In his book Movements that Changed the World, Steve Addison writes, “The church Jesus founded was a missionary church. Its existence and activities were an expression of its missionary calling.” And this hasn’t changed.
He then says, “Its members were fearlessly determined to win others to faith in Jesus as the crucified and risen Messiah.”
I am challenged by this. It leads me to ask: Has the missionary focus of our Church become blunted? Are our members “fearlessly determined to win others” to Christ? Or has the Advent movement become the Advent institution?
Addison outlines three distinctive purposes of the mission-focused movement. These are:
- Our message centres on Jesus Christ, the Son of God who was crucified for our sins and is the only source of salvation for a lost world.
- We have an agenda for change, and
- Mission involves the conversion of individuals and their inclusion into the body of Christ, which is the church. There is no mission without the church and there is no discipleship without the community of faith.
Here the church stands at the intersection of mission and discipleship; the local church is where real ministry happens. And success in both mission and discipleship depends on the church working effectively. The problem is that we often don’t really know what this means.
Driving the activity and business of the church is the “great commission”, the work we have collectively of sharing the gospel and influencing people from all areas of life for eternity. Jesus was very clear about this and it is repeated in different ways throughout the Scriptures (see Matthew 28:19,20, Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8, Revelation 14:6-12). This is what sets the church apart. This is what defines its mission. The question though has always been “how?”
How do we fulfil the divine mandate to prepare the people of the world for Jesus’ return?
"Institutionalism has crept in and a personal relationship with its passion for Jesus has, to some degree, become lost."
In 2011 the Seventh-day Adventist Church engaged in a worldwide review that formed the foundation for the General Conference’s strategic planning. This review—a series of worldwide surveys involving almost 41,000 church members and nearly 1000 former members—highlighted a number of positives as well as a number of areas of concern. These were expressed in 13 strategic issues. Of particular significance are the following:
- Many local churches lack robust mechanisms for member care—especially for those who are at risk of leaving the church . . . While the number of church members has grown significantly over the past 50 years, in the same period, four out of 10 members have left the Church.
- . . . there is also a need to instil lifelong commitment to membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church . . . discipleship programs should be greatly strengthened.
- Secular thinking and entertainment are affecting Adventist beliefs and practices, especially in the Western world.
- There is a decline in most divisions of personal commitment to participation in vital personal, familial and corporate spiritual practices—especially in personal Bible study and family worship.
Think about these for a minute. What do they say about our Church? Do they in any way describe your church?
As I look at them, they tell me that we have lost some of the essence of Adventism. Institutionalism has crept in and a personal relationship with its passion for Jesus has, to some degree, become lost. If this is true, it means that our churches are not fulfilling their full purpose.
So what can we do?
In Acts 2:42-47 we are given a picture of the church living in community: worshipping, praying, studying, eating, sharing and witnessing together. And in Ephesian 4:11-16 is the picture of every member being involved in some way. At the core of this is the issue of discipleship: How we follow Jesus. How we live in relationship with God and each other. How we keep our relationship alive, vital, passionate and active. And how we share this passion with others.
The New Zealand Pacific Union Conference (NZPUC) will show you some of the ways we are attempting this in a special upcoming issue of Adventist Record (in churches this coming Sabbath). You will learn what iPACE means. You will read about our little church on Wallis and other great stories. There is even a French feature, Connaître Jésus. We hope you will see what God is doing with His Church in the different parts of our Union to fulfil our missionary calling.