Publishing’s prophetic calling
Pastor Tali, from the local Samoan Christian church, was hungry. Because it was cold in Anchorage, Alaska, that day, he decided to get a spicy dish at one of his favorite Mexican restaurants in town. As Tali stepped out of his car at the restaurant, he noticed something on the ground. It was a GLOW tract. Soon afterward, because of the tract, Pastor Tali, his associate, and his entire church were taking Bible studies from the local Seventh-day Adventist pastor.
Ellen White says, “We know not what may be the results of giving away a leaflet containing present truth.”1 Though many pastors have been blessed by Ellen White’s counsel to incorporate literature evangelism into their own ministry preparation,2 this is a blessing too good to keep for pastors alone. Ellen White is clear on three things: (1) every person is not called to canvassing defined as book sales;3 (2) no person should prescribe the ministry for someone else;4 and (3) every person is called to work for God.5
As we await the soon return of Christ, the prophetic ministry of evangelism in general and literature evangelism in particular are to find larger and more exact fulfillment. The work of reaching the billions of this world is to be aided by the publishing ministry. Ellen White states, “In a large degree through our publishing houses is to be accomplished the work of that other angel who comes down from heaven with great power and who lightens the earth with his glory.”6 Considering the present state of publishing in many parts of the world church, one might understandably wonder how this can take place.
I propose that, in order for this ministry to reach its prophetic fulfilment, there needs to be a radically new emphasis on literature distribution throughout the world. We may want the focus to be less about money and more about ministry.7 There are perhaps five benefits of literature distribution (as opposed to sales) that lend themselves to this purpose.
1. Member activation
First, and perhaps fore - most, the ministr y of literature distribution—whether of books, tracts, or magazines—has the potential to activate the over 95 percent of church members who are not literature evangelists as we have commonly understood it, by shifting the focus from selling to distributing. In one case, an elderly woman with only one functioning arm gave away tracts by slipping them into napkins as her church sold vegetarian burgers at a fair. She said, “This is something even I can do!” When publishing departments at the conference, union, and division levels begin to provide local churches with training and promotion aimed at encouraging literature distribution, they will be grooming a new generation of literature evangelists.
Each of these members will be a literature evangelist in the fullest sense. This may appear to be a new approach to some, but this would be only revisiting one of the founding purposes of the literature ministry. “In the past, a large work has been accomplished in the distribution of the printed page. This is a line of service in which every church member can have some part. All cannot go out as canvassers for our larger books; but there is a field of usefulness open before many of our brethren and sisters in the placing of truth-filled publications in the homes of their neighbors and friends.”8
Literature distribution is definitely one of the few ministry options in which the counsel says that every member can and should participate. We calculate that if each year every church member across the globe gave away just one piece of literature per day, we would give out 7.3 billion pieces of literature each year—enough for approximately the entire world population annually.
If our sole or primary ministry agenda is to train our membership for book sales, we will have thrown away our opportunity to involve the vast majority of God’s church in total member involvement.
This next point seems simple: the more people engage in the publishing work, the more visible the ministry will be. Literature distribution gives more members an opportunity to join publishing and, as they participate and become active, the visibility of the ministry of publishing naturally increases. This, in turn, feeds back into more member participation. This positive upward spiral begins with intentional efforts on the part of the leadership, from the local conference and the local union. These publishing departments may wish to suggest the establishment of a publishing ministries coordinator for each congregation— a new local church office. The task of these coordinators would be to promote, promote, promote literature work. One adage says, “Out of sight, out of mind.” Ellen White echoes this when she writes, “When church members realize the importance of the circulation of our literature, they will devote more time to this work.”9 Church members do not devote themselves to literature distribution because they hear little about it. In the local church, publishing often has a very obscure public profile. In many churches, it is frequently represented only by a church rack in a corner containing outdated literature mixed with various in-reach publications. The establishment of a local church publishing ministries coordinator addresses this problem.
Jeanette owned and operated a hair salon. At various times, she had received two Adventist publications on the topic of the Sabbath. She had a feeling that God was trying to speak to her. She asked God, “If this is you speaking to me about Saturday observance, please let me know by giving me another piece of literature on this topic.” A few days later, Anil handed Jeanette a Sabbath tract in a shopping mall. Jeanette immediately connected herself with the church, took Bible studies, and finished her study courses in a week or two. Her baptism could not come soon enough. She then became the publishing ministries coordinator for her local church, even though she supplied the literature with her own funds.
Like Jeanette, such leaders in the local churches can form a network headed and nurtured by the local conference publishing department. Each pastor should energetically push to select and train an active and passionate representative in every church. The publishing ministries department can provide periodic, continuing education meetings and lead out in occasional conference-wide or union-wide mass distribution events and rallies.
John Maxwell said, “The true measure of leadership is influence, nothing more nothing less.”10 We miss the mark, however, if we consider leadership influence solely the prerogative of the paid professional. Ellen White said, “Every one of us exerts an influence on those with whom we come in contact. This influence we have from God, and we are responsible for the way it is used. . . . Guard well your influence; it is ‘your reasonable service’ to place it on the Lord’s side.”11 A church without a publishing ministries coordinator should be considered a church detached from its influence.
3. Improved face
Integrally tied with the previous point would be the public face of publishing in the Adventist Church. Ministry visibility is good, but positive visibility is best.
An emphasis on literature distribution opens the doors of the publishing ministry more fully to pastors and even to children. Children find strong success giving away literature in the community and often enjoy it. Stories, pictures, and videos of children giving away literature gives the ministry of publishing favor with the church at large and gives it a fresh or upgraded public face.
Literature distribution also helps administrators better establish a connection between the publishing work and ministry. When the GLOW12 tract program started in the Central California Conference, then-president Jerry Page and his wife, Janet, were active in giving out GLOW tracts themselves in their everyday lives. They would frequently promote literature distribution throughout the conference because they had just experienced a divine appointment by giving out literature. Jerry once told how he and Janet stopped at the toll booth to give payment. Janet kept pestering Jerry to give a tract to the attendant at the toll booth and Jerry resisted, not wanting to risk rejection. He eventually gave in to Janet’s importunity, experienced a divine appointment with a grateful person in a toll booth, and had yet another testimony to share with his pastors and church members. Ellen White says, “When we view the rise and progress of the publishing work from the beginning to the present time, we thank God and take courage. Yet our responsibility toward the unwarned multitudes urges us on to still greater and more systematic efforts to set in operation many agencies for the circulation of our papers, tracts, and books.”13 The Pages would never have been able to sell books on a regular basis with their busy schedule, but they could easily incorporate literature distribution into their everyday life. This enabled them to see and experience firsthand the prophetic role of publishing ministry in the gospel-to-all-the-world commission.
While originating in the North American Division, many publishing departments use and promote the distribution of small GLOW tracts. Sometimes conferences generate enough money to hire a part-time assistant who promotes literature distribution throughout the conference, keeps the program fueled, and leads the local church publishing ministries coordinators.
Tracts and small books that are given out for free can also advertise the larger books sold by the colporteurs. Thus, every church member who becomes activated in literature distribution also becomes a lead developer for the conference and union’s colporteur program. Millions of advertising hits can be generated in this fashion. In fact, we are counseled, “Should there be on each copy of these small tracts an advertisement of our publications and the place where they can be obtained, it would extend the circulation of the larger publications.”14
5. Speed of outreach
Finally, and perhaps most important, literature distribution provides the cheapest and fastest tool that publishing can wield to reach the masses.
When Pope Francis visited the United States recently, one conference publishing department met with pastors and organized 35 church members to come together for what they called a mission trip. In one week they gave out one million tracts, just prior to the Pope’s arrival and during the two days he was in Philadelphia.15 Later, another small group followed their example and gave out another batch of one million tracts when the United States Super Bowl game came to Santa Clara, California.16 These “mission trips” have spawned others that have mobilized church members to give out literature in large quantities at various locations across the globe.
Such large outreach endeavors are just one example of a variety of methods that can be used to disseminate hundreds of thousands of “silent messengers” in a short time with just a few committed church members. Imagine what speedy work can be done when hundreds of activated churches give out literature on a daily basis.
In the past, literature distribution was so powerful that Ellen White was able to make the following statement: “Years ago our brethren in responsibility gave much study to ways and means for the carrying forward of this line of work with increasing efficiency. As the result of carefully laid plans, patient instruction, and helpful supervision, the circulation of the printed page has come to be a mighty factor in the dissemination of the truths of the third angel’s message.”17
Can we restore an emphasis on simple, free literature outreach throughout our church? Once when flying from Norway to Holland, I sat next to a woman who taught psychology at a European university. When our conversation turned to spiritual things, a window of opportunity opened for me to give her a tract. The topic was eternal torment and the false teachings surrounding that subject. At the end of our time, she was appreciative and said, “You know, you are lucky in a way. You at least have something to believe in. Most of us are still looking for that.” Truly, multitudes are in the valley of decision just looking for someone to give them direction.
We hold the work of pastoral ministry in highest esteem. But pastors will be burned out if the work of spreading the everlasting gospel is to be left to them alone. We have good news for our beloved pastors—help is on the way. Not casual, halfhearted, disorganized help; personal, professional, and prophetic ministry. “The canvassing work, properly conducted, is missionary work of the highest order, and it is as good and successful a method as can be employed for placing before the people the important truths for this time. The importance of the work of the ministry is unmistakable; but many who are hungry for the bread of life have not the privilege of hearing the word from God’s delegated preachers. For this reason it is essential that our publications be widely circulated.”18
Last year, busloads of pastors and church administrators from all over the world participated in an afternoon of door-to-door literature ministry distribution. “Angela, a resident of neighboring Caroline Street, . . . was among those who expressed gratitude to the Adventists for the literature she received, coming to the bus to say, ‘Thanks for the books,’ and requesting more to share with others. ‘I’m making you a missionary right now,’ [Michael] Ryan said as he handed some literature to her.”19
Perhaps the time has come for pastors to appoint a literature distribution coordinator for each of their churches. In these last days, if a non-Adventist (or pre-Adventist) can be a missionary to distribute our literature—then what about us? Now more than ever, the ministry of publishing has the opportunity to arise and shine—to enlighten the world through its silent messengers sent out by the billions. Will we rise to the occasion?
1 Ellen G. White, Colporteur Ministry (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1953), 5.
2 “All who desire an opportunity for true ministry, and who will give themselves unreservedly to God, will find in the canvassing work opportunities to speak upon many things pertaining to the future, immortal life. The experience thus gained will be of the greatest value to those who are fitting themselves for the ministry. It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God.” White, Colporteur Ministry, 33.
3 “Some are better adapted than others for doing a certain work; therefore it is not correct to think that everyone can be a canvasser. Some have no special adaptability for this work; but they are not, because of this, to be regarded as faithless or unwilling. . . . The church is as a garden in which is a variety of flowers, each with its own peculiarities.” Ellen G. White, Colporteur Evangelist (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1920), 83.
4 “It is not the work of any man to prescribe the work of any other man contrary to his own convictions of duty. It is right to give counsel and suggest plans; but every man should be left free to seek direction from God, whose he is and whom he serves. . . . Young men and young women who should be engaged in the ministry, in Bible work, and in the canvassing work should not be bound down to mechanical employment” (Colporteur Ministry, 27, 28).
5 “To every man—and that means every woman, also—He has given His work, and this work each one is to perform according to his several ability” Ellen G. White, Daughters of God (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1998), 134.
6 Ellen G. White, The Publishing Ministry (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1983), 50.
7 “Those selected as canvassers should be men and women who feel the burden of service, whose object is not to get gain, but to give light to the people.” White, Colporteur Ministry, 26.
8 White, The Publishing Ministry,370.
9 White, Colporteur Ministry, 7.
10 John C. Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow them and people will follow you (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc, 2007), 11.
11 Ellen G. White, “Your Reasonable Service,” The Signs of the Times, January 21, 1897, par. 5.
12 GLOW stands for Giving Light to Our World.
13 Ellen G. White, “Distributing the Printed Page,” The Review and Herald, November 5, 1914, par. 3.
14 White, The Publishing Ministry,374.
15 See glowmissiontrips.org.
16 Andrew McChesney, “GLOW Volunteers to Distribute 1 Million Tracts at Supper Bowl,” AdventistReview .org, November 2, 2015, http://www.adventistreview .org/church-news/story3411-glow-volunteers-to -distribute-1-million-tracts-at-superbowl.
17 White, The Publishing Ministry, 370. (Emphasis supplied.)
18 White, The Colporteur Evangelist, 5.
19 Mark Kellner, “On Bus No. 2 With Michael Ryan,” AdventistReview.org, October 14, 2016, http://www.adventistreview.org/church-news /story4467-world-church-leaders-share-jesus-door -to-door-in-maryland