It is absolutely essential for the church, its pastors, and its laypeople to set priorities and to act upon them. Jesus had clear and definite priorities: "My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work" (John 4:34). Nothing could turn Jesus away from accomplishing that which He considered first priority.
Soon after Pentecost the early church faced a priority crisis. The multiplicity of tasks that accumulated began to rob the apostles of time and energy to spend on priority items. Fortunately they reacted, studied the situation, and arrived at the following conclusion: "It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business" (Acts 6:2, 3). The apostles defined the ministry of the word as first priority and decided that they would dedicate themselves entirely to this priority mission. They delegated tasks of lesser importance to a group of faithful and capable laymen.
What is the great priority of the Adventist Church today? "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations and then shall the end come" (chap. 24:14). "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (chap. 28:19). Jesus considers that the main task of the church and its leaders is the proclamation of the gospel. "The Lord designs that the presentation of this message shall be the highest, greatest work carried on in the world at this time." 1 "We must look our work fairly in the face and advance as fast as possible in aggressive warfare." 2
Several years ago the General Conference approved a document on evangelization and the finishing of the work. This document calls evangelism God's priority. "The lifeblood of the church is evangelism; without it the church can not exist. The church was organized in order to evangelize, and its singular mission is 'to carry the gospel to the world.' The church that misuses, wrongly defines, buries, or strangulates the vast and wonderful force called evangelism puts the knife to its own jugular vein, for it fails in the only object of its existence. If we can permit the concept of the primacy and centrality of evangelism to penetrate every action made by the church, we will always keep priorities where God wants them to be. Any activity within the church that threatens or replaces evangelism is surely a tool of Satan and is illegitimate." 3 Thus it is very clear that Jesus, the Spirit of Prophecy, and church leadership agree that the church's number one priority is evangelism.
Avoiding a fatal error
In the implementation of the priority task—evangelism—it is important to avoid the grave error of thinking that this task belongs only to pastors. In too many churches the pastor works unceasingly, while the members remain idle.
But this was never the plan of God. "It is a fatal mistake to suppose that the work of soulsaving depends alone upon the ministry." 4 "The minister should not feel that it is his duty to do all the talking and all the laboring and all the praying; he should educate helpers in every church." 5 "It is not the Lord's purpose that ministers should be left to do the greatest part of the work of sowing the seeds of truth." 6
Satan has been able to hinder and delay the finishing of the work by leading pastors and churches to believe that the work of evangelization and pastoring belongs only to the pastor. Moses fell into the same error, but his father-in-law boldly counseled him, "The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone" (Ex. 18:17, 18).
"It was a master stroke of strategy when the devil succeeded in dividing the church into two sharply defined groups—the clergy and the laity. This division did not exist in the apostolic church." 7
To whom is the Great Commission given? "The church is God's appointed agency for the salvation of men. It was organized for service, and its mission is to carry the gospel to the world. From the beginning it has been God's plan that through His church shall be reflected to the world His fullness and His sufficiency." 8
"Someone must fulfill the commission of Christ; someone must carry on the work which He began to do on earth; and the church has been given this privilege. For this purpose it has been organized." 9 It was never the purpose of Christ that the task of evangelization would belong only to the ministry instead of to the whole church.
Even distinguished evangelists agree with the concept that the mission of evangelization belongs to the whole church. "Evangelism is not a work merely for a few specialists . . . Evange lism is the work that Jesus Christ assigned to all His followers." 10
The mission of the laity
In the great divine commissions there is a constant participation of human beings. God called Noah to preach and build, and Moses to free His people. In the taking of Jericho all the people were included. "Men are instruments in the hand of God, employed by Him to accomplish His purposes of grace and mercy. Each has his part to act; to each is granted a measure of light, adapted to the necessities of his time and sufficient to enable him to perform the work which God has given him to do." 11
Jesus prepared the apostles and other groups of believers to carry the knowledge of the gospel to all the world. After healing the demoniac in Gadara, He commissioned him to return to his community saying, " 'tell what great things God has done for you' " (Luke 8:39,N.K.J.V.).
In the early church everyone was a missionary. Layman Stephen's sermon was no less inspired than Peter's preach ing. And the Holy Spirit chose a deacon, not an apostle, to minister to and baptize the Ethiopian eunuch.
The early church was a church with a mission. Most of the congregations met in the homes of the believers. And the majority of the local leaders were lay men.
Paul, speaking of the great themes of redemption, indicates that God com missioned us to announce to the world "that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath commit ted unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:19, 20). Peter makes reference to the high dignity of the children of God and the mission to which we have been commissioned: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
The pastor's role
If the entire church is responsible to do the work of evangelism, what is the role of the pastor? He or she must be involved in the work of evangelization, for the Great Commission applies to pastors, too. Paul counseled Timothy, "Preach the word. . . . Do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:2-5). But the pastor should never undertake to work without the help of the whole church.
The way to involve the church is to carry on a teaching ministry, preparing and instructing church members in the work of public and personal evangelism.
"The best help that ministers can give the members of our churches is not sermonizing, but planning work for them. Give each one something to do for others. Help all to see that as receivers of the grace of Christ they are under obligation to work for Him. And let all be taught how to work. Especially should those who are newly come to the faith be educated to become laborers together with God." 12 "Ministers should not do the work which belongs to the church, thus wearying themselves, and prevent ing others from performing their duty. They should teach the members how to labor in the church and in the community." 13
"In laboring where there are already some in the faith, the minister should at first seek not so much to convert unbelievers, as to train the church members for acceptable cooperation. Let him labor for them individually, endeavoring to arouse them to seek for a deeper experience themselves and to work for others. When they are prepared to sustain the minister by their prayers and labors, greater success will attend his efforts." 14 "But many pastors fail in not knowing how, or in not trying, to get the full membership of the church actively engaged in the various departments of church work. If pastors would give more attention to getting and keeping their flock actively engaged at work, they would accomplish more good, have more time for study and religious visiting, and also avoid many causes of friction." 15
Pastors and laity united
The formula for the rapid, triumphal finishing of the work is this: "Let ministers and lay members go forth into the ripening fields." 16 "The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership rally to the work, and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers." 17
Christ, our example, dedicated daily the larger part of His ministry to teaching His disciples to heal, preach, pray, and accomplish their mission. He never worked alone.
The successful pastor is not the one who works hard but alone, but is the one who is able to recruit, train, and place in action the largest number of members of his congregation to work together at their task. The pastor is like a general who recruits and trains the largest possible number of soldiers. He knows that alone he cannot face the enemy hosts. He plans and he leads the battle, but not without assistance from a good number of soldiers.
The pastor's work has also been compared to that of a foreman whose task is to lead and coordinate a group of people who together do the work. "The owner of a large mill once found his superintendent in a wheel pit, making some simple repairs, while a half-dozen workmen in that line were standing by, idly looking on. The proprietor, after learning the facts, so as to be sure that no injustice was done, called the foreman to his office and handed him his discharge with full pay. In surprise the foreman asked for an explanation. It was given in these words: 'I employed you to keep six men at work. I found the six idle, and you doing the work of but one. Your work could have been done just as well by any one of the six. I cannot afford to pay the wages of seven for you to teach the six how to be idle.'" 18
The current priority is to evangelize and to finish the preaching of the gospel. It is necessary to avoid the error of attributing such a task only to the ministry, for the mission is for all the church, since all believers have been called to do the work of evangelization. The task of the pastor is to give the example, then motivate and train the lay members to accomplish the work together. The formula for triumph should be: Christ commissions, the Holy Spirit empowers, the pastors and laymen united accomplish the mission and triumph by His power.
1 Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington,
D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), p.
2 ————, Christian Service (Washington, D.C.:
Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1947), p. 79.
3 "Annual Council Action on Evangelism and
Finishing God's Work," Ministry, December,
1976, citing in part, Ellen G. White, The Acts of
the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif. : Pacific Press
Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 9.
4 White, Christian Service, p. 68.
5 Ibid., p. 69.
6 Ibid., p. 67.
7 Roy Allan Anderson, The Shepherd Evangelist
(Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub.
Assn., 1950), p. 66.
8 White, Christian Service, p. 15.
9 Ibid., p. 14.
10 J. L. Shuler, Public Evangelism (Washington,
D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1939), p.
11 White, Christian Service, p. 11.
12 Ibid., p. 69.
13 ————, Historical Sketches (Basel, Switzer
land: Imprimerie Polyglotte, 1886), p. 291.
14 ————, Gospel Workers (Washington, D.C.:
Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1915), p. 196.
15 Ibid., p. 198.
16 Christian Service, p. 67.
17 Ibid, p. 68
18 Ibid., p. 70.