Afraid of losing momentum, the early Seventh-day Adventist movement resisted forming an official structure for almost two decades. Reflecting on past protestant movements-turned-institutions, our pioneers vowed to avoid any structure inhibiting the march of present truth towards Zion.
But with a relatively stagnant net growth, have the fears of our forbearers materialised, at least in the Australian Seventh-day Adventist Church? A church better known for our breakfast foods than our soul food? And if so, can the tide be reversed?
Earlier this year at the AUC Executive meetings, pastors and lay leaders from around Australia committed to lead the church in becoming a ‘thriving, disciple making movement’. However throughout Christian history, it is not committee motions that have fuelled growth but the indwelling work of the Holy Spirit moving through willing vessels.
Campaigns and conventions, papers and programs, resources and restructures all have their place and value, but none come close to what God can do through committed Seventh-day Adventists in their local church and community context.
What will it take to become a thriving, disciple-making movement once more? Communion, relationships and mission.
Communion with God
Zero – zilch – nada – nothing – that is our guaranteed mission success rate if we do not have a thriving, growing experience with Jesus each day (John 15:5). God has no need or desire for us to finish His work, rather He longs to finish His work in and through us. To do so we must have constant and continuous communion with Jesus.
‘Read your Bible and pray every day is’ more than a children’s song – it is the essential blueprint for communion with divinity. Are you daily spending time in communing with God through prayer and Bible discovery? Are you listening and cooperating with that still small voice as you go about your day? Before fixing our families, our churches, our structures, our communities,we should be reaching up for a deeper communion with God, each day allowing Him to work in us so He can work through us.
Relationships with others
We often imagine Jesus came to save us ‘from sin’ (Matthew 1: 21) but this generally translates to Jesus saving us from doing the ‘wrong’ thing.
Did Jesus simply live and die to save us from doing bad, dumb, harmful stuff? Or is there more?
According to the Apostle John, “sin” is ‘breaking the law’ (1 John 3:4). Jesus explains that the law is essentially an imperative to love God and others (Matthew 22:38-40).
So, by deduction, sin is the act of not loving God and others. Jesus died to restore us to loving God and others.
Put another way, Jesus lived, died, and rose again so we can have healthy, vibrant, loving relationships with Himself and those around us.
He died to restore us to positive relationships, not merely to cleanse us from past wrongs.
How are your relationships? How would your spouse, children, parents, friends, church members, colleagues, bosses, neighbours or strangers driving on the same road describe you? Do your family members aspire to have your faith and character? What is your relationship like with your brothers and sisters at church? How many young people in your local church see you as a role model?
How good is the news we are sharing if it does not have the power to restore us to loving relationships with those around us? Disciple-making is not merely a proclamation of truth but a personification of loving relationships. After all, Jesus called us to make disciples, followers, imitators of Him, and He is love – God “with” us.
Ask God for love, wisdom, strength to reach in to those around you that the world may truly know we are disciples of Jesus by our love for one another.
“The difference between an institution and a movement is that one crosses boundaries, the other guards them” (David Bosch, Transforming Mission, 50). Why does the Seventh-day Adventist Church exist? It is not to defend, protect or convey truth – God is more than capable to do that for Himself. Just look at the Bible defended, protected and conveyed through generations no thanks to us and our relatively new movement.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church exists to demonstrate the love and power of God in redeeming and restoring humanity to happiness, health and holiness (Matthew 5:14-16).
We cannot be a movement if we don’t move. Move out of homes and into our neighbourhoods, out of our churches and into our communities, out of our comfort zones and into the war zone of the greatest controversy in history. How many non-Adventist friends do you have? How many new non-Adventist friends are you regularly making? How much time do you spend actively being in (but not of) the world?
‘Disciple making’ is living and showing an experience so much better than what others have that they become jealous of and yearning for it.
But how will the world ever be jealous of what we have if they don’t see it? Hiding behind a computer screen, garden fence or church perimeter engenders no envy.
Follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Leave home and go mingle with people where they are, make friends, eat together, and when asked tell others what Jesus has done for you – repeat again and again and again. As you place yourself in places and spaces in need of divine light, God will shine in and through you to reach out to his children still in darkness. He will impress you with loving actions, healing words, genuine sympathy at the right time, in the right way to draw others to you first and ultimately to Himself.
The question we should be asking ourselves is not whether or not the Seventh-day Adventist church is still a movement. We should be asking whether or not we, as individuals, are still moving?
Are we moving closer to God, closer to our fellow believers, and closer to our communities? The sum is greater than the parts – the church will move and be a movement as each one of us commits to move in our spheres of influence.
Australian Union Conference