Specialness, urgency, expectancy: Essential basis for local church culture
God has given Adventists a huge task: to share the gospel with the world. At present, this appears on the surface to be a losing battle. In a document titled “God’s Promised Gift,” the Annual Council acknowledges the issue: “God has uniquely called the Seventh-day Adventist Church both to live and to proclaim His last-day message of love and truth to the world (Revelation 14:6–12). The challenge of reaching the more than 6 billion people on planet Earth with His end-time message seems impossible. The task is overwhelming. From a human perspective, the rapid fulfillment of Christ’s Great Commission anytime soon appears unlikely (Matthew 28:19, 20).
“The Church’s growth rate is simply not keeping pace with the world’s burgeoning population. An honest evaluation of our current evangelistic impact on the world leads to the conclusion that unless there is a dramatic change we will not complete Heaven’s assignment in this generation. In spite of our best efforts, all our plans, strategies, and resources, are incapable of finishing God’s mission for His glory on earth”1 (emphasis supplied).
No question, the reality of the problem seems to have grown larger even from when the document was written. An Adventist Review interview, published October 12, 2014, with G.T. Ng, secretary of the world church of seventh-day Adventists, shares a startling statistic: while the world Adventist membership has grown to 18,143,745, Ng reports that 31.8 mil- lion people have been baptized into the Adventist Church over the past 40 years.2 This means, of course, that a large number of people are leaving the church or are just missing.
How do we reverse the trend? “We have nothing to fear for the future,” wrote Ellen White, “except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.”3 When we look at the history of ancient Israel and review the account of the Exodus from Egypt, we see three principles that guided them.
First, they understood they were the specially called people of God. Second, they had a sense of urgency in the mission of God. Third, they understood that their success depended on the miracles of God. The early Adventists of the mid-1800s also understood these three imperative concepts: specialness, urgency, and expectancy. Today, we must remember the way the Lord has led us in the past. Here is the key to our success by the grace of God.
Specialness: A chosen people
As a church, we must continually review what God has already done and constantly remind the church of the God-sized mission that we can accomplish through His power. God has brought your congregation together for His purpose.
God works continually with and through people to complete His plan for the redemption of the world. This purpose can be traced throughout the stories, sermons, and prophecies of Scripture and is still true today. We can learn much of how God wishes to use His special people today by seeing how He related to and worked through His people throughout history:
Deuteronomy 7:6: “ ‘For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.’ ”4
John 15:16: “ ‘You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.’ ”
First Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Urgency: These are the end times
We are to be fully aware of the urgency of our time. We must be continually reminding our church where we are in Earth’s history. The Bible makes it clear that we must work quickly because the Second Coming is near. To us it may seem as if God delays His coming and we have a lot of time. But as Adventists, we realize that we must work quickly. People are dying all around us before knowing Jesus, and they will face eternal consequences. Here are some Bible examples that tell us we have an urgent message for our world:
Daniel 2:44: “ ‘In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, butitwillitself endure forever.’ ”
Daniel 8:14: “ ‘For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.’ ”
Revelation 22:7, 20: “ ‘And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book.’ . . . He who testifi to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Expectancy: God is eager to perform miracles
God does not give a God-sized mis- sion without giving God-sized power to accomplish what He asks. We must remind the church that God is able, that
God’s will for our churches is to grow, and what God wills can happen if we cooperate. We must teach our churches to look for and recognize the miracles of God and teach our churches to pray for and expect many more miracles.
We are the special people of God, chosen and given an urgent message to share with a world that will soon end. We are asked to share with those around us, but wear weak. However, we can expect the power of God to help us complete what God asks us to do. The Bible is full of example s o f people accomplishing things that only God can do:
Joshua 1:9: “‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ ”
John 14:12–14: “ ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.’ ”
Luke 9:1, 2: “And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing.”
What is this essential and basic need forourlocalchurches? It is tohavealocal church culture characterized by a sense of specialness, urgency, and expectancy. When I speak of local church culture, I am not speaking of where in the world the members of a church come from but specifically what the organizational culture is in the local church. A “culture,” in the context of a local church, is the system of values and beliefs a church holds that drives actions and behaviors, and influences relationships. A local church culture drives a church in its day- to-day and long-term decisions. Culture is largely hidden from and invisible to the people within the system. It is like air: we do not notice it until the culture is gone. The best way to understand your local church culture would be to step back and listen. What are people talking about? What is the focus of the conversations, and what is your church praying about? Based on the conversations you hear, and the resulting decisions made in the life of the church and the lives of the members, in what direction is the church moving?
Would you like to begin to change the local church culture to include specialness,urgency, and expectancy? Start by sharing in your worship, preaching, visitation, small-group studies, education, and in everything you do.6 If a church grows as God wishes, the congregation must accept and internalize all three. Specialness, urgency, and expectancy may feel as though they are subjective and difficult to measure objectively, but by listening carefully, we will learn whether we have successfully changed the local church culture and these motivating principles have become a part of who we are and what we do.
God is eager to accomplish His last-day work through His last-day people. A change in the local church culture will make us ready to receive what God has given us as a mission to the world.
1 “God’s Promised Gift,”October 2010, www.revivalandreformation.org/site_data/428/assets/0004/1921/Gods-promised-gift.pdf.
2 Andrew McChesney,“Church Membership Reaches 18.1 Million,” Adventist Review,October 12, 2014, www.adventistreview.org/ church-news/church-membership-reaches-18.1-million.
3 Ellen G. White, Life Sketches of Ellen G. White (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1943), 196.
4 All Bible quotes are from the New American Standard Bible.
5 Another good source of evaluation is the Natural Church Development inventory.
6 If you would like a document that shares “sermon starters” for specialness, urgency, and expectancy, email the author at David. Ripley@gmail.com.
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