Tell the world

What must we do, and how must we act to bring Christ to people who do not know Him?

Mark A. Finley is a vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, United States.

Certainly not routine. Maybe historic. Whatever you call the opening session of the Annual Council1 of the world Seventh-day Adventist Church, President Jan Paulsen enthusiastically introduced the “Tell the World” initiative that includes reaching every person on the planet with the gospel by 2010.

Neither a slogan nor empty rhetoric, the initiative calls for a prophetic cry for a prophetic church. As Dr. Paulsen clearly put it: “When it comes to the mission of the church, nothing should be routine. In all of our thinking and planning, at every level, we must constantly ask ourselves: What must we do, and how must we act to bring Christ to people who do not know Him? How can we effectively and creatively communicate hope to those who have none? This continues as our mission. May each one of us—church members and church leaders—commit ourselves anew to the task entrusted to us; to tell the world of the good news of Jesus and His soon return.”

Without an emphasis on reaching people, the church fails in the reason for its existence as described clearly in the mission statement: “The mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is to communicate to all peoples the everlasting gospel of God’s love in the context of the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12, and as revealed in the life, death, resurrection and high priestly ministry of Jesus Christ, leading them to accept Jesus as personal Savior and Lord and to unite with His remnant church and to nurture them in preparation for His soon return.”2

Over the next five years, the Seventh-day Adventist Church will embark on a strategic plan directly focused on its God-given mission. “Tell the World” envisions just how the gospel of Jesus will be shared by the church from 2005–2010. It emphasizes the church’s identity as a called-out community and its end-time mission of proclaiming the gospel to “every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6).3

What is “Tell the World”?

More than a program, “Tell the World” incorporates what the church, by God’s grace, will be and will do in fulfilling the command of Jesus to preach the gospel to every creature. As an individual and corporate commitment, “Tell the World” challenges each member to live out the key values of quality of life, unity, and growth in God’s family.

“Tell the World” inspires the church to know Jesus personally, to share Him enthusiastically, and to proclaim His name intentionally with one voice. Can we ever begin to imagine what God might do if every church administrator, pastor, and church member lived out the principles of the gospel in their personal lives and lovingly witnessed the truths of Scripture to the people in their world? Imagine a global community living out the life of Christ in selfless service, a praying people empowered by the Spirit, nurtured on God’s Word, and united in mission to fulfill their destiny as God’s ambassadors to a waiting world.

Seven key areas

The Church has identified seven key areas to focus its resources, energies, and prayers during the next five years that will unite the entire church in a comprehensive vision of sharing the good news. Every level of church leadership, every institution, every service, every initiative, and every church member will be involved. These seven target areas include spiritual growth, community involvement, personal witness, city outreach, church planting, evangelistic programming, and media ministry. Let’s probe these areas a little and ask these questions: How do they relate to the local church? How can the broad vision of “Tell the World” become the specific call to Tell Your World? How can the corporate vision of the world church become the driving force behind the local church?

Challenges to spiritual life

Recent surveys indicate that Seventh-day Adventists have confidence in the Christ Who redeemed them. They have accepted the assurance of salvation through Christ alone. But other data relating to spiritual life raise serious concerns. Most church members do not spend time in daily devotions. Fewer than 50 percent of Adventists spend time with God in prayer and Bible study each day. And even fewer regularly read Ellen G. White writings.

If through the “precious promises” of the Word, “we [partake] of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4), how can church members grow in Christ without Bible study? If as Peter declares we are “born again, not of corruptible seed but of incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever” (1 Pet. 1:23), how is it possible to be a genuine Christian without a personal devotional life? Ellen White put it well when she said, “If God’s Word were studied as it should be, men would have a breadth of mind, a nobility of character and a stability of purpose that is rarely seen in our times.”4 All genuine revivals have their roots in prayer and God’s Word. With no devotional life, there is no spiritual growth. Could it be that one of the main reasons the church seems so powerless to tell the world is because of its spiritual poverty? For, “a revival of true godliness among us is the greatest and most urgent of all of our needs. To seek this should be our first work.”5

I know of a church in Asia where 40– 60 women meet each morning at 4:30 to seek the Spirit’s blessing upon their lives, families, community, and church. In response God has done some marvelous things in their congregation. On a recent visit, I witnessed 350 people come forward in response to a powerful altar call by the pastor. When the Spirit moves, God does something special.

Every pastor must ask penetrating questions. “What can I do to lead my church in a deeper spiritual life? Where shall I begin? At a monthly prayer breakfast with my elders? In a Wednesday night prayer meeting series on the deeper devotional life? Perhaps in a Sabbath morning service on ‘Knowing Jesus’ with calls to deeper spirituality.” Whenever or however this becomes reality, one thing is for certain—if the deeper spiritual life does not exist as a priority for the pastor, it will not be a priority for the congregation. It takes little effort to pastor a spiritually complacent, going-nowhere church. It takes energy, creativity, and vision to pastor a spiritually dynamic, alive, ministering congregation.

The problem of apostasy has also affected Adventist churches with the average attendance in Sabbath School and church in some parts of the world field hovering around 50 percent. Can any church be spiritually healthy when approximately half of its members never attend church? In the last five years, there have been 5,049,157 accessions to the church through baptism or profession of faith. During the same period, 1,397,608 people have been dropped from church membership. The loss-gain ratio is 27.68 percent. “Tell the World” envisions a spiritually alive, caring, sensitive church concerned about members who leave as well as those who stay.

In the parable of the lost sheep, the Good Shepherd recognized one sheep lost out of 100, and he cared enough to go after it. The only way he knew one was lost was by counting his sheep. Are you counting your sheep? Do you know who is present on Sabbath morning and who isn’t? Do you have a plan in place to sensitively reach out to those who are missing each Sabbath? Data from church growth surveys on apostasy indicate if a missing member does not hear from someone within a six-week time frame, they typically re-invest their time in some other activities such as work, sports, family activities, or social clubs. Now they have become extremely difficult to reach.

“Tell the World” is not simply a vision of what happens on another continent or another culture at another place—it happens in your church. It asks the question: How can your church increase the percentage of church members spending time in personal Bible study and prayer from the current rate of 50 percent to 65 percent? How can we increase our church attendance to a majority of the membership? How can we intentionally develop a strategy to reduce apostasy and actively engage new members in service?

The challenge of growth

Growing churches equip and train their members for service. They reach out to the community to meet the felt needs. These dynamic growing congregations are sensitive to community needs while at the same time they are intentionally evangelistic. Only one in three Adventist church members is sharing their faith or is involved in community service. One of the strategic goals of “Tell the World” centers on increasing the percentage of members involved in the community from 29 percent to at least 40 percent. If your church closed its doors tomorrow, would the community miss it? If it shuts down, would the community demand it reopen?

A fascinating church-growth principle called the “narrow-few” principle, simply means: The narrower your program base, the fewer people you will win for Christ. If you contact a few, you will win a few. It is that simple. Why not write down all of the ways your church interfaces with the community this year? How many guests and visitors will you touch? If the number totals less than three times the membership of your church, you probably will have little impact on the community. Are you planning Bible study classes, musical concerts, health and family life seminars specifically designed to bring your church members in contact with the community? If so, your church will grow.

“Tell the World” challenges five million Adventists to reach at least one person for Jesus and bring them into fellowship with God’s family in the next five years. If five million Adventists win five million of their friends and neighbors to Christ in the next five years, we will baptize as many people from this initiative as we have in all others combined in the last five years. “Win One” is a “Tell the World” initiative where each local region of the world field will develop action plans and programs to equip five million lay people in witnessing activities.

The apostle Paul discusses the role of the pastor as the one who “[equips] . . . the saints [believers] for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12). Ellen White adds, “Every church should be a training school for Christian workers.”6

“Tell the World” envisions pastors equipping and involving church members in service. Growing churches, evangelistic churches, intentionally equip their members to reach others for Christ.

Is your church a “training school” for Christian workers? Do you have specific plans to involve the entire membership in reaching the community? What classes will you teach this year to equip your members with effective witnessing skills? Your church exists as the body of Christ. With members equipped to serve, they will meet needs everywhere in Jesus’ name, and your church will explode in growth. Peru with over 680,000 members and a ratio of 1 Adventist for every 40 of the country’s population baptized more than 57,000 in 2004. The 2005 figures will be in the range of 70,000. Ruy Nagel, president of the South American Division, shared the secrets of South America’s rapid growth rate this way: “Integrated evangelism—the involvement of the whole church and small groups—is the reference of success for the South American Division.” Church leaders passionately committed to mission also passionately commit to equipping lay people to participate in mission.

The challenge of the cities

While in many areas the church experiences rapid growth, a huge challenge still remains. The world has a population of more than six billion. Every second, four babies are born. China with 1.3 billion people, and India with over 1 billion, pose enormous challenges for the church. The burgeoning population centers of those vast countries remain virtually untouched with the gospel. The greatest population growth in the world resides in big cities that soon will be home to more than half of the world’s population. But in this increasingly urban world, most Adventist congregations locate outside the big cities. World divisions of the Adventist Church have targeted 66 major cities in a master strategy to make an impact on their massive populations. More than 400 cities in the world have a population of 1 million or more. Of these, 58 are mega cities of more than 5 million population, with the urban agglomerations of Tokyo, Mexico City, Seoul, New York, and Sao Paulo topping 20 million each. The challenge of the cities can be described as massive, but the challenge is more than numerical. Numerous ethnic groups live in the cities, and these groups represent the population of the world.

In 1882 Ellen White raised the issue of the cities with the Adventist Church leadership. She observed, “I have been shown that in our labor for the enlightenment of the people in the large cities, the work has not been as well organized or the methods of labor as efficient as in other churches that have not the great light we regard as so essential.”7

In 1902 she continued her plea: “New methods must be introduced.”8 This leads administration and pastors alike to ask at least three soul-searching questions:

1. What strategic changes in planning and prioritizing does God call churches, conferences, unions, and divisions to make to reach the cities?

2. What new “out of the box” methods might we try to reach today’s urban, secular cities?

3. If the cities are mission fields, how might we reallocate finances and personnel to reach them?

God has the answers. As we prayerfully seek Him, He will reveal how to reach the great urban population centers.

A church planting movement

“Tell the World” also centers around a church–planting movement. From 2000–2005 the Adventist Church planted 17,000 new congregations. During the next five years, church leaders have committed to plant 20,000 new congregations.

The early church exploded in growth because it constantly focused on planting new churches. Acts 9:31 reports that “the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, . . .were multiplied.” Acts 16:5 adds, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.” New congregations generally pulsate with spiritual life. New members bring a freshness to the body of Christ. Might God be leading your congregation to plant a new church in a neighboring community? Maybe you have a group of Spanish, Romanian, Ghanaian Adventists, or some other group, within your congregation who has a burden to reach out to others in their community who do not know the three angels’ messages. How might you support them? How might you encourage them in their mission? Have you thought of the idea of targeting a neighboring community with no Adventist presence and sending five “mission families” to raise up a new church plant? Churches planting churches grow spiritually stronger themselves.

Public evangelism

Public evangelism continues as a significant factor in the growth of the church in most parts of the world. It still pleases “God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21). Twenty-first century men and women still respond to Christ-centered, Bible-based, preaching that reveals God’s last-day message of love for the world. “Tell the World” envisions the more than 60,000 Adventist churches in the world sponsoring at least one evangelistic series each year. If every church conducted an evangelistic meeting each year, we would conduct 300,000 evangelistic meetings in the next five years. What an evangelistic explosion! Why not get out your calendar, meet with your church board, pray, prepare, and plan your evangelistic series. Choose the style that works best for you. Some series focus on the prophecies for five or six weeks. Other pastors prefer a shorter series on the life of Christ. The issue is not the topics or length of series. Whenever Christ is exalted, the word is preached and appeals are made, the Spirit moves, and people are converted.

Media ministry

“Tell the World” envisions an international linkage of media ministries covering the globe with the three angels’ messages.

The leadership of the Adventist church has committed seriously and creatively to use technology and all communication channels—radio, television, the Internet, and publications to reach every person in the world with the gospel message. “Tell the World” envisions a church of praying members, filled with the Spirit, nurtured on God’s Word; a dynamic, vital, caring church meeting its own spiritual needs and lovingly reaching out to the lost. It envisions a church where all departments, entities, leaders, and members are unified in a single-minded redemptive mission.

All of our Lord’s biddings are enablings. All He calls us to accomplish, His Spirit empowers us to accomplish. He promises, “‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come’ ” (Matt. 24:14). Your city has become your world. The work of God will not be finished anywhere until finished in your town. Why not commit yourself anew to telling the old, old story to your world?

1 Annual Council meets every year in the fall with the full membership of the world church (General
Conference) Executive Committee, including some 300 church and lay members from around
the world, to discuss plans and review what has been already accomplished.

2 Working Policy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2004-2005 ed., A 05 05.

3 All Scripture passages are from New King James Version.

4 Ellen G.. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1956), 90.

5 --------, Review and Herald, March 22, 1887.

6 --------, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1942), 149.

7 --------, Medical Ministry (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1963), 301.

8 --------, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1970), 70.

 

 


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Mark A. Finley is a vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, United States.

February 2006

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