Very few people can claim the distinction of being born into the New Thought Movement. Most people who subscribe to the New Thought-Ancient Wisdom teachings converted because they'd grown weary of the "old thought." Some days I wish I knew what it was like, because often people who hear the New Thought-Ancient Wisdom teaching for the first time seem to be born again, and it's great to witness!
People like me are rarities. I was born in 1974 and christened in what was then Christ Unity Temple. Growing up in what later became Christ Universal Temple, I was always surrounded by the greats. Reverend Ike, Eric Butterworth, Norman Vincent Peale, Dr. Barbara King, Terry Cole Whittaker, and even the not-so-new thought (but a CUT favorite), Dr. Robert Schuller, were among the voices I was exposed to from my earliest days. They are voices I hear to this present day. They were the early pioneers, who took the stings for a controversial movement that today is not as socially dangerous to belong to. However, even I remember being verbally attacked--by members of my grandmother's Pentecostal church--for being associated with "that cult church." Yet today, it seems like some of the same people are now inviting the boy who grew up in that "cult church" to speak in their churches. Growing up New Thought always had me standing out. I recall in the first grade being asked to tell the class my name and something about me. I stood up and said, "My name is Kevin Kitrell Ross and I am a unique, unrepeatable, miracle of God!" As you can imagine, the teacher was astonished. But New Thought was my only reference point, and this was the only thing I knew to say. Before teaching ministries were in vogue, my mother was enrolled in almost every Better Living class at our church. This meant I had to tag along with her to hear more voices of "Truth teachers" talking about "consciousness, Truth principles, Jesus the Christ, and God-in-you." I knew the names and faces of these teachers and they knew mine. Sometimes I wished they didn't, because I could be a bit disruptive at times. As much as I would grow to appreciate the writings of Charles Fillmore and H. Emily Cady, 19th-century pioneers of New Thought, sometimesI just wanted to run and play. After all, I was just a kid. Nevertheless, something was sinking in.
What got me through the awkward days of adolescence were the affirmations I learned in church. When I had pimples and girls would tease me, I pulled through by accepting and affirming my oneness with God and that "whatever God is I am." Because God could not be hurt by their insults, neither could I. New Voices, New Choices The voices that shaped me, that carved out a new place for people seeking an alternative to the fundamentalist and mainline Protestant churches, have served us well. But looking forward, what does New Thought need to continue its mission? First of all, we need new leaders to carry the great torch: young, dynamic, charismatic personalities to rise up and be mentored.However, those standing up to assume leadership must recognize that some of the formulas that helped to found great ministries may not necessarily be effective today. The role of the next generation of New Thought leaders is to re-present the teachings in relevant and practical ways. Second, we need to make sure the movement is more than its leaders. In the past, strong personalities attracted masses to many of our teaching ministries. But "personality-centered" ministries are limited to the longevity of the leader. As new leaders, we must use our personalities to be open spaces for the Principle and forge, asevangelical minister Rick Warren suggests, "purpose-driven churches." If we want a place for our children and their children to grow, then purpose--not personality--mustbe the base upon which we build. That's why a more formal theological curriculum is being developed to buttress our existing NewThought education. This way, we'll build a legacy ofprinciple-centered leadership and not a legion of lone rangers. Next, we need our current leaders to pass the baton. I'veobserved that some leaders are very unwilling to let go of their ministries. Sadly, they end up leaving no successor at all. In fact, in the last five years, a few major New Thought leaders made their transitions (how New Thought refers to death) without grooming any successors. The great ministries that they worked so many years to build were left hanging in the balance. They've experienced congregational splits and organizational in-fighting, and in some instances, they had to close their doors altogether. Of course, successful transitions within our tradition have happened: James Trapp of Miami's Unity on the Bay succeeded Cameron, and TheReverend Ann Jefferson of Baltimore's One God, One Thought Center for Better Living, trained, groomed, and supported the ordination of The Reverend Bernette Jones.
Finding someone to take the top spot requires a strong sense ofself-confidence, a commitment to the future of the movement, and a willingness to develop and groom an apprentice. It also requires the patience to watch as the young mentee makes decisions and mistakes of her own, and the wisdom to gently redirect the pupil back to the Vision. Current leaders don't have to look far, because in many cases the future of our faith is sitting right in the pews. Finally, we need to reach out to young people who, like me, have beenraised in the church. There is a reason why Jesus did not forbid the children to come unto him: he realized that it was in having a child-like consciousness or being "teachable and open" that the kingdom (divine ideas) could manifest on earth. While it's important for churches to promote adult activities and auxiliaries, a hefty percentage of the annual budget should be committed to developing strong youth and young adult ministries. Without a vital youth component of a church, we openly participate in the swift demise of the ministry. Converts often become powerful voices for the teaching, but isn't it better when they are tutored by someone who has been "homegrown"? Investing in youth ministry and becoming innovative in our approach to connecting this generation with the message is crucial to the sustainability of the movement.
I am glad that I grew up with a solid foundation upon which to build a successful God-centered life. The voices that I heard then are now a part of me. If we establish strong youth ministries and develop planned succession programs, we'll create new voices for New Thought.