Plentiful Harvest

A challenge to plant churches

Ron Gladden is the ministerial director of the Oregon Conference.
Dennis Punford is senior pastor of the South Salem SDA Church in Salem, Oregon.
The first priority in any denominational strategy should be organizing new congregations"-- Lyle Schaller, Growing Plans, p. 165.

Ministry: What is your dream for the church in North America?

Ron: Imagine local churches in every city that are obsessed with reaching the lost, proud of the Adventist message, and saturated with love for one another. The result is lots of confused and broken people-in every city-coming to Jesus, finding purpose for their lives, getting loved and "fixed" emotionally and spiritually! They then join us in the greatest missionary cause ever-winning this final generation for Christ.

Ministry: What would it take for that to be reality?

Dennis: We have to do our best to move the 4,700 churches we already have in that direction. It's tough work, but we have to keep trying. We must also be deliberate and aggressive about establishing a new wave of dynamic, evangelistic churches.

Ministry: Is that what the Plentiful Harvest Initiative is all about?

Ron: Yes. It is an appeal and a pledge. The appeal is to administrators in North America to restore church planting as a top priority, The pledge is on behalf of hundreds of pastors and volunteer leaders all across this continent. Leaders who are saying, "We love Christ, His church, and the message. We will pay any price to win more to Christ. We sense an unmistakable call to plant new churches. Please let us, help us, guide us." Ministry: Where did you get the idea?

Dennis: Everywhere we go, local church leaders are dreaming, talking, and asking about church planting. At Seeds '96, NAD year-end meetings, numerous church planting seminars in unions and conferences, and even over Sabbath lunch conversations, God seems to be placing this passion in man¡ many hearts. The wave of interest is growing. People are yearning to make a difference, We decided to put into writing the willingness of many to attack the incredible challenge of the unreached in the North American mission field. Ministry: What kind of people does this initiative represent? Ron: Three things are true about them. 1. They are head over heels in love with Jesus and His church. 2. They feel a fire to pioneer a new work for the sake of the lost. 3. God has given them the proper gift mix to effectively start and lead new churches.

Ministry: What if a pastor says, "Yes! I agree with this; I'd love to plant a church on this basis"?

Ron: Give me or Dennis a call. Ron: 503 -794- 4202; E-mail: Ron-Gladden@; or Dennis: 503-581 - 2899; E-mail: sssda@open,org. I am directing the church planting assessment program at Seeds '97 this fall.  We'll talk about that and other possible future opportunities.

Ministry: What do you envision from this Plentiful Harvest Initiative?

Dennis: More and more administrators really want to get serious about planting churches. More and more pastors and volunteer leaders are waiting for the opportunity. I pray that God will use this initiative as a rallying point to phenomenal action. Read on. If your heart starts beating a little faster, let's be in touch.

A statement of intent

We feel compelled to reach America's vast millions by creating a self-funding system* that strategically plants reproducing churches led by qualifìed planting pastors.

See a lonely farmer waist-deep in golden grain. The hot sun broils his face as he fist-grips the wooden handled silver scythe. Sweat-soaked clothes and the stack of harvested wheat testify to an already long day of tenacious swinging. It is pre-1834, the year when harvesting changed forever, the year Cyrus McCormick earned his patent on the world's ñrst mechanical reaper.

Talk about sensational! It was a miracle! What formerly took a day could be done in a half hour. Much more grain could be harvested, a greater population fed. Imagine: one single invention, one new tool, and reaping soared phenomenally! The fields that surround us are ripe for harvest, Millions of Americans are unprepared for the coming of Jesus, In an untiring effort to evangelize the lost, we find ourselves swinging every scythe we can get our hands on. Thank God that the pile of wheat continues to grow We must, however, employ the most efficient tools. It is time to invent-or reinvent-the mechanical reaper of church planting. This single act will result in an incredibly plentiful harvest.

Nothing is more rooted in the New Testament than church planting, In fact, removing church planting from the New Testament would delete virtually all Scripture that emerged after Jesus' Great Commission. Ellen White urged a church planting strategy upon a young, aggressive church. A large proportion of our resources, she counseled, should find its way into new work. Our pioneers responded by launching a movement to bring the message to every corner of America. Pastors were trained, not to hover over older churches, but to raise up new ones.

Today Adventist church planting has nearly ground to a halt. Virtually all of our evangelistic effort, time, and money is dedicated to growing the churches we already have. Existing churches, of course, need to grow. Yet recent research shows new Adventist churches growing at 10 times the rate of established ones. In fact, the single variable between growing and declining denominations is the deliberate establishment of new congregations.

Those who are following the New Testament pattern (and, unknowingly Ellen White's counsel) are gathering a plentiful harvest. When it comes to the harvest, doesn't God want us to be the head and not the tail?

We are falling short of our evangelistic potential. Most of the reachable lost will never be won by our existing churches; they are tuned to other channels, It's as though we are speaking in an unknown tongue without an interpreter. Should we try to change our existing churches? It is not wise, Jesus warned, to put new wine into old wineskins, On the other hand, new congregations can intentionally present our unique perspective of God in language readily understood by the chosen target group. Suddenly the gospel becomes magnetic.

An astonishing wave is washing across North America. Adventist pastors and volunteer leaders everywhere report an earnest passion to establish new churches. This wave is unstoppable. If left to its own, we are concerned that zealous but misguided leaders may create a seeding ground for independence or even church splintering. Irreparable harm can only be the result. Church leadership, it seems, must take a guiding role in encouraging and shaping this initiative.

Everything possible must be done to assure a maximum success rate. Church planters will be chosen through a professional assessment process. Areas with the greatest potential for strategically planted churches will be targeted.

Church planters will be assisted by individual coaches and by networking with leaders of other church plants.

This initiative is our pledge: We are fiercely loyal to the Adventist movement, message, and mission. We will not compromise our message or dilute our doctrines. We will eagerly take counsel from conference, union, and division leadership. We will be the first to admit our mistakes and to learn from them. We are motivated by the Great Commission of Jesus and the vast unreached harvest. Our earnest desire is to build up the cause of Christ and bring honor to His name.

We earnestly ask our church leaders to prayerfully make this vision a chief priority so that every Adventist in North America who is impassioned and qualifìed can be unleashed to gather the plentiful harvest for Jesus Christ

* This system can easily be set up
within existing conferences and unions
without necessitating a policy change.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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Ron Gladden is the ministerial director of the Oregon Conference.
Dennis Punford is senior pastor of the South Salem SDA Church in Salem, Oregon.

July 1997

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