We often gather as Baptists to hear each other tell stories of creation and growth, building and expanding. But on Sunday, I sat with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia friends in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Columbus, Georgia, and listened to two stories of demolition and deconstruction, selling and downsizing.

Jody Long, coordinator of CBF of Georgia, announced the recent sale of the organization’s building, a building that for twenty years had served as an office for the staff and as the center of the state’s mission and ministry. But, he noted, the office is not “the sum total of who we are and what we do . . . and the office is now too large for our needs.” In early October, CBF of Georgia sold its building to a non-profit organization that will use every inch of the space for educational programs, athletic camps, mentoring and life skill development for children and teens, especially those in the surrounding neighborhood. Meanwhile CBF of Georgia will use the proceeds from the sale to enlarge the Frank and Susan Broome Endowment Fund so that future ministry and mission will continue to be supported in the years to come.

Emily Hull McGee, pastor of First Baptist Church on Fifth, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was the preacher for the fall gathering, and in both her sermons, she shared the story about her 148-year-old downtown church recently tearing down two of its building. Faced with crumbling infrastructure and costly maintenance, the congregation strategically decided to downsize its facility while at the same time reimaging its future and living into its call to serve and love downtown Winston-Salem. In preparation for demolition of the buildings, the church donated the pews from the chapel to a startup church, gave the kitchen equipment to a young woman starting a bakery, and sent the basketball backboards to a nearby church.

For CBF of Georgia and First on Fifth deconstruction and downsizing resulted in sharing, gifting, and serving, but deconstruction and downsizing also resulted in new ministry opportunities, new possibilities for partnership, and new hope and dreams for the future.

Emily’s sermon text on Sunday night was Isaiah 43:18-19: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” She beautifully reminded us that God is always doing a new thing among us, always. Yet for that new thing to blossom, to grow, to thrive, we have to let go of and put aside the former things and to make space and welcome for that which is new. We have to let go—even when those former things are sacred and dear.

One of the many things I love about Emily is that her sermons always push me with kindness and grace to ponder—not just about her church or about churches in general and not even about the organization I love best: Baptist Women in Ministry. Emily’s sermons drive me to ask hard questions about my own life, my own faith journey.  

In the last two days, I have been thinking of former things that I need to deconstruct or perhaps free so that they might give life to another, and I have wondered if I am brave enough to downsize and demolish. I have wondered too about the new thing God is doing in and around me. Am I paying close enough attention to see what is new? Is my heart open to reimagining and then living into bold dreams? Am I willing to embrace the unknown with hope?

Good sermons, really good sermons stay with you—and sometimes keep you up at night and make you uncomfortable. Thanks be to God for really good sermons preached by Emily Hull McGee.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.