God of the open door

A beloved leader calls us to view a dispiriting streak of closed doors to the church as a providential stream of open doors to the community.

Mark A. Finley is a vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, United States.

The year is 2020. The world is experiencing a pandemic of epic proportions. The loss of life; the economic toll; and the impact on society, families, and local congregations are incalculable. What can church administrators, pastors, and church leaders do to make a difference in this critical time? The Bible is clear—let’s allow it to be our guide.

Sing your song

The year is A.D. 51. Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia. Luke declares, “They were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6).1 Then Paul received a vision: “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (v. 9). Paul was convicted that “the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” (v. 10). God shut the door to a province in Asia because He wanted to open the door to a continent in Europe.

The year is A.D. 52. Paul finds himself in Philippi, “the foremost city of that part of Macedonia” (v. 12), and a crisis places Paul in isolation in prison. What does he do? Scripture says that Paul, along with Silas, began “praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (v. 25). Imagine singing during seclusion! Out of that experience, the Bible says, not only did all the prisoners hear the gospel but also the jailer and his whole family got baptized. In times of crisis, look for opportunities.

The year is A.D. 62. It’s ten years later. Paul is in prison again, this time in Rome. What is he doing? Is he lamenting the fact that he is in confinement? He’s praising God and looking for opportunities to witness. Paul never complains that the door is shut. In his isolation, he uses the time to write. That’s a lesson for somebody right now. Paul takes the opportunity to encourage the church in Philippi. He says, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” (Phil. 1:3).

How can Paul say that? He’s in jail, but he says, “I’m thinking of you. I’m in prison, but you’re in my heart and mind.” You can chain a person’s body, but you cannot chain their prayers. In social isolation, Paul found time to pray. He found time to witness to other prisoners. He even found time to witness to Caesar’s household. Then comes the climax: “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel” (v. 12).

Open your door

How can Paul write that? He’s not preaching to large crowds. He’s not preaching in Philippi or Thessalonica. He’s not in the marketplace of the Stoa in Athens, reasoning with the philosophers. He’s not challenging the Corinthians. But he says that the things that happened to him, being in prison, have turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.

Paul can say what he said and write what he wrote because he believed that God was the God of the open door. Even with social distancing, God opened a door for Paul. God never shuts a door without opening one. At the end of Philippians, Paul says, “All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22). There were converts at the very epicenter of Caesar’s residence.

In Matthew 24 and Luke 21, Jesus speaks about last-day signs. One thing is for sure—God has not been caught off guard by dramatic events. We need not wait for opportunities to share the gospel when the pandemic is over. We need to be praying and asking, “What can we do now? Lord, give me an opportunity today!” Doors are open that may have been closed before. New possibilities lie before us. This is a call to use innovative methods to maintain contact with church members and to share Christ’s love in the community.

Some of you may remember the old drive-in movies, where cars parked in a large parking lot as their occupants watched a giant screen and listened through a speaker system from their car. What about a drive-in church today? A pastor in Minnesota encouraged his members to drive to the church parking lot for a unique service. From a stand in front of the church, he preached to parishioners sitting in their cars with their radios tuned in to the sermon. A similar occurrence happened in Florida, where worshipers would honk horns for “Amen” as they resonated with the message. For offering, congregants engaged their hazard lights to signal to waiting deacons. Carrying baskets on the ends of long poles, the deacons approached the signaling cars and joyfully received their tithes and offerings. The members had a sense of fellowship and togetherness and were inspired by their pastors’ ingenuity and sermon.2

I am convinced that our sovereign God is guiding the affairs of this world and allowing circumstances to unfold for a further proclamation of the gospel. Rather than be filled with fear or consumed with panic, why not look for new, creative ways to minister and share the gospel?

Touch your circle

Here are ten practical suggestions gleaned from pastors who are pushing open the door of opportunity, nurturing their members, and touching their communities.

1. Stream a worship service. At Living Hope, we are streaming our worship services live, utilizing a minimal production crew. We have a little music, tell a children’s story, then one of our pastoral staff members preaches in an empty church while persons watch from their homes. Although streaming is not new to our church, our audience during this crisis has swelled tremendously, with over 30,000 households (numbering tens of thousands of people) watching, ten times larger than average.3

People in isolation are eager to experience a worship service. Rebecca wrote to us, “You preached with as much energy, conviction, and warmth as if in a stadium with tens of thousands of people. I am so glad I isolated myself in the house and watched.” This is an opportunity to minister in unique ways through the preached word. Although your church may be empty, imagine yourself preaching to hundreds or even thousands as you open the Word of God and proclaim a biblical, Christ-centered message.

2. Record a Bible study. We are doing a four-week series on Philippians that we tape with a single camera during the week and release on Sabbath at six o’clock in the evening, Eastern Daylight Time. This requires two other people besides the presenter. We usually begin with a simple children’s story, then a 30-minute message.

3. Email a devotional. Each Monday morning, send out an email devotional encouraging, your members in their spiritual journey. This one-page devotional can be your personal message to them.

4. Intensify your prayers. Encourage your members to participate in 100 days of prayer—and join in yourself.4

5. Include the children. A children’s church teacher in southeastern California sent out information for an online Zoom Sabbath School. Zoom is an extremely effective online tool because it enables you to see all participants. Both parents and teachers were excited. Many children were separated from their friends due to shelter-in-place regulations. The teleconference became a time of sharing, fellowship, rekindling friendships, and Bible study. The kids loved it. The cost and effort of ministering to God’s children in this time of crisis are small in comparison to the advantages.5

6. Reach the seniors. One church in North Carolina is keeping its members active delivering food baskets to needy senior citizens. They invite church members and community residents to leave nonperishable food items at a drop-off spot in their church parking lot at designated hours during the day. Church members volunteer in groups of two to sort the food and distribute food baskets to senior citizens through a contact hotline number or email. What an impact they are having on their community.

7. Care for your community. Distribute COVID-19: Facing the Crisis With Confidence. This new 16-page magazine describes the virus, offers suggestions on reducing the risk of contracting it, and gives spiritual support and hope. A husband and wife physician team in the Boston area distributed the magazine to their neighbors, along with some healthful recipes. The response was overwhelmingly positive.6

8. Inspire your family. Encourage your family, friends, and church members to check out reliable, inspirational websites for up-to-date information and dynamic messages.7

9. Invite your neighbors. Invite them to watch specific programs on Hope Channel and 3ABN (Three Angels Broadcasting Network). You will be far more effective if you choose a favorite program or one that is on a specific topic of interest and invite them to view it.8

10. Generate hope. The challenge of our times is opening minds to the prophetic events unfolding for the future. What an opportunity to distribute our Christ-centered, hope-filled literature, such as Hope Beyond Tomorrow. Why not ask God to impress you with whom to share gospel literature? Maybe God is opening the door to reach someone you have wanted to share your faith with for a while. This is your opportunity.9

Tell your story

I believe that as God opened the door for the Apostle Paul, He’s opening the door for the church today. This is not a time to lament. This is a time filled with the urgent possibilities of what Christ can do. God will interrupt your plans to accomplish His plan. God will shut down something good to give you something better. One day, we will hear testimonies of how God closing one door was just God getting ready to open another. What will your testimony be? May Jesus help us to be creative. May Jesus help us to think new thoughts. May Jesus help us to contemplate new opportunities to expand the mission. Because the mission does not cease at a time of pandemic. The circumstances do not shape the mission, the mission shapes the circumstances.

  1. Scripture is from the New King James Version.
  2. Jose Cortes, Jr., “Leading Through the Pandemic #2.” A conversation with pastors James Doggette Sr. and Rupert Bushner, Patmos Chapel, Apopka, Florida, United States, Facebook, March 22, 2020, 3:29 p.m., https://facebook.com/josehcortesjr/videos/vb.134830853234619/803561000138470/?type=2&theater.
  3. See the Living Hope Seventh-day Adventist Community Church Facebook page at https://facebook.com/livinghopesda/.
  4. See the Revival and Reformation page at https://revivalandreformation.org/.
  5. See the disciplemama.com page for creative resources on leading kids to Jesus by Brianna, wife of a pastor, former teacher or school administrator, now stay-at-home mom to a toddler and an infant.
  6. To read the magazine COVID-19: Facing The Crisis With Confidence, to acquire copies for personal distribution, or to order quantities for zip code mailing, visit Pacific Press’s Facing the Crisis With Confidence web page at https://www.pacificpress.com/covid.
  7. See the HopeLive365 page at hopelives365.org, the Amen Adventist Medical Evangelism Network web page at https://amensda.org/facingthefuturewithconfidence, the ASI Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries’ God Cares Everyday web page at https://godcareseveryday.org/, and the General Conference Adventist Health Ministries’ Coronavirus web page at https://healthministries.com/coronavirus. Adventist Medical Evangelism Network web page at https://amensda.org/facingthefuturewithconfidence, the ASI Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries’ God Cares Everyday web page at https://godcareseveryday.org/, and the General Conference Adventist Health Ministries’ Coronavirus web page at https://healthministries.com/coronavirus.
  8. See the HopeChannel website at hopetv.org, the 3ABN (Three Angels Broadcasting Network) website at 3abn.org, and the Dare to Dream Network website at https://d2dnetwork.tv/.
  9. To order copies, visit the Hope Beyond Tomorrow page at https://adventistbookcenter.com/hope-beyond-tomorrow.html.

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Mark A. Finley is a vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, MD, United States.

May 2020

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