As you read the headlines these days you can see that there is much of which to despair, from the loss of life and property from flooding in Texas (and India and Bangladesh) to the emergence from the shadows of overt racists seeking to hide behind the cover of historical legacy in Charlottesville (and Paris and Munich).

Today, however, I prefer to speak about hope — hope for human kindness and relief in the face of natural disasters and hope for the prevailing of moral right in the face of hatred and prejudice — but most of all, hope for the future of the Church of Jesus Christ as an instrument of love and change.

I am privileged to be connected, in very small ways, to two of the institutions that train the ministers of the near future, the McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. In the past couple of weeks I have spent time in conversations with many of these students and I am very encouraged by what I have heard.

These are young people (for the most part) who have not given up on the institutional church. They are not blind to its faults and they are not married to its current structure, but they are committed to its survival because, I think, they see it as the best hope for the transformation of society and the true representation of the body of Christ on earth. While some may prefer to serve God through other ministries and in “non-traditional” ways, an encouraging number of them want to serve as pastors and Christian educators and spiritual counselors.

Only time will tell how many of them become so frustrated with the institutional rigidity and self-serving spirit of churches that they pursue other paths, but I didn’t sense excessive naivete in these young people. They know the church is flawed but they feel truly called by God to serve it nonetheless.

As the ones who will help shape their ministries and as those whom they will soon serve as leaders, I ask you to pray for them. God knows, and so do we, that they will have their work cut out for them. With dwindling numbers of lay people actively involved in church and with increasing numbers of young people revealing themselves to be “nones,” not committed to any religion, ministers are going to have to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit more than on the resources of the church.

So it has always been; so it shall always be. The Lord did some pretty amazing things with a group of ragtag, uneducated fishermen and day laborers when the church began. I can’t wait to see what God will do with these bright, committed, talented young people today.