Why Total Member Involvement matters

A new approach to evangelism is putting ministry back where it's supposed to be—in the hands of local church members.

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(Photos: Linden Chuang)

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations . . .” (Matthew 24:14, ESV).

As someone who hasn’t globetrotted excessively, I can’t say I’ve seen this happen. After a recent trip to Vanuatu, however, what I have witnessed is the gospel being proclaimed throughout a whole country.

It’s evening on Thursday, July 19, and Eric Kaltap from the Vanuatu Mission is showing me around Port Vila. Our first stop is a vacant lot on the main strip of the city, where an Adventist is sharing the “good news” with the gathered crowd and passers-by. A two-minute drive up the road and another Adventist is preaching a similar message, his voice echoing into the cool (warm for me) night air. Another quick drive, another evangelism site. We make our way uphill and . . . you get the picture.

Having lived in Cooranbong (NSW) for more than 10 years, I’m used to seeing Adventist communities gathering in relatively close proximity. But this is different. This is the gospel being shared publicly and unashamedly across an entire city.

Head out of the capital, across Efate and out to Vanuatu’s other islands, and the same thing is happening. In fact, for three weeks in July, the message of “Jesus Our Hope” was shared at a staggering 236 sites throughout the island nation.

To put the scale of this “harvesting program” in perspective, Vanuatu has a total land area of 12,200 km2. That means for 21 straight days, 236 Adventists were proclaiming the message of Jesus across a land area smaller than Sydney.

One of the many evangelism sites scattered across the island of Efate.

I wasn’t the only one marvelling at the magnitude of the series. “What are you Adventists doing?” people would ask church pastors and members on the street. “You’re everywhere!” An Adventist taxi driver similarly had a passenger say to him, “Man, these Adventists are crazy. They’re running meetings all over the place!”

The buzz surrounding the meetings also extended to social media, with talk of the harvesting program doing the rounds on Facebook and other digital platforms in Vanuatu. Stop and think about that for a moment—when was the last time you heard of the Seventh-day Adventist Church simultaneously trending online and on the street?

“The gospel is going to all of Vanuatu,” says Mission president Pastor Nos Terry Mailalong. “A new door to evangelism has opened up.”

That door is Total Member Involvement, or TMI. Sure, the acronym may not be ideal, but there’s no arguing with the results. Vanuatu Mission’s harvesting program yielded 1530 baptisms (as of late August), with the Adventist message entering new villages and parts of the country.

Then again, we’ve all heard of stories of large baptisms that are soon followed by a large exodus of new members. Our Church leaders, however, are aware of this too.

“I’m beginning to realise that while the big speakers and evangelisms are good, most of the people we reach fall right through the cracks,” says Pastor Mailalong. “Many of them are no longer in the Church.

“I believe for us, the way to do evangelism going forward is what we’re doing this year. Through Total Member Involvement, the local Adventist community gets to own the evangelism, and own the lives coming into their hands too. If they own it, they will look after the people.”

Church members in Vanuatu—and across the Trans Pacific Union Mission (TPUM)—have responded to the challenge, be it through preaching, praying or making personal connections with those attending the meetings.

Now, let’s be clear—this kind of buy-in didn’t come easily.

“For a long time, the local church members thought that only ministers could minister,” explains Pastor Joshua Iso. “But now they think, ‘We can do it too. We’ve been sitting in church with the knowledge of truth but haven’t done anything. But we can do it.’”

The turning point for Adventists in Vanuatu came in March when TPUM Global Mission coordinator Dr Ronald Stone ran two weeks of School of Evangelism training in Port Vila. More than 400 lay members from across the country attended, triggering what Pastor Mailalong calls a “shift in mentality”.

“It changed the worldview of the lay people. They were empowered and are now excited to get involved.”

Baptism at Portoroki Seventh-day Adventist Church (Port Vila) on July 21, 2018.

One such person is bus driver Morris Louis. After attending the training, the lay elder felt inspired to get more involved in “spreading the good news of Jesus”.

Morris would go on to be a speaker at an evangelism site in Melemat, Efate, in July, despite the fact he was “not confident in public speaking”.

“The first night was very hard,” he recalls. “I was nervous, but when the first words came out of my mouth, I could feel it was the Holy Spirit speaking. From then on it was very easy.”

The end result of his willingness to get involved was eight people choosing to be baptised.

“It’s very exciting,” he says with a smile. “We thought we might get one, but we got eight. We were in tears of joy. Now, I just feel like I want to do more. I wish [this series] lasted until December!”

Morris’s story is just one example of the amazing things God is doing in Vanuatu (read more stories here) and throughout the TPUM through Total Member Involvement.

What we need to understand about TMI, though, is it’s not about the big event; it’s about the big picture. In preparation for July’s “harvest”, the Vanuatu Mission encouraged its members to establish small groups in their local areas. This foresight, along with Revelation seminars, Bible studies and other resources provided by the Mission, meant local church members were/are ready to receive and nurture those newly-baptised.

This “big picture” philosophy stems from the TPUM’s commitment to TMI. For the Union, 2018 is the “year of the lay member”. Women will take the lead next year, followed by the “year of the youth” in 2020.

Pastor Mailalong believes this method of evangelism is “the way forward” and not merely a one-off event. “The Trans Pacific Union is committed to giving ministry back to the local members. That’s where it’s supposed to be.”

Indeed, if “this gospel of the kingdom [is to] be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations”, we all need to get involved.

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