Breaking through

Breaking through: Christ’s methods in the twenty-first century

How can we follow Jesus’ example and make a difference while living in this postmodern society?

Mark A. Finley, DDiv, serves as assistant to the president, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Reaching the lost with the gospel is increasingly more challenging in a postmod­ern, secularized society. The western world particularly dismisses the concept of divinely revealed truth and a personal God. Although in some parts of the world, tens of thousands of people readily respond to the preaching of God’s Word, the numbers of responders are dwindling in developed, more affluent countries.

According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 percent of Americans say that they go to church weekly; that number, however, is really less than 20 percent.In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are doing something else rather than attending church. “The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the United States public—and a third of adults under 30—are religiously unaf­filiated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling.

“In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just fewer than 20% of all U.S. adults. Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).”2

Here are some additional sobering facts that should stir us to urgent action now. For the first time in his­tory, more than half of the global population lives in urban areas, and this percentage is increasing rapidly. By 2050, population experts anticipate that 70 percent of the world will live in cities. There are more than 500 cities with a population of one million or more.This is significant because urban areas tend to be more secular­ized than are the rural ones. The cities are nerve centers of education, culture, fashion, entertainment, jobs, wealth creation, and politics. It is relatively easy in the cities’ subculture of materi­alism to become entangled in the web of postmodern indifference toward religion. These stark realities place a major challenge before the church.

These staggering statistics lead pastors and their congregations to ask some probing questions: How can Christians make an impact on a postmodern culture? Is the gospel relevant in a secularized society? Why has the mission of the church to share the gospel with every “nation, tongue, and people” stagnated in developing countries among people indigenous to that culture?

Jesus: Our ministry Model

The call of Jesus is clear: “ ‘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, NKJV).

The Bible describes a God who is passionate about saving all peoples (2 Pet. 3:9). He desires all humanity to experience the gift of His grace and come to a knowledge of His truth (1 Tim. 2:3, 4). On multiple occasions Jesus demonstrated compassion for lost people (Matt. 9:35, 36). He lov­ingly ministered to those He came in contact with daily. He was concerned about the whole person. The Savior met the spiritual, social, physical, and mental needs of hurting people (Matt. 4:23). He modeled a ministry of loving service.

The church draws its inspiration for mission from the teaching and counsel of Jesus. The church must also look to Him for its model of ministry—a com­prehensive ministry that addressed the wide-ranging needs of the people around Him. “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt. 9:35, NKJV).

Jesus calls every pastor and each church member to embrace His mission of loving service. As His people meet in His name the physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs of their communities, His character is powerfully revealed. Our love for Jesus compels us to follow in His footsteps of compassionate ministry. Ellen G. White succinctly summarizes the Savior’s selfless service in these words. “There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit.”4

Ellen White adds this classic statement: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’ ”5

Analyzing the model of Jesus

Jesus mingled with people. He did not stand aloof, waiting for people to come to Him. He was there mingling with them in their marketplaces, eating with them in their homes, discussing the issues of life beside the sea, rubbing shoulders with the crowds on the cobblestone streets of Jerusalem, and sharing the mysteries of life on the hillsides of Galilee. Jesus talked about common things like fishing, farming, weddings, money, and families. Every day and in every way, Jesus built relationships with people.

They sensed that He cared for them individually. In Christ, the downtrodden, oppressed, and needy found one who sympathized with them and fully understood their plight. The model of Jesus’ ministry was to unselfishly and graciously minister to needs everywhere. As He developed people’s confidence by sensitively caring for their needs and the walls of their prejudice crumbled, He then appealed to them to accept Him as the Messiah. Jesus’ claims to divinity were often based on His unselfish ministry to them.

Why did the masses follow Jesus? What attracted such a wide variety of people from so many different walks of life to Him? Why did He appeal to such widely different characters as Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, Mary Magdalene, a palsy-stricken man by the pool of Bethesda, Zacchaeus, the thief on the cross, and the Roman centurion? They saw in Jesus One who truly cared. His authentic, genuine concern opened the locked doors of their minds. They followed Him because He had so clearly and fully revealed the Father’s love. They could not resist this divine, agape, selfsacrificing, unselfish love. When the church becomes a powerful force for good in its community, miraculous things still happen.

Applying the model of Jesus

A postmodern culture longs for authentic relationships. While many will reject a religion of dogma and a superficial faith experience, they will respond to someone who genuinely cares for them and shares their faith in the context of an authentic experience with Jesus. Superficiality will never reach the postmodern mind. Postmoderns are much more concerned about the reality of faith than arguing about religious particulars. They would much rather see faith in action. The question they ask is not necessarily what truth is but what difference does it make in my life? 

Jesus’ model of ministry is tailormade for a skeptical, questioning culture. Jesus did not attempt to answer all of His challengers’ questions; He attempted, rather, to meet their needs. He did not attempt to out argue them; He attempted, rather, to love them beyond what they could either imagine or deserve. His love broke their hearts and compelled them to follow Him. Love has an amazing magnetic, drawing power. Ellen White states it forcefully: “The wonderful love of Christ will melt and subdue hearts, when the mere reiteration of doctrines would accomplish nothing.”6

The church, as the body of Christ, lovingly meets needs everywhere in Jesus’ name and is the embodiment of Christ’s love in a broken, shattered world. When church members reveal Christ’s love and the church ministers to specific community needs, the church will grow. Jesus spent a great deal of time ministering to people’s physical, mental, and emotional needs. Think of the possibilities the church has today to impact our society. Following Christ’s model, we, too, can reach out to meet the needs of our communities. 

Comprehensive health ministry 

One of the greatest felt needs in our society today is in the area of health. Heart disease, cancer, stroke, upper respiratory disease, and diabetes are the leading killers in the twenty-first century in the developed world. There are nearly 600,000 deaths each year in the United States due to heart disease and another 560,000 from various types of cancer.7 Medical authorities recognize that many of these deaths are related to lifestyle. As individuals choose to change harmful lifestyle practices, the risk of developing one of these lifestyle diseases is markedly reduced. 

What if each church were a mini-lifestyle center helping people to become healthier by conducting cooking schools, sponsoring walking clubs or exercise classes, teaching people how to quit smoking, conducting classes in weight reduction, sharing principles of stress management, and outlining an entire holistic lifestyle with wellness classes? What if churches were known in their communities as places where families could get help with their marriages, develop better parenting skills, and find assistance in the character development of their children? What if churches were known as safe places where Christ’s love was revealed in practical, tangible ways that made a difference in the community?

What if every Christian physician and health care provider sensed Christ calling them to minister to the physi­cal, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of their patients? There are over one billion visits to doctors’ offices in the United States each year, and 55 percent of these are to primary care physicians. Patients most frequently visit their doctors for hypertension.8 What an opportunity for godly, Christian health care providers to meet needs, develop confidence, and share eternal principles with their patients.9

Conclusion

Here is one simple church growth principle—the fewer people your church contacts, the fewer people you will win. This may seem self-evident, but it is a divine truth. When the church becomes insular, isolated, and separated from the community, the church will rapidly stagnate in its growth. But when the church has an intentional strategy to reach its com­munity and its members are equipped to use their gifts in service to others, the church will grow rapidly.

Christ made a difference in His world; your church can make a dif­ference in yours, even though it is a postmodern one.

 

References:

1 “Statisitics Don’t Tell the Whole Story When It Comes to Church Attendance,” ChurchLeaders, www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/170739-statistics-don-t-tell-the-whole-story -when-it-comes-to-church-attendance.html.

2 Pew Research, Religion and Public Life Project, October 9, 2012, www.pewforum.org/2012/10//9/nones-on-the-rise/.

3 Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, “Urban Urgency,” Christianity Today, August 16, 2010.

4 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1942), 143, 144.

5 Ibid., 143.

6 White, The Desire of Ages (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940), 826.

7 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Leading Causes of Death,” www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm.

8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Ambulatory Care Use and Physician Office Visits,” www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats /physician-visits.htm.

9 One example of a group of health care professionals who are attempting to extend the healing ministry of Christ in their practices is the Adventist Medical Evangelism Network (AMEN), www.amensda.org. AMEN is partnering with the Paradise Valley Seventh-day Adventist Church and putting on a free medical /dental clinic two days before the conference. The theme of this year’s conference is “Joined Together,” and it focuses on practical ways pastors and health care professionals can work together to model the ministry of Christ.


Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

Mark A. Finley, DDiv, serves as assistant to the president, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

September 2014

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Serving your community: Filling in the cracks

Find out different ways to better serve and understand your community.

A letter to a young minister

Read a mother’s poignant advice to her son as he begins his journey into ministry.

Mentoring interns and young pastors

What are four pillars of the mentoring process and how can they be used to better train young pastors and interns for the ministry?

All things work together?

The author expresses her thoughts as she uses a personal tragedy to explore the will of God.

Lessons I learned during a marathon

The author makes a spiritual connection with a marathon and how it applies to our journey with Christ.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - RevivalandReformation 300x250

Recent issues

See All