My ministry to churches other than my own denomination began by accident---in a hospital.
After having hernia surgery, I was wheeled to a room with two beds. I was placed in one; the other was occupied by a man recovering from heart surgery. As I returned to consciousness late that afternoon, I was greeted by the sound of a sermon being preached (hearing voices is a matter of special concern when one has spent years in the mental health field!). Becoming more conscious, I realized that my family had set up a tape recorder and was playing one of my sermons for me. Later, I heard the man in the next bed ask the nurse who was speaking on the tape, and added, "I'd like to have such a person speak at my church. We have no minister right now."
"Well," said the nurse, "why don't you ask him he's in the next bed!"
That was my first invitation to serve a church of another denomination.
"Sheep of another fold"
Looking back at the 14 years I have spent with churches of other denominations, (much of it being part time since retirement) the opportunities have been, in my estimation, remarkable. This ministry has offered opportunities to speak in many churches, to be a guest speaker at citywide interdenominational meetings, to lead out in Lenten Services for all local churches, to meet with city officials, to be placed on the executive board of the city nursing program, to lead out in the Clergy Association, and to have many opportunities to share my faith.
This ministry also enabled me to become friendly with the editors of the city newspaper, who asked me to write a series of articles about my beliefs. Never once was I pressured to compromise. I was always treated with love and respect. Not only has this experience helped me to overcome my own unfounded prejudices, but it certainly has given the people I have served a different view of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and caused them to take on more constructive opinions of it.
Criticisms of this missionary project, however faint, have existed. Some of my fellow denominational clergy have said that what I was doing was disloyal; or that I should have more force fully publicized the beliefs of my denomination. "When are you going to face them with the truth?" was one comment.
What have I discovered through this ministry to "sheep" not of my fold? Many things. Most of all I have seen that these churches have much genuinely in common with my basic beliefs, needs, and fears. They believe in my God, my Ten Commandments, my hunger for heaven, my need for salvation. They have all the same worries about the present and the future, they get the same sicknesses, go to the same hospitals, struggle as I do to earn the same kind of money, and make the same kinds of mistakes that is "sins."
Could these "other sheep" profit from my knowledge of God's love, as it comes from the mouth and heart of someone not of their community of faith? Can it be done on their "turf" where they feel safe and not quite as afraid to listen? Could I offer the precious truth of "salvation by grace," a gift of God's love, without unnecessary argument, challenge, or conflict?
I have found during my 14 years of ministry to other churches that every facet of the precious gospel can be presented in most any Christian denomination. Fine people in these "other" congregations deserve all we can offer. With our extensive knowledge of Bible truth, who would do it better than a Seventh-day Adventist minister, especially if it is done within a more sensitive or kinder frame of reference?
The church I now serve is not Seventh-day Adventist. It is doing well. We have developed a 16-page monthly news letter, rebound the well-used hymnals, built a new $300,000 parish hall debt free, and refinished the church building inside and out, including the hardwood floors, pews, walls, and ceilings. Because the church is in an official historical building (begun by Major General Benjamin Lincoln at the close of the Revolutionary War), we have kept the building pristine. For example, we rebuilt the bell tower, which houses a beautiful bell cast by Paul Revere in his Boston foundry and hauled to the church by ox wagon.
One issue that caused me concern was the reception of new members into the congregation. Remembering the prerequisites, do's, and don't's that characterize my own denomination, I had to ask whether I should examine these candidates by the rules of the church they were joining or by the rules of my church? My nature wanted to make them measure up to my standard, but Wisdom told me that if they were sincere, loved the Lord, and wanted entrance into their church, I should honor their understanding of truth and accept them on the terms of their denomination, not on the terms of mine.
I remembered the evangelist Phillip and his contact with an Ethiopian official who, when he heard about Jesus, was immediately baptized; no questions asked, no list of prerequisites. It struck me that if anyone accepts Jesus as Saviour, they are on pretty safe ground, and the details about serving Him may be worked on later. Acceptance into the family of God was the first act. I was also comforted by the actions of the apostles on the day of Pentecost, when three thou sand souls were baptized, with only the prerequisite of belief and acceptance of Jesus. So I felt comfortable in inviting these people into their chosen church as members. I asked only that they publicly declare their faith in God, accept Christ as Saviour and Guarantor of eternal life, and keep the Ten Commandments.
Baptism was also a matter that required some thought. Could I baptize a candidate who would join a church other than my own? Remembering that I baptize candidates in the "name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," I could find no excuse for refusing to baptize anyone in the names of the Godhead, if they sincerely asked for baptism. These sincere candidates have tried to learn the truths of the gospel and fol low their Lord day by day just as earnestly as any I have met in my own church.
In the past nine years, I have baptized 11 people and increased the membership of the church I serve by 72. When I came to it, the church had fewer than 25 members. Now it has a membership nearing 100.
I give the church I presently work with two days a week, Sunday and one other day, for which I am quite well paid. Any minister retired and on Social Security might think of this possibility of augmented income.
Our own sheep
This activity for another denomination has not interfered with my efforts on behalf of my own church. During these years, I have conducted workshops for ministers and teachers at colleges, academies, and conferences in the area of mental health. As one might guess, retirement for me has been an interesting time. I do not believe in rocking chairs! I am only 81.
Will I continue this kind of ministry? Indeed!
Would I urge colleagues to do the same? Indeed! Could God add His blessing to such an endeavor? Indeed! These people have become precious friends to me through the years and, I believe, better prepared for a place in the kingdom of heaven.
"Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring" (John 10:16). It is an immense privilege to be part of that process!