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, sometimes
I 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
First of all, we need new leaders to carry the great torch: young,
dynamic, charismatic personalities to rise up and be mentored.
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
Second, we need to make sure the movement is more than its
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, as
evangelical minister Rick
Warren suggests, "purpose-driven churches." If we want a place for our
children and their children to grow, then purpose--not personality--must
the base upon which we build. That's why a more formal theological
curriculum is being developed to buttress our existing New
education. This way, we'll build a legacy of
leadership and not a legion of lone rangers.
Next, we need our current leaders to pass the baton. I've
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 The
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 of
self-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 been
raised 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.
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!