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Archives / 2017 / August

 

Editorial: Turn the page

Jeffrey O. Brown

 

When one says they are “turning the page,” they mean they are doing things differently, and expecting different results. We realized that we had to do things differently in Bermuda. Our church growth was flat; so was the way we were perceived by the community. The media would ask, “What is the Seventh-day Adventist position on gambling, homosexuality, and selling alcohol on Sundays?” The more we shared the church’s official positions, the more people wrote letters to the newspaper.

They wondered why Christians couldn’t mind their own business. They asked, “Why are the Adventists meddling in other people’s lives?” I realized we seemed to be always negative, always disapproving, always saying no. We were then shown a Barna study about how young people view today’s church.1 As president, I knew we had to change our approach.

Quoting the study (see chart below), I sent a letter of apology to the news reporter for being insensitive. From now on, I said, I wanted us to be positive: to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Through our churches, schools, and wonderful young people, we wanted to focus on the health and well-being of our community.2 The reporter wrote back:

 

Describing Christianity (16-29-year-old outsiders)

Anti-homosexual

91 percent

Judgmental

87 percent

Hypocritical

85 percent

Old-fashioned

78 percent

Overly political

75 percent

Out of touch with reality

72 percent

Insensitive to others

70 percent

Boring

68 percent

 

“Thank you, Dr. Brown. I’m not personally religious in the church sense, but I recall the Adventists giving out free gasoline to people a couple of years ago. I heard a lot about that simple act of compassion, which no doubt cost your membership a pretty penny. That act meant a lot to people, as you prayed with them while filling their tanks. Your church and others make sure that a lot of people out there who don’t have food, get something to eat, and a little community while they eat it. Your church handed out schoolbags and supplies just a couple months ago when the school year started. I’m not speaking as a reporter here, just as one person to another. I appreciate the response you’ve sent, by the way. You certainly don’t rank as insensitive in my book, for what it’s worth.”

The Royal Gazette’s blogosphere had a new tone. One person responded that this “focused on the real purpose of the church in the community instead of the small stuff.” But the real heartwarmer was when my young adult nephew, Tory, called. He had stopped going to church. He said, “When people don’t like things in the conference, they don’t hesitate to call. But you wrote something in the Royal Gazette that I liked, and I knew I had to call. What you wrote about the church now striving to be more compassionate in the community was so heartening to me. That’s the kind of church I want to belong to.” He came back to church and got rebaptized. He and his wife, Lu, are now lay leaders in their church.

Can our churches capitalize on such goodwill? We tried to do so. We invited Greater New York Conference executive secretary, Dr. Alanzo Smith, to bring his Family Enrichment Series to Bermuda. To the glory of God, 145 souls were baptized. After the series, we received a letter:

“Dear Sirs, I want to express the sincere gratitude and appreciation felt by hundreds of persons for the excellent and timely Family Enrichment Series that your organization hosted. You blessed Bermuda. In a day when many focus on the problems, but spend little time providing solutions, it was great that your organization decided to do something about it. My 14-yearold daughter attended, and she was motivated and blessed. My co-worker came into the office and talked about it. It created a heavenly buzz around Bermuda. I very well believe that the Master was proud and pleased. While I am not a member of your assembly, I am a born-again Christian and a member of the local AME [African Methodist Episcopalian] church. I promoted the series and encouraged others to attend. I pray that the good Lord will grant you eternal dividends on the investment you made in this country and His kingdom by hosting the Family Enrichment Series. We were enriched.”

The purpose of salt is not to fill the saltshaker, but to flavor the food. Findley Edge said, “It is to the world to which we are called. We are not sent to serve the church but to the world as an instrument of redemption. Thus, we are not called to attend meetings in the institutional church merely to keep certain organizations alive and growing. It is the world we are seeking to save, not the institution. The church is to lose its life and as it does so, it will find that it has fulfilled its calling.”3

I just believe that evangelism ought to leave our communities better, not bitter. Let’s turn the page.

1 unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity . . . and Why It Matters, https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/unchristian -david kinnaman/1103067232#productInfoTabs.

2 Jonathan Bell, “Church Leaders React to Alcohol Retail Sales on Sundays,” The Royal Gazette, November 13, 2013, http://www.royalgazette.com /article/20131113/NEWS/131119932.

3 In Michael R. Tucker, The Church That Dared to Change (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1975), 29.

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