Ash dropped from the man’s cigarette and landed on the shoulder of a young woman in a market in the Montmartre district of Paris. Apparently embarrassed by what had happened he wiped the ash away, apologizing again and again. As he disappeared into the crowd the young woman realized what had really taken place. Her wallet with her credit cards and cash had been stolen out of her handbag.
The clever thief understood some-thing about the art of misdirection. He knew that if he could divert my friend’s attention he could use the situation to his own dishonest advantage. It’s not only pickpockets who know the value of diverting attention. Illusionists are masters of the art. So, too, is the devil.
When Jesus left the world to return to heaven, His instructions for the early church were clear. “ ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you’ ” (Matt. 28:19, 20).1 Earlier He had said to His closest followers, “ ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’ ” (Luke 10:2).
Jesus made it obvious that inherent in His call to follow Him is a call to mission. “Follow Me,” he said to Peter and Andrew, “and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19, KJV). Discipleship is a call to disciple making. Christianity doesn’t involve mission. Christianity is mission. And Jesus left no doubt as to what the mission of the church is. The church has been commissioned to reach the lost with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.
When the church becomes distracted from mission, churches find other things to focus on. Find a church that is wracked by disagreements or infighting and you have found a church that has lost sight of its mission. Churches easily descend into disarray when they’re not focused on what’s truly important. As a wise pastor once told me, “A pulling horse doesn’t kick.”
There’s no question that even churches that are focused on mission will have to confront contentious questions. But churches that are focused on mission will take challenges in stride.
As one writer commented, “When the churches are left to inactivity Satan sees to it that they are employed. He occupies the field and engages the members in lines of work that absorb their energies, destroy spirituality, and cause them to fall as dead weights upon the church.”2 The same author noted, “Strength to resist evil is best gained by aggressive service.”3 If church members aren’t serving—if they aren’t involved in mission—they’re on spiritual thin ice.
When a person internalizes his or her faith and looks for opportunities to share it with others, the Spirit of God works powerfully in that life. A major reason so few people experience the power of the Holy Spirit is that they do so little that requires the power of the Holy Spirit. And as denominations wrestle with the question of how to keep young people engaged at church, they repeatedly fall into the trap of believing that “better” music or programs prevent the youth from leaving. As good as “better” may be, it isn’t music or programs that keep young people connected with Jesus.
A college student from a “good” family recently shared his experience with me. “I had been struggling in my faith,” he said. “I was so discouraged I was ready to give up. It seemed that every sermon I heard talked about everything except the things that really matter. But then I got involved in learning and sharing my faith.4 That changed everything. I’m back. God has me now.”
The Seventh-day Adventist Church has always been a mission-driven church. And God long ago saw a day when all His people were engaged in mission. Revelation 18:1 speaks about a time when the earth is lit up with a manifestation of the character of Christ in His people. Our collective attention will be focused on the mission given to us by God.
“‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations’ ” (Matt. 24:14). “ ‘And then the end will come.’ ”
1 Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is from the New King James Version.
2 Ellen White, Testimonies to the Church, vol. 6 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), 425.
3 Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 105.
4 As a student at SALT, It Is Written’s soul winning and discipleship training program.