earth – to nations that we cannot go to.

Hope Church has started a church called, Refuge Church, to reach immigrants and refugees who are coming to Las Vegas. A couple has taken a home and are using it as a center to train refugees in English through ESL and then share the gospel through that. They have taken the back yard of that home and have turned it into gardens where these families can tend and cultivate the garden, as they are used to back home.

We are mobilizing 70-100 people per month that work with Refuge Church in the city center. The immigrants need rides, because they often don’t have cars, so we help them get around and get used to life here. This becomes a platform for ministry.

We believe you cannot accomplish the Great Commission without crossing cultures. So, we give our people ways to do this by reaching the cultures and peoples who have come to Las Vegas.

Q: How do you prepare people spiritually to engage in this work?

We understand that the church only has one mission – to make disciples. We often relegate the portion of that that is cross-cultural to specialists, which is a mistake. So, we’ve moved that understanding into the very nature of discipleship. We say that you are not faithfully following Jesus if you are not crossing cultures with the gospel. We call people to spending percentages of your time in building relationships with God, people, and with people who are across different cultures. Take 5% of the time in your life and apply it to spiritual growth, building relationships, and crossing cultures.

Planting Gardens, Making Disciples, Cultivating Relationships Across Cultures

When you begin to build relationships, a lot of the political oppositions, false views, and barriers between you and people begin to change as we follow people into relationships. We cannot vote or militarize our way out of any of the situations that we’re in, but we can disciple ourselves into and through change.

Q: The West Is Different from the South – what can SBC churches in the West teach our churches in the South?

A: We must begin to think “City” and not just “church.” Our focus has been very focused on internal operations of churches. But, we need to move away from “every member a minister” to “every believer a missionary.” Instead of building bridges into the culture and community, we become islands unto ourselves with a “ya’ll come” mentality instead of going to the people. Instead of trying to seat as many people as we can, we need to think about how many people we can send.
We have to think about multicultural expressions of the gospel. By 2043, there will not be a majority cultural expression in America. We don’t mean “multi-colored” where it is one culture with different colors, but rather, a true multicultural expression, which means that everyone is uncomfortable. There is a element of the character of God woven into every person and every culture on earth. We only experience that when the gospel interacts with people and when we come together in churches and we share together what God has put into us.

Q: What is our voice/message to a divided America as God is doing this work in us?

Our church is truly multicultural, which is a great blessing and also a great burden. We have a collision of political backgrounds and people have different views. People come from different theological perspectives. But, this setting has purified my preaching. When we look at the Scriptures for what it is, it will purify and shape our worldview and then our politics. From that place, we are called to be an advocate, where we “speak on behalf of.” When the church gets off track and we get too focused on legislation, we miss our primary mission. But, that doesn’t mean that we don’t speak on behalf of Biblical principles and on behalf of people and how we live together into the political sphere.

Hope Church, Las Vegas

Jesus, the Sojourning Savior

Luke 9:57-58 “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

My phone rang yesterday and I saw an unfamiliar, out of state number. I answered and a foreign voice was on the other end.

“May I speak to Alan Cross?” The accent seemed Middle Eastern? African? I could not place it.

A bit nervously, I answered, “This is he.”

He told me his name was Charles and someone gave him my phone number and knew I was an Evangelical that worked with immigrants. The referral matched up relationally, so I proceeded with the conversation. He wanted to call to ask for advice, since he too is a Christian and wants to follow the Lord. He said he was from Kenya and is now in New York City going to school, but his visa does not allow him to work and he is completely destitute. He has the opportunity to work “off the books,” but his conscience is troubled and what is he do? He is here legally, but is now penniless and has no way to survive.

I asked him if he did not realize this situation when he applied for the visa and came and he said he did not, and that in other countries, students are allowed to work legally. He asked if it was okay to ignore the law and work anyway, since God would have him care for his family and if he does not he is worse than an infidel (1 Timothy 5:8). But, then he brought up Romans 13 and the need to obey the law and authorities. Which truth should he follow? Should he starve? I told him that I understood his dilemma and that I would refer him to a Christian ministry I knew in New York City and I would pray for him. He thanked me. I told him that he should obey the law and that disobeying it would cause further problems, especially since he was here legally on a visa and he agreed to follow the law when he applied for and accepted his visa. He agreed with my advice and said he would trust God. We have spoken a couple of times since and emailed as I am referring him to the other ministry for help.

This morning, I was with my family in a Christmas Eve service and the Christmas story was prominent, obviously. And, I could not help but think that Jesus was with Charles in a significant way. Here is a young man trying to do the right thing and trying to figure out how to live under the requirements of the state, even when they were very difficult, as he tried to honor God. Then, I began to think about the 65 million refugees around the world, and the millions more international and internal migrants.

Over 1 billion people in the world are migrants, or more than 1 in 7 people globally. The figure includes the stock of international migrants – people residing in a country other than their country of birth – whose number reached 244 million in 2015, up by 41 per cent since 2000; and it includes internal migrants – around 740 million, according to 2009 UNDP estimates, of whom over 150 million are rural-urban migrants in China.

One in seven people on the planet are migrants, immigrants, sojourners, and refugees. One in seven people have been forcibly displaced or have moved or traveled from their home for economic, safety, or survival reasons. We live on a planet where people are on the move in a significant way. There are lots of Charles’ out there this Christmas season.

If you step back, the whole Christmas story is one of migration, sojourning, refugees, and immigration. The idea of sojourning is in the background of the whole story and gives the Nativity its context and scope. A brief summary:

  • Mary travels to visit Elizabeth and stay with her for awhile after she is pregnant with child.
  • Joseph migrates with Mary to Bethlehem for the census. When they arrive, they do not have a place to stay just for them and probably stay with distant relatives and bed down among the animals in a stable, which might have been part of a relative’s house.
  • They are attended to and worshiped by shepherds, poor, common workers who were likely illiterate. They might not have been total outcasts, but they were definitely at the lower end of the social hierarchy. This is who the angel announces the birth of Jesus to.
  • Wise Men sojourn from the East to worship Jesus. These would have been gentiles astrologers, likely Persian followers of Zoroaster. They follow the star and come to Bethlehem, meet Herod, and are told to report back to him the whereabouts of the child. They follow the star further, find Jesus, and bring gifts to him fitting for a king. An oft missed part of the story is that God brings pagans from foreign nations to worship Jesus at his birth, prophesying what the result of his life, death, and resurrection would be and fulfilling what was prophesied in Isaiah 60:1-6.
  • Herod hears about the birth of a rival king and orders the murder of all of the boys under two years old in and around Bethlehem. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, warned by an angel, escape the reach of the king who has ordered that they be killed, and they flee to Egypt, becoming refugees.
  • After a time and Herod’s death, they immigrate back to Israel and settle again in Nazareth where Jesus grows up.

Jesus’ ministry was one of sojourning from place to place to minister to people in need and to proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom of God. He did not have a home. He said he had no place to lay his head of his own. He was the Sojourning Savior, the Migrant King, with no throne room or palace to rule from. Yet, he was the Son of God and the Sovereign King of the Universe – before all things and in whom all things held together (Col. 1:17).

“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” – Hebrews 2:17-18

One out of every seven people on the planet – over 1 billion people – the population of the human race in 1800 – are spending this Christmas having migrated away from their homeland and are living in a new place far from home. They are immigrants, migrants, sojourners, and refugees. They are asylum seekers, people who left home for economic reasons, people who are living in regions and areas different from their homeland, people in exile who have lost tribe, home, family, friends, and their place in their society – and who are trying to make a new life for themselves. Some are doing very well. Others are struggling mightily. How can the church be the church for them? How can we make room for them?

It strikes me that the Christmas story is not just about home, family, presents, lights, great food, gift giving, and wonderful celebrations. Christmas is also about the sojourner and the migrant, the wanderer and the refugee. And, Jesus was one of them. Those who came to worship him were sojourners as well. Mary and Joseph were migrants and refugees as well. The whole Nativity Story is one of how God works in the lives of travelers and refugees who leave the land they know and go to the land that God shows them. That is the Christmas story too and Jesus is at the center of it. He was not born in a palace or in safety or prosperity. Jesus, the heart of the Christmas Story, of course, was born to sojourners and lived with his family as a refugee. What does that tell us about God? What does that tell us about His salvation and those He came to save? What does it tell us about God’s heart and work today? Of course, we are all displaced from our true home because of sin – whether we have physically moved or not. Jesus comes for all of us to save the people from their sins. And, I am glad He traveled and came for me and found me.

I am praying for Charles tonight, on Christmas Eve. Away from his homeland and struggling to figure out how to live here – and how to follow God. We’ve emailed again today and I was able to make contact with that ministry in New York City. They have invited him to join them for worship tomorrow – on Christmas Day – and I sent the message on. I am glad. How can we make a home for the sojourner? How can we welcome the stranger in Jesus’ name? When we do, we join in the real Christmas and make room for Jesus in our hearts – and also welcome those He came for.