Net '98: The next millennium seminar

Finding a forever friendship with God: the heart of NET '98 outreach

Russell Burrill, D.Min., is director of the North American Division Evangelism Institute (NADEI) and chair of the Department of Christian Ministry, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

NET '98 officially began its journey on November 15,1997, with the "UniteIgnite" satellite rally uplinked to the North American continent from Pioneer Memorial Church (PMC) at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan. Responses from congregations across the continent assure a heightened sense of spiritual expectancy for what God can and will do with NET '98. Scheduled to begin on October 9, 1998, with PMC again hosting, NET '98 will again be the greatest single Adventist evangelistic thrust. Dwight K. Nelson, PMC pastor, will be the main presenter, and his emphasis will be on building relationships.

Finding a forever friendship

The NET '98 series will present "The Next Millennium Seminar: Finding a For ever Friendship With God." With that theme as the focus, Dwight Nelson will present the Adventist message from a relational perspective, helping people discover a fresh and meaningful "forever friendship" with the Saviour. Each night's presentation of the great truths and prophecies of Scripture will seek to implement the appeal of Christ's Object Lessons, p. 415: "It is the darkness of misapprehension of God that is en shrouding the world. Men [and women] are losing their knowledge of His character....

At this time a message from God is to be proclaimed, a message illuminating in its influence and saving in its power.... The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a rev elation of His character of love."

Accepting this relational summons, NET '98 will seek to be sensitive to Generation X by interfacing with the prevailing hunger of this generation for meaningful relationships. The university setting and the choice of Pastor Nelson as the speaker are a deliberate attempt to appeal and be sensitive to Generation X. Nelson, pastor of the University church for 15 years, understands the needs of this generation and preaches each week to thousands of young people. He knows GenXers and speaks to their hearts.

While NET '98 will be user-friendly for the young, it is designed to appeal to people of all ages and will present truth to change lives. It will be the most expansive single effort that Adventists have yet initiated to share the good news of Jesus with every man, woman, and child on earth!

Start building relationships now

Because of the relational emphasis of NET '98, church members are encouraged to begin the process of building relationships with unchurched people now. This series will not succeed if churches simply rely on traditional handbill and TV advertising. These are helpful and needed, but in addition NET '98 needs churches to form relationships with community people before NET '98 begins. Satellite meetings are reaping events. One can only reap what one sows. It is time to start building friendships now in preparation for NET '98.

However, we cannot build relationships with people merely for the purpose of leading them into church membership. Instead, God commands us to move out into the world, establishing relationships with people as we demonstrate God's love for them. One of the by-products of such sharing is that many will come to faith in Christ because they have seen Christ's love in action God's people reflecting the real gospel in their lives. That's why friendship evangelism is a key preparatory event for NET '98.

Many churches in the past have relied primarily on the handbill to bring "strangers" who would make decisions to be a part of God's church. God has blessed, and many of these "strangers" have joined the family of God and are no more strangers. This will also happen in NET '98, but the program envisions people coming to meetings because they have been invited by friends. In other words, those who attend will have actually become friends with existing Christians before the satellite meetings begin.

Friendship evangelism

Everyone has friends both inside and outside of the church. These may be relatives, neighbors, work associates, people with common interests, and many others. Friendship evangelism encourages church members to enhance existing relationships as well as to develop new ones. How can one share Christ's love through existing relationships? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Share Christ's love by meeting a need in the life of the person with whom you are seeking to enhance your relationship.

2. Strengthen that relationship by inviting the person to share a meal with you, either at your home or at a restaurant.

3. Invite other members to join you for the sharing of food, thus acquainting the person with other Christians.

4. Share common interests and activities.

5. Watch for the providential openings that the Holy Spirit creates for you to share Christ's love with your friend.

6. As your friend reveals an interest in spiritual things, don't be shy about sharing with them what Jesus means to you. You don't have to give a Bible study to tell in a simple way the great friend you have found in Jesus.

It is Christ's methods that will give real success in reaching people. Jesus mixed with people so that they could see He desired their good. He showed sympathy for them, met them at the point of their need, and won their confidence. Then He said to them, "Follow me."

This approach takes time and patience, but it is Christ's model of evangelism. 1

Prayer warriors

NET '98 hopes to enlist 100,000 prayer warriors in North America and one million in the world.2 The motto for this prayer initiative is "Forward on Our Knees." Only as NET '98 preparation and execution are bathed in prayer is its success ensured. NET '98 envisions an enlarged prayer plan: In addition to challenging church members to pray regularly, it seeks to take prayer from the church into the community. It envisions many church members moving out into their communities, going door to door, seeking prayer requests, praying for those needs, and building relationships with these community people.

A cadre of prayer warriors is needed in every church that is involved in NET '98. These people will meet together every Sabbath to pray for NET '98. In addition, they will assemble monthly for a one-hour NET '98 prayer time. Some will choose a block or street and pray for those who live in each home. Then they will knock on the doors and elicit prayer requests. They will return regularly to discover how God is answering their prayers. As the people see needs being fulfilled by multiple answers to prayer, relationships will build. The Adventist church needs to be known in each area as the church that prays for the community. Even in the prayer-warrior program, it is the goal of NET '98 to build relationships with unchurched people in the community.

Discover Bible Schools

As relationships develop and spiritual interest is awakened, new friends can be enrolled in the local Discover Bible School. 3 The lessons provide a way to share Bible truths in a nonthreatening way. As they proceed through the lessons, their spiritual interest will be enhanced. They will then be prime prospects to be invited to NET '98 meetings to discover a "forever friendship with God."

NET '98 calls for strong lay involvement in the preparation phase, but this phase is not the only time when lay people will play a pivotal role in the series. NET '98 is asking each participating church to enlist a corps of key lay people to help out in conducting the meetings. This involvement includes the traditional roles of greeters, ushers, and helpers for the children's program but also seeks to recruit a number of individuals to serve as lay counselors.4

Lay counselors

These specially recruited lay counselors will assist the pastor in the visitation and follow-up of the NET '98 meetings. They will enable the local church to accomplish the NET '98 objective of strengthening and building relationships. NET '98 envisions every interested friend who attends being assigned to a lay counselor. The lay counselors will work to build relationships with these friends throughout the NET '98 seminar. If the friend comes forward to accept Christ, the lay counselor will come forward with the friend to lead them to Jesus. When a friend's decision is to be baptized, the lay counselor will be available to lead the per son through this decision both at the meeting place and in home visitation.

Adventism is a lay movement, with laity involvement needed in evangelism not just to pass out handbills and give invitations but to be engaged in the whole process. The pastor alone will not be able to give the time needed to build solid relationships with all the people who attend NET '98. The pastor will need to enlist lay people to accomplish this task. In the past, Adventist evangelism has relied on the visiting evangelist or pastor to do this work. NET '98 is different. Because its relational aspect needs to be demonstrated as well as taught, a host of people are needed to make it successful.

Four exciting reasons

NET '98 is exciting for four reasons: (1) it envisions laity and clergy working together; (2) it foresees a mighty prayer movement; (3) it seeks to proclaim the Adventist message through a relational paradigm. Our prophetic approach will definitely be presented but examined through relational eyes; (4) it attempts to be particularly sensitive to the needs of Generation X through the use of the relational message and a short, crisp, one-hour program.

NET '98 is the most exciting event in the history of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It will be downlinked on nearly every continent. From Africa to Asia, to the South Pacific, to Europe, India and Russia, to all the Americas, and possibly even China, God's message of finding a forever friendship with God will be proclaimed. If your church has not already decided to be a part of this extraordinary event, why not call your conference coordinator right now and have your church listed as one of the sites. Remember, you need to begin now, because NET '98 is a reaping event and needs much preparation. Your success October 9 through November 14, 1998, will be determined by the amount of preparation you invest in the months leading up to NET '98.

1. Recommended tools to help church members in friendship evangelism are Making Friends for God, by Mark Finley (Hart Research Institute, 1 -800-487-4278) and Friendship Evangelism Seminar, by Monte Sahlin (AdventSource, 1-800-328-0525).

2. The prayer-warrior plan is detailed in the NET "98 Pastor's Manual, part 1, available from your conference coordinator.

3. Contact the Voice of Prophecy at 1-800-487-4278 for details on setting up your own local church Discover Bible School.

4. Job descriptions are available in the NET '98 Pastor's Manual, part 2.

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Russell Burrill, D.Min., is director of the North American Division Evangelism Institute (NADEI) and chair of the Department of Christian Ministry, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

March 1998

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