Alfred C. McClure interviews Dwight K. Nelson, speaker for NET '98 the largest evangelistic event ever undertaken by a Christian church. It will be broadcast via satellite to as many as five thousand downlink sites in virtually every time zone around the world.
Alfred C. McClure: For the NET '98 speaker we turned to you, a pastor in a relatively small community. Dwight, how do you think NET '98 will impact the church and its evangelistic thrust?
Dwight K. Nelson: NET '98 will open up a new paradigm for public evangelism. Public evangelism is not only the hiring of "professional guns" (as much as we need their expertise and giftedness). Rather, evangelism is the domain of the local body of Christ and the local shepherd. What NET '98 will be modeling to the world church is a local pastor, in his local pulpit, serving his local parish by reaching out to local friends and neighbors, and communicating passionately the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ. Administrators have been saying for years, "Pastor, you are the evangelist. Your people are the partners in evangelism with you." Now, we are modeling that paradigm.
ACM: What kind of person do you have in mind as you prepare for this series?
DKN: I have heard from pastors in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, across Asia, and from my colleagues on this continent that they want NET '98 to interface with secular people, those who dominate the mind-set of human civilization right now a group that has not been our traditional target. So in shaping the program, the for mat, the messages of NET '98,1 have tried to keep in mind the secular person, especially the secular young adult. That's all generations, including the young.
ACM: What, specifically, drives your special concern for young people in relation to NET '98?
DKN: Within the church GenXers have grown up with a sense that evangelism really was not for them. Outside of the church, evangelism has not interfaced as effectively as it could with the GenX population. The goal of the next millennium seminar is to be life-changing for all, and it is certainly going to be user-friendly to the young.
ACM: That's something, clearly, that the whole church has been praying for and longs to see happen. What is your vision for that?
DKN: Our theme for NET '98 will be "Finding a Forever Friendship with God."
ACM: What does that mean?
DKN: This is the most relationally starved generation in the history of the earth. Across the board. All demographic groups. All age groups. What better time to be communicating a picture of God that will be relationally compelling in the midst of all the brokenness. What better time to reach out with a picture of God that will draw the relationally hungry to a lifelong, even eternal friendship with God. We will sweep across all the major summits of biblical truth but find at the top of every mountain this compelling picture of God as someone who urgently longs to draw the human race into personal friendship with Him now.
ACM: I think I hear you saying that there will be distinctives that will make this series different from others.
DKN: Yes. NET '98 obviously is going to build on the strong shoulders of NET '96 and NET '95. But we have been listening to the pastors, and over and over again the word that has come back is "Shorten the program." Each NET '98 airing is going to be only 60 minutes long.
ACM: Can you do everything in 60 minutes?
DKN: We will have a host couple who will welcome both our local site and the global audience, and the musicians will sing. Then we will go to video clips, on-the-street interviews in cities all over this earth. Those on the video roll-ins will ask questions pertaining to the themes that I will be covering in our evening lectures. As soon as the on-the-street interviews are over, I step to the microphone and have the message. At the end of the lecture we may have an appeal song. I may make an appeal, but boom, I am telling you, in 60 minutes it will be over.
ACM: What would you suggest that a pastor do to encourage members to be involved in preparation for opening night?
DKN: At this juncture, just weeks away from opening night (October 9) it is imperative that we as pastors, with our people, move into an even deeper dimension of intercessory prayer.
ACM: Just pray?
DKN: Al, I am absolutely convinced that the only hope for the success of NET '98 is God's response to a concerted con cert of prayer. This world is too big for you and me, all of us. It is humanly impossible to reach this generation as God has asked us to. So, the first strategic action of every prayer and every parish right now is to intensify our prayer strategy of praying for the lost who live around us.
ACM: Is there anything else?
DKN: Step number two is that we have got to be out among those people. If NET '98 is going to be a relational series based on a relational truth about God, pastors must be in the pulpits asking our people to strengthen, to affirm, to keep nurturing the friendships they have. Because in two or three weeks we will be going back to those people with smiles on our faces and a very attractive, compelling handbill in our hands, inviting them to be with us on opening night. So number one: intensified prayer strategy; number two: intensified relational strategy.
ACM: Let's assume that I am a pastor and my church has made adequate preparation and is off to a good start. What can I do as the pastor to build a bridge from your presentation each evening to being able to provide leadership to the group in attendance?
DKN: I really am hoping that the local pastor will see me as a colleague whom he has invited in for a quick interface with an inquiring public. I want to urge my col leagues to assume the role of evangelistic leadership that is already theirs. Before they turn on the screen and the cameras start panning the audience at Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University, before they even turn on that switch, their visibility up front will be strategically significant. Pastors will be viewed by their people as the leaders of these local events. The pastor's personal appeal, his or her own friendly bridging to the audience, will be key. What we do on the screen, the Holy Spirit is going to anoint, but the pastors are the link age with the real human being. Pastors will be providing spiritual leadership at a key time in people's lives. The screen won't save a soul. The Holy Spirit is going to work through the pastors' personal contacts in the home and in the office, as well as at the church.
ACM: Dwight, you said the screen won't save anybody. But what about the messages?
DKN: A sermon is a speech that ends with a motion. In other words, you come to the end of that speech and you say, "Therefore, I move." As I spent July 1997 through January 1998 working every spare minute on the 28 messages for NET '98, I endeavored to shape each of them into a moment of decision. There is no way we can encounter the living Christ of the uni verse, the Father of all life, and not be confronted with a decision. And we will have altar calls. So, in answer to your question, yes, every message has been shaped to lead the secular, urban, contemporary human spirit to make a choice about God.
ACM: Since your emphasis will be on finding a forever friendship with God, what can church members do to help build relationships with people coming to the meetings?
DKN: That's a key question. We can't talk about a God who seeks friendships and wants to deepen His relationship with human beings and yet be a church that is offering no human friendship. It is vital from the opening night that the congregations exude the warmth, the friendship of Christ.
ACM: Do you have any specific suggestions?
DKN: At our site, for example, the host site, we are assigning people to be what we are calling row hosts and hostesses. They will be assigned to the same pew night after night, because all of us as humans are creatures of habit, and we tend to return to the same pew, the same seat. So we are intentionally structuring our teams to have people who will be at those pews to welcome guests back night after night. They will assist when the cards are passed out, at the time decisions are made, as warm, friendly Christian partners in this NET '98 journey.
ACM: Dwight, you have been praying and planning for NET '98 now for eighteen months. What will make NET '98 a success?
DKN: The success of NET '98 rests not on our technological savvy nor on our global satellite network but upon the divine, supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit. And there is not a more vital and strategic preparation step or methodology than private prayer and corporate prayer. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is undertaking something never undertaken by any denomination in the history of Christianity; that is, broadcasting the gospel globally for five weeks. It is a first for our humble little Adventist global community. We dare not, we cannot, we must not move into this endeavor without bathing it with all of our human sense of inadequacy poured out in intercessory prayer before the throne of Grace. God Himself, with His bidding, is going to provide His enabling. And I believe with all my heart, Al, that at this strategic time in human history we are on the thresh old of witnessing a supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon this earth's civilization. The Seventh-day Adventist Church, as humble and inadequate as we are, has been called by God to be a spokesperson to call the human race to a living encounter with the One who is soon to return to this planet. We cannot depend on our technological savvy to save us then. Our only hope is that the Spirit will harness the technology and will harness us as human beings and then with fire, pour Himself out across the face of this earth through each of us. There isn't one person in the Adventist Church up to this challenge. Fortunately, God is.