Editor’s note: The Adventist Church—from Mexico through the Caribbean and southward through South America—is known for its strong emphasis on various forms of evangelism.
Alejandro Bullón, now retired, is a well-known public evangelist in South America and served as ministerial secretary for the Adventist Church in South America.
Marcos De Benedicto (MD): Tell us a little bit about your new phase in ministry. How is life now that you have retired?
Alejandro Bullón (AB): By God’s grace, I am living one of the most exciting and productive moments of my life. I continue to preach and evangelize, but now I have more time to read, write, and produce without the pressure of a formal job. At this point, I realize that what causes us to grow tired is not the work itself but the obligation to render an account. Of course, accountability is an indispensable part of the structure, and I gladly did it for almost four decades.
MD: When did you start your ministry? How has ministry changed over the years?
AB: I began in 1969. I was a young pastor, full of dreams and plans. I looked up to my older colleagues and was inspired. God’s work came in first place. At that time, for example, a pastor never would dare raise objections to being transferred from one district to another. Well, things changed. Ministers are more learned today. Now we hardly find a pastor without a master’s degree. Pastors have more freedom to express what they think.
MD: What has been the key to your ministry?
AB: I never will have enough words to thank God for the blessings that I received from His hands. My own weaknesses, mistakes, and personal struggles gave me this awareness. This caused me to seek Jesus as the only Source of inspiration and strength. I put my life in His hands, loved Him, and tried to serve Him.
MD: If you were to give a speech to a group of beginning pastors, what would you highlight?
AB: Love Jesus with all your heart, strength, and life.
MD: Spirituality plays a vital role in the life of a pastor. What is its role in the life of the pastor?
AB: Pastors fail basically for two reasons: lack of spirituality and deficiency in human relations. I never saw a pastor leave the ministry for lack of theological knowledge. Theological education is necessary. However, pastors are only truly pastors when they are spiritual. Without spirituality, a minister can even be an efficient professional, but never a real pastor.
MD: What are the strengths that you see in ministry in the Adventist Church in South America? Are there any areas where you see improvements need to be made?
AB: I think that our strength still lies in the commitment to the mission. Thanks to God, our leaders see very clearly the purpose of the church—to prepare a glorious people to meet Jesus. For this purpose, God gave us three tools: daily prayer, study of the Bible, and involvement in the mission. Ministry in South America still has such a vision. This does not mean that there are no perils. One of the greatest dangers is to adopt a cold professionalism and be infected by secularism—a great plague of our time. The secularist may be religious, but is not spiritual. As a result, they turn into nothing. They are salt, but have no flavor. They are light, but do not illuminate. They are a trumpet, but do not sound.
MD: How do you see the future of the Adventist ministry in South America?
AB: I close my eyes and imagine spiritual ministers preparing a spiritual people for the return of Jesus.
MD: What are the keys to the growth of the Adventist Church in South America? Are the key features of this growth strictly rlaeted to the cultural climate of the region or do you see them as applicable in other parts of the world?
AB: The first aspect to emphasize is dependence on God. The second is a vision of the mission. It is not a theoretical vision. The vision that I am talking about goes from the paper to the practical arena. In the last year, for instance, fifty-one percent of the budget of the Adventist Church in South America was dedicated directly to the fulfillment of the mission: radio, TV, Bibles, public evangelism, voluntary evangelism, youth, and women. A third aspect is the importance given to the personal work of every member. In South America, the fulfillment of the mission is not the responsibility of an extraordinarily gifted team of “professionals of preaching” (in the good sense), supported by the church, but of all members, supported by the pastors. Accordingly, the leadership put many tools of witness in the hands of the members. In 2008, more than three hundred thousand Bible studies in video and half a million Bibles were delivered to them. All these efforts certainly produce fruit. In my view, the key has nothing to do with the receptive or non-receptive culture, facility, or difficulty of the region. It has to do with the vision of the leaders at all levels.
MD: Do you agree with the thesis of Philip Jenkins, in his book The Next Christendom, that within the next fi fty years Christianity will experience a profound transformation and will change its center of gravity from Europe and the United States of America to Africa, Central America, and South America?
AB: In my opinion, it will not take fi fty years. With the swift spread of the gospel in these continents, they will be the center of the world evangelization in less time than Jenkins estimates. The time is far past when fortunes can be spent on advertisements for an evangelistic series with most of the work centered on the evangelist. Today, the resources must be channeled to inspire, challenge, and equip the members.
MD: In South America, is the balance of “power” between the various segments of ministry—for example, administrators, editors, teachers, local pastors—good or can it be improved?
AB: One wonderful thing about the church is that we are a body. Each sector of the work has a place and a function. The administrators usually are those who give guidance. The editors think, write, publish, and feed the church with good literature. The professors teach. And the pastors shepherd the flock of God. An ideal administration, though it has the mission of deciding, never should do it without listening to the body. In this sense, as always, there is much space for growth in any place of the world including South America.
MD: Let’s go back to evangelism. What are the greatest challenges to evangelism and church growth in South America? What must pastors and other church leaders do to address those challenges?
AB: The greatest challenge still is the engagement and mobilization of a greater number of members. Not because it is necessary to reach a goal, but because the Christian that does not witness shows that they never have been converted and are not growing in their spiritual experience. Then, what kind of church are we preparing for the second coming of Christ?
MD: You conducted many evangelistic meetings in South America and now are preaching in North America. Is there a great difference between both audiences?
AB: No. Before I arrive at a place to conduct evangelism in the United States, I ask for, as a basic requirement, the mobilization of the church months in advance. The leadership must put materials and evangelistic tools in the hands of the members. The results have been extraordinary, beyond any expectation. Both pastors and churches are happy. This proves once more that we need to reappraise and renew the traditional methods of evangelism. There is no hard soil when the members seek for wounded people. Families are full of problems and, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, they run to it. That light is Jesus.
MD: Unless there is a spectacular intervention of God, is it realistically possible to preach the gospel to the whole world? What is your recipe to fulfi ll that seemingly impossible mission?
AB: The final preaching of the gospel to the whole world will be a miraculous act, a direct intervention of God. What miracle? I do not know. I dream of the day when that miracle will happen. In that day, I would like to be part of the church that God will use.
MD: Thank you, Pastor Bullón.