Risk, Refugees and our Compassion Responsibility

 

This has surely been an eventful week! Social media has been ablaze with discussion on whether Syrian refugees should relocate to the United States. Here is my take on it. Feel free to disagree. Let’s just keep it civil.

  1. Risk.

One of the most common responses many share is the element of risk. I get it. It is risky. All the vetting in the world will not guarantee that unsavory elements bent on destruction will be kept at bay.

Yet…before we refuse help to those that need it most, please consider this. The gospel is risky. So is following Jesus.

It was risky for missionaries to go to foreign lands where they were eaten, beaten and killed. They put their families at risk, many of them going to preach with a one way ticket.

It was risky for the disciples to share Jesus’ message across the world. Most died as a result.

It was risky for people in Nazi Germany to hide in their homes Jewish people. They put their families at risk of death.

There are many words to describe discipleship. Safe is not one of them.

  1. Responsibility.

Just because there is a possibility of harm, does not preclude me from the responsibility of loving and caring for the least of these. Pictures of that baby washing ashore eats at me every day. I have kids and grandkids. What if that was my situation? What would I do? It is my belief, and you may well disagree, that the choice is not between helping the least of these or keeping my family safe. It is between saving the least of these or following a biblical command. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am.

  1. Refugees.

We usually reject what we don’t know. Let’s do away for a moment with political rhetoric and posturing, tracking lists or rabid dogs analogies. These are people. Kids like yours. Women like your mom. Men like your brother. The bigger question I seldom hear asked is this: What causes people in that region to think blowing themselves up is a better choice than their lives? (thanks Yamil for that question) What is going on that they would think that putting your child on an overcrowded boat is a better idea than staying where you are? What a wonderful time to follow the many commands of Jesus regarding the least of these. Many years from now as people look back what will they say about the church? A post-Christian wrote me this week:

“You Christians are amazing. Although this is an unscientific poll, but a quick browse through my FB pages I see that many of the so called Christians, are the one refusing to accept the refugees, and the so called godless heathens are the ones calling for compassion and charity to them.”

Somehow, we need to find a way to do better. I believe we can.
 
Roger Hernandez


Paradigm Shift: Building Momentum Through Relationally-based Evangelism

 

by Mike Cauley, D.Min.
Florida Conference President

I have always loved public evangelism: the energy in preparing for the opening night, getting to know those whom the Lord has brought through advertising and member invitations, building a prayer list of those who are contemplating full surrender to Christ, visiting people in their homes, and trying to move them to a decision by the final Sabbath of the five- or six-week campaign.

Relational Evangelism

I am very indebted to this wonderful process as my mother came into the church through public meetings. Those evangelists who brought many people to Jesus and into the Adventist movement over the years through this method are true heroes.

But change has overtaken the American culture at warp speed. Around 30% of people under age 35 (20% of the general population) report no religious affiliation of any kind—Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, etc. A lack of respect for Christianity is evident in the media and pop culture. Biblical illiteracy is the new norm. Simple Bible stories are unknown to most people. Many young people have never been inside a church except to attend a wedding or a funeral.

In 2015, only 14% of Floridians attend church. About 90% of the population resides in metro regions, and society is becoming increasingly secular. Unfortunately, the trusted methods of yesterday do not work in reaching young adults. African-Americans, Caucasians, and second- or third-generation people from Latin or Caribbean families are no longer as responsive to traditional methods. Yet, people must be reached with a Christ-centered message of hope and wholeness.

If we are going to remain effective, we must establish new methods in more long-term, relational strategies. About 70 years ago, people were hungry for information. Today, they can access more information with their smart phones than they know what to do with. What they are now hungry for are genuine relationships.

I recently interviewed Roger Hernandez, Ministerial Director for Southern Union Conference. He is using methods strongly tied to relationships between members and people who are far from God. Here are some of the things I learned from methods he is piloting:

PregnancyEvangelism Is Like Having a Baby
A shift from a short preparation process with a long evangelistic campaign to a long preparation process followed by a short campaign.

Hernandez likens the evangelistic process to having a baby. Bringing a baby into the world involves three things:

Conception. This may be likened to making friends in the community. It is an ongoing process for a disciple-making church, but there is a renewed focus upon this principle at the start of the evangelistic countdown.

Pregnancy. This is likened to the momentum established in the church as the congregation continues to make and cultivate friendships in the community through various avenues of service. Just as a mother prepares for childbirth for nine months by attending training classes, reading books, etc., this new evangelism model is also a nine-month process.

Delivery. In childbirth, the preferred outcome is for the delivery process to be shorter rather than longer. If the labor extends too long, it isn’t the ideal. If enough relationships with nonbelievers have been cultivated, a lot can be accomplished by a one-week (eight nights) evangelistic program. The momentum will build because much work is already being done with people in their homes.

Every Member a Minister
A shift from depending upon paid evangelistic workers to training volunteer church members to be missionaries where they live and work each day.

Every evangelist I ever worked with wished the harvest would be prepared before the meetings opened, but members were not taught the biblical concept of every member a minister. Frankly, we preachers didn’t understand it either. Evangelism and ministry were considered to be the pastor’s job, but a renewed emphasis on every member being a minister is changing the way members think. Interestingly enough, this concept has always been present in the writings of Ellen White. When put into action, the number of new members who remain after baptism is increasing.

In Hernandez’ model, a large-scale launch to prepare the church is held nine months ahead of public meetings. At the rally, an appeal is made for members to work with their pastor and attend all of the monthly training events. Here are some of the trainings:

Intercessory Prayer. Training in intercessory prayer is provided at the outset. Later in the preparation process leading up to the public meetings, a 40 Days of Prayer event is organized, and it becomes a spiritual revival for the congregation. The prayers are especially targeted toward people who don’t know the Lord.

Service. Service is the most practical and essential component for preparation. Research today tells us that service is a foundational element in helping people grow to maturity in Christ. When 40 Days of Service was conducted last year in West Palm Beach, it was exciting to see our churches come alive with engagement around this model: free car washes, painting houses of people in the neighborhood near the church, and doing good deeds for older people in the community. The multitude of service projects carried forth by young people, middle-age, and older members was transformative:

  • How to relate to nonChristian and nonAdventist friends and visitors in a way that is winsome.
  • Leading a community Bible study.
  • How to retain new members. These new methodologies focused upon relational strategies resulted in a 30-40% increase in retention.
  • How to help people make decisions.

Personal Invitations
A shift from depending upon mass mail to personal invitations.

The money usually spent on mailing brochures is spent on a small wage for a couple of people who will give Bible studies for three months before the start of the eight-night series. These are temporary hires, but members are also trained to give Bible studies as volunteers. In the past, since pastors and evangelists were trying to do everything, churches looked to public advertising to bring people to the meetings—and it worked! My mother joined the Adventist Church after she saw meetings advertised in the local newspaper. Unfortunately, today, fewer people respond to mailers, newspaper advertising, and posters. Members may hand out advertisements to those with whom they have established a relationship.

Practical Sermons
A shift from a month-long series to a one-week series.

Hernandez conducts baptisms each night and calls for decisions, since people have been studying the Bible in homes for months. He advises, “Preach decision sermons that answer the question, ‘So what?’ and show the blessing and benefits of the Sabbath, a life of vitality and health, and the second coming.” These practical sermons help people to embrace truth. Since American society knows less about the Bible today than at any other time in our history, people are much less resistant to embrace Bible truth since they possess fewer prejudices or biases.

FriendsMake a Friend
A shift from little follow-up to follow-up that is well-planned and implemented.

Every new convert is given a ministry assignment. They are immediately involved and assigned one or more spiritual mentors to encourage him/her in their walk. Make sure their circle of friends in the church enlarges quickly. When we relied primarily on advertising, most of those who decided to be baptized had very few, if any, friends in the church. The likelihood of their staying in the church was challenging.

My friend Alex Bryant, Executive Secretary of the North American Division, was invited to hold meetings this summer in Kansas City. He told the congregation if they would conduct service projects and establish relationships with 1,000 people, he would hold the meetings.

Two groups of people were baptized. One was a delightful group who were relatively new in the U.S. His sermons were translated every night, and a number of people were baptized.

He had another group who came from friendships. They were people who we usually don’t win in large numbers, but because they were connected with members and saw them as friends, they came. Many were baptized and enthusiastic about being a part of a family who are sharing the Gospel in practical, loving ways.

People are hungry for relationships. So, I challenge you to make a friend today. It may be a life that Christ will touch through you for eternity!



6 Things a Guest Will Evaluate While Visiting Your Church

Most people will visit a church several times before making a decision to call that church home. The challenge lies in the reality that visitors can sneak in and out without anyone even knowing they were there. Someone once said that a visitor will make a decision about a church long before the pastor begins to speak.  If this is true, what is the visitor evaluating in the process?

 

  1. Way-finding 

Finding your way around any new environment can be challenging – particularly if there is not appropriate directional signage. No one likes to feel lost and good way-finding can assure your visitors know exactly where to go when they arrive on campus.

Drive through your campus and look for those pivotal decision points and determine if a directional sign could help a visitor find where to park, drop children off or enter the church building. This is particularly important if the campus has multiple buildings or entrances.

  1. Friendly Encounters 

Visitors are often taking a step of faith by entering a new church environment. The church can ease this by having friendly and helpful people available to greet them! As a visitor arrives on campus, ask yourself a few questions.

  • Who is the first person they interact with?
  • Is it a friendly parking volunteer, greeter or usher?
  • How welcoming are church members to people they don’t know?
  • Are there people assigned to look for new people and say hello?

This can be tricky because some people like to be recognized as being new and others want to blend in with the crowd while they assess the environment. This is done successfully when there is training for how to be welcoming, yet not intrusive to a guest.

  1. Facility 

The church should provide a place of solace for members and visitors and everyone likes to enjoy facilities that are aesthetically pleasing. Think about your facility and try to view from an outsider’s perspective.

Take a walk around your campus and ask yourself a few questions:

  • How inviting is the facility?
  • Do the walls have scuff marks on them?
  • Is the facility and furnishings outdated?
  • Is it clean and clutter free?
  • Do the windows have fingerprints on them?
  • Is there debris lying in the flowerbeds or is the landscape meticulously manicured?

All of these subtle observations leave an impression on a visitor and tells a story about the culture and priorities of the organization. If a church offers guests a restroom that has not been updated in decades – it communicates neglect.

  1. Is this the right church for me?

Visitors need an easy way to access information about the church. They look for the types of activities and programs that are available. They are thinking things like:

  • What does this church believe?
  • What is this church trying to accomplish – what is their mission?
  • What kinds of programs are there for my kids?
  • What kinds of volunteer opportunities are there for me?
  • What kinds of discipleship options are there for my spiritual growth?
  • What are the steps to becoming a new member?

It is important to make this kind of information easy to access and understand.

  1. Communication Process 

Good communication does not happen by accident. It is the result of a structured and systematized communication process that predetermines what and when information is shared.

Think about how information is shared and the different avenues for providing that information.

  • Does all information get communicated through announcements, video or the church website?
  • Is the information consistent in every forum?
  • How often is information updated?
  • How much notice do members receive when marketing an upcoming event?

Manage church communication by taking the time to think about who needs to know what kinds of information and when do they need to know it.

  1. New Member Expectations 

Visitors who decide to become members want to understand what will be expected of them once they make that commitment.  Think through the new member process and be sensitive to putting too much pressure to participate – particularly at the level of long time members. The last thing you want is to scare someone away because they couldn’t fulfill the requirements of being a new member.

Most churches want to grow and include more people to help fulfill their mission.  Taking the time to think through a visitor experience can be one way to help transition a visitor into a committed new member!



Why I No Longer Attend Seventh-day Adventist Churches

 

This post has been a long time coming.  I’ve gone back and forth about whether or not to share my thoughts and experience, but every so often an old friend will find out I don’t attend an SDA church anymore and things get a little awkward so I figure it’s better to explain my perspective.

I was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist church.  My mom took us to church and my dad is an agnostic Jew by ethnicity, who occasionally took us to synagogue with my grandparents on a Friday evening for their sake.  I attended Seventh-day Adventist schools from kindergarten to 8th grade which I’m grateful for.  I’m sure it’s not easy to pay for private school tuition.  I made many precious friendships through elementary and middle school that I still cherish today.  I had great teachers who had a lot of grace for my “question authority” personality.  I attended SDA summer camp at Mt. Aetna every year from 7 to 15 years old.  Mt. Aetna was my heaven on earth.  What a special, blessed place it is.  I will forever cherish the memories of singing under the stars at the “campfire bowl,” having all sorts of fun with friends, and getting baptized in the Mt. Aetna pond.  I never felt closer to God than while at camp.  My absolute favorite spot is the bridge over the stream.  I am so grateful I had the opportunity to work there for one summer in college.  My cabin was right next to the stream.  I loved laying on the bridge listening to the water trickle below or the leaves swaying in the breeze.  I loved to have personal devotions there.  I’ll share a couple of photos:

mt aetna stream

mt aetna stream 2

In addition to the influences of school and camp, I attended church weekly.  During my most formative years (12-18 I believe), I had a really wonderful youth leader.  He was one of those people who just genuinely cared and didn’t judge regardless of what crazy stage I might have been going through (punk/gothic for awhile, then  more of a hippie).  There were some mix ups with the youth leadership at that church at one point and a lot of the kids went to other churches for a more stable program.  This person stepped up and committed to always being there, whether one kid came to church or 15.  And he did it for years and years (I think he’s still teaching there actually).  God bless you E.  You know who you are if you read this!  I pray God rewards you richly for your diligence and selflessness.  You were like an angel in my life, a wonderful example of a kindhearted, godly male figure.  Thank you.  So I had some really special experiences through the church youth program doing fun things like going camping, having game nights and lock-ins at the church, etc.  I developed a personal walk with God early on in my childhood and I know that foundation was given to me through the influences of the SDA church.  I’m forever grateful for that.

I went to public high school and really struggled there because I was used to such a tight knit experience of having the same 25 kids in your class year after year.  I didn’t really know how to make friends with 7 different classes a day and different kids in each of those classes, only to have them change each semester or year.  It was really hard for me.  I decided to go to an SDA university for college and chose Andrews, another precious place for me.  There’s a special blessing on that campus.  You can feel it.  I loved my time there, other than the cold from being located in MI!  Andrews University has a campus church called Pioneer Memorial.  The pastor there is Dwight Nelson.  He is the real deal.  You can just feel that he has a personal walk with God and his love for people shines through him.  The spiritual atmosphere at Andrews was wonderful when I was there.  I had great professors, wonderful deans in the dorm, the University was very active in outreach in a local impoverished city, Benton Harbor, doing all sorts of programs for the people there.  They are making a huge difference in Benton Harbor.  There is no question that faith is being acted out there.

Andrews university

So this time was the first point of conflict in my faith.  I came home from Andrews, high off of the experience I had there in the worship programs, service opportunities, etc.  I missed it all when I came back for the summer.  I grew up just outside of DC in MD and thought to myself that there’s no reason the same things can’t be done to help impoverished residents in DC as were being done for those in Benton Harbor.  I contacted an SDA church in DC to see if any similar programs were going on like those in place at Andrews.  There weren’t so I felt inspired to try to start something.  I had a friend from Andrews who lived in the same area and we partnered up with the church in DC.  We decided to start by just going door to door to the surrounding houses and offering to pray with people to build relationships with them (modeled off of the way Andrews University outreach was started in Benton Harbor.)  We made announcements at that church about what we were doing, I made announcements at my childhood church about it.  I was so excited to get something started.  I wanted to invite other SDA churches in the area to get involved too.  The SDA world headquarters is in Silver Spring, MD so there are a lot of SDA churches in that area.  I made information packets for around 30 churches inviting them to join in.  Guess who paid for the postage for my packets?  That youth leader from my childhood church.  Bless you.  Thank you for being so supportive and encouraging.

So after all of the effort and preparation, guess how many of the 30 churches showed any interest in participating?  None – except the host church who agreed to allow us to use their location as a central point.  And how many people  from the host church do you think decided to participate in the outreach their church was hosting in their own neighborhood?  Only one elder and he didn’t stay involved long.  Guess how many people came from my home church to support a young person in their church trying to do something to reach people?  My youth leader and then my mom eventually started coming.  I have some thoughts on this.  One is that maybe people thought what we were doing was a bad idea.  Maybe we weren’t going about it in the most effective way.  Why though didn’t they at least acknowledge my efforts as a young person and maybe give suggestions to help?  No one even responded to the packets I sent out.  Maybe the churches I contacted weren’t inspired to go into DC specifically, but would rather have done something in their immediate, local community.  I don’t know.

I’ve heard there are 90 SDA churches within 30 miles of the world headquarters in Silver Spring, MD.  Do you know how many coordinated ministry efforts there are between the churches?  None that I knew/know of.  Why not?  There are so many suffering people in and around DC.  The region has one of the worst crime rates in the nation.  People need help.  Maybe the real issue is most Seventh-day Adventists simply don’t care about or prioritize evangelism.  Maybe they would rather attend church and let that be the end of it.  Maybe they don’t have a desire to make a difference.  Either way I can say from my experience that it was really disappointing as a collegiate young adult in the SDA church to not only not have any support, but people didn’t even take the time to acknowledge I reached out to them.  It’s not hard to understand why such a high rate of young people are leaving the church when they are so unvalued and unsupported.

(DC row house)

row house

So I went back to Andrews in the fall where things were great and let go of the DC effort.  The next summer I decided to work at camp rather than live at home.  When I left Andrews permanently I only lived back in MD for 2 months or so before moving to VA to live closer to my then boyfriend (now husband.)  In the city we lived there was only one SDA church.  I went there hoping to find something to get involved with like in college.  Unfortunately there weren’t any outreach programs in place.  There also wasn’t anything in place for young people.  The church had an older population overall.  It actually wasn’t uncommon for quite a few members of the congregation to sleep through the Divine service.  I began to feel like I was just going to church to “swipe my SDA card,” so to speak.  I kind of trailed off of going to church at all for the first time in my life.  I felt bad about not attending church regularly but felt worse and more frustrated when I would go.

I’ll take a moment to explain to anyone reading this who is unfamiliar with the SDA church that the SDA community is very cultural.  They are very proud of their doctrinal beliefs and usually lead with those.  In fact, I did some Bible work (going door to door offering Bible studies) in high school using the Amazing Facts study guides which focus heavily on the SDA church’s interpretation of end time prophesy.  I would arrange studies with people who were already Christian so I could argue with them about doctrine and try to convert them to Adventism.  Looking back now I’m embarrassed I used my time that way and “surprisingly” I didn’t win over a single convert!  Why would SDAs focus so much on converting already saved people rather than reaching out to the person down the street who has never heard that God loves them before?  I imagine one reason is because it’s commonly taught and believed within the SDA church that only SDA Christians (those who practice SDA doctrines) will receive salvation.  This belief is one of several that make other denominations/people in general believe the SDA church is a cult.

Most of the churches I’ve attended in my lifetime of being SDA are very conservative (not all, there are a couple of exceptions).  Jewelry is discouraged, sometimes makeup, definitely tattoos.  A lot of SDA pastors don’t even wear wedding rings.  They believe it’s vain or materialistic.  Few SDAs seem to have an issue with wearing nice clothes, driving a nice car, or living in a nice house though.  I’m curious where the line of judgment begins and ends?  Who sets these standards and what does it have to do with the Great Commission?  In most SDA churches I’ve attended women are encouraged to wear skirts or dresses rather than pants.  Some SDA churches only allow the piano or organ to be played in church, while others think acoustic guitar is okay but nothing electric and definitely not drums.  Others are more liberal and will have a full praise band, but they are not nearly the majority in my experience.

One practice that SDA’s are known for is keeping the Jewish, or 7th day Sabbath (hence the name Seventh-day Adventist.)  The way people choose to observe Sabbath varies from family to family.  Some don’t believe in frequenting businesses on Sabbath because it requires other people to work, others don’t mind.  A family I grew up with wouldn’t allow their children to play on the playground on Sabbath.  I’m not sure why.  I wasn’t allowed to swim in a swimming pool on Sabbath “because it’s man made,” but if we were at the beach then it was fine to swim in the ocean because it’s a natural body of water.  So many rules that have nothing to do with spreading Christ’s love!

Even though I don’t attend SDA churches anymore, I do still personally observe the Sabbath as a spiritual day of rest.  Jesus says that Sabbath was made for man’s benefit and I believe it!  I look forward to it coming and treasure the break from work.  My husband and I use it as designated family time.  We’ll spend time outdoors, catch up on sleep, just do whatever we want to to make us feel refreshed and rested for the coming week.  Studies have shown Sabbath-keepers are proven to live longer.  Everyone needs a break sometime!  I love Sabbath, but as with sex or anything else God intended to be good, I think strict religious practices can spoil the blessing in it.  Also, Sabbath keeping is considered a salvational issue within the SDA church which is another disconnect I’ve developed between myself and the denomination.

scolding

So as you might be able to gather, there was a big difference between my experience at Andrews University and normal life at home.  I think it’s pretty common across the board that young people aren’t really encouraged or valued in SDA environments outside of school settings.  The older, more conservative members create environments so strict and religious I believe they’re driving the young people away.  Well, they are in fact being driven away.  I believe it’s some where around 70% of American SDA young people who leave the church.  Something has to change if the denomination wants to continue to exist here.

To continue with my story, I really felt the void of not attending church regularly.  My boyfriend and I had heard a buzz about a local non-denominational church so we decided to check it out. This was my first experience of ever seeking a church home outside of the Adventist church.  I was really nervous about it.  The non-denominational church met at a local high school.  Dress was casual.  Even the pastor preached in jeans.  He explained it was because he didn’t want a person who had never been to church before to feel like they wouldn’t fit in if they didn’t have dress clothes.  They were his best pair of jeans though he said!  (Nodding toward the mentality many people have that we need to wear our “best” for God at church.) 🙂 There was a greeter at the church with tattoo sleeves up both of his arms.  I’d never seen anything like it before.  There was a full band for praise and worship and the first message we heard there was about the importance of giving.  The pastor preached a great sermon on honoring God with our finances and at the end of the service ushers passed out envelopes to every person in the audience.  Each envelope had $10, $20, $50, $100, $500, or $1,000 cash in it!  The pastor explained he didn’t want to just preach to us about the importance of giving.  He wanted to show us what a blessing it is without having to use our own money.  He challenged the audience to use the money they were given to go into the community and bless someone with it.  Then we were supposed to report back to a blog they had set up to share our experience.  I was floored.  Everything about this was mind-blowing to me.

SDA churches are organized in conferences who report to divisions who I assume then are accountable to the world headquarters.  Either way, the tithe money churches collect go back to a conference while the offering stays in the local church.  The SDA world church does support lots of great ministries, has an extensive network of hospitals, schools, overseas missionaries, etc. so I guess it’s up to you to decide what you think of the system of money disbursement.  I personally am drawn to the idea of an independent, non-denominational church that is able to keep its funds locally to use as they deem best (with a strong system of accountability in place of course.)  Otherwise you commonly have SDA churches struggling to pay their utilities because they’re sending the vast majority of their money back to the conference.  It’s very common for SDA churches to post their budget deficit in the weekly bulletin.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen one that operated in a budget surplus.

So the non-denominational church used their offering for the month to give back to the church to bless others with.  However you feel about it, it was amazing to me.  It made such an impact in the community the local newspaper wrote about it.  We continued to attend this church semi-regularly, but it always felt a little strange to us.  I had a lot of backlash from my mother about “leaving the SDA church,” even though I explained my reasoning about it.  She felt like I was going to hell because I’d turned away from the church.  I think she would have preferred I didn’t go to church at all rather than attend a non-SDA church.  My boyfriend and I became engaged during this time period and my mom didn’t participate in any of my wedding planning because of fighting over this issue.  I planned my wedding alone.  It was a very difficult and painful time overall.

Not long after getting married my husband and I moved about 30 miles north to live closer to DC again.  Our home buying process took longer than we anticipated and we ended up having to bounce around with family in MD while waiting for our house in Northern VA.  While staying in MD we ran into some old SDA schoolmates of mine and they invited me to their church.  We visited and actually loved it!  The church was very friendly and caring, the atmosphere was very non-judgmental and open, they were organizing events to connect with the local community.  It was just what we’d been praying for in an SDA church.  We loved it so much that we drove an hour each way (without traffic) after moving into our house to still attend there.  We did that for a year before the commute became too much for us.  In the summer the traffic was so bad some weeks it took us 3 hours to get home.  We had made wonderful friends there, were very involved in serving, and were really sad to have to start over with trying to find a church family.  We didn’t have much of a choice though and decided to try the closest SDA church to us.

After our experience with the non-denominational church and now the only healthy, active SDA church I’d ever been to outside of Andrews, we grew to look for two qualities in a church community: an outward focus and an environment where an unchurched person could attend and feel comfortable.  The church closest to where we lived did not have those qualities.  There weren’t really outreach opportunities at all.  We stayed for a potluck lunch there one week and a person actually told us that the sermons aren’t any good, but there are some nice people to make friends with so that’s why they kept going.  I don’t want to judge anyone who is trying to serve God in their career as a pastor.  I will say though that you can feel the difference between a Spirit filled message that inspires people to action and change in their lives and one that maybe filtered its way back into the sermon circuit again this year.  I really don’t want to be disrespectful, but I am not kidding when I say that.  At that SDA church near us, we heard a sermon once right after moving and coincidentally visited them a year later to give them another try and the same sermon was being preached as before.  I am being 100% honest.  It’s like going through the motions for the sake of the motions and not expecting any difference to be made or any lives to actually be changed.

(My face hearing the same sermon again before pulling a sneak out move.)

bored-in-church1

We tried one more SDA church that was about 40 minutes away from us in VA and found they had Spirit filled sermons and a friendly atmosphere.  There still weren’t many outreach opportunities in place and not really anything going on for our age group, but we really liked the pastor and were so desperate for a church home, we figured we would try to make it work.  We filled out connection cards several times requesting information on opportunities to serve at the church and were never contacted back so we approached the pastor for help after several weeks.  He connected us to another young couple who was re-launching the churches monthly potluck lunch ministry that had fizzled out in previous years.  We started serving with them but wanted to have more of a sense of community so we got the idea to launch a group for post collegiate young adults.  To make this long story a little bit shorter, I’ll say in just a few words that no one after my husband and I committed to help with the potluck ministry.  We and the leading couple weren’t enough to organize, serve, and clean up lunch for the 70+ people who would stay.  In fact, not only did people not commit to helping, but previous potluck team volunteers would come behind us and “fix” things like the way we arranged the tables, or the napkins, or the dishes on the tables, etc.  They wouldn’t get on a volunteer rotation, but they would correct the “wrong” way that we were doing things.  Unreal.  It’s almost comical.  And as far as the young adult group went, no one expressed interest in it so I just cancelled the event I had organized.

So discouraged in serving within the church, no outreach opportunities in place,  and with no interest from others in developing a sense of community for our age group, one final thing solidified our decision to leave after 8 months of trying to make this church our home.  Though we did, and still do, have a lot of respect for the pastor there and his family, the last sermon series we attended was on the “chiastic” structure of the book of Ruth.  For those unfamiliar, a chiasm is a form of poetry.  The book of Ruth is written in a poetic format and there was a four week sermon series during the main service analyzing that structure.  I can understand doing this as a small group study for Biblical scholars, but it was for the main church service for four weeks.  My husband and I asked each other if there was any possible way we could bring a person who had never been to church before and have them feel comfortable, or get something out of a sermon like that, and our honest answer was no.  If any church, no matter the denomination, is not making an effort to fulfill the Great Commission then what is the point?

We really did try to stick it out with the SDA church simply from a place of comfort and familiarity, not really ever even analyzing possible disconnects we might have had with doctrine.  After being separated for some time now, there are definitely some red flags there as well that have affirmed our decision.  Ultimately we are loyal to God, not to the Adventist church.  The bottom line for us is that we need to be involved in a church that is doing something to reach lost people.

After deciding to leave that SDA church, we visited a non-denominational church 15 minutes from our house. It felt just like the first non-denominational church we had attended.  This one even had a Saturday service so we could still attend church on Sabbath.  We loved it.  The pastors there were actually friends with the pastor from the first church, interestingly.  We jumped on board with serving there, got very involved in the small group ministry, and overall felt like our void had been filled.  There were so many outreach opportunities you couldn’t possibly do them all – A back pack drive for local students, a food drive for the local food bank, a mobile meal packing event with an organization called Feed My Starving Children that sends meals to starving children all over the world, the church sponsors a village in Uganda and many members sponsor children in that village.  The church also send a mission team every year to serve there.  They had another mission team go to Guatemala, we got on a team to help raise funds for a well in Uganda.  The church had a Celebrate Recovery program for people struggling with all kinds of addiction.  Only in these Bible churches had I ever heard of providing resources for people struggling with pornography addiction or substance abuse.  You mean to tell me people in church have real problems and the church can have resources in place to help them?  This was truly mind blowing to me. There was so much growth in that church they were struggling to keep up with it.  That’s what we wanted to be apart of.  We just want to make a difference.

(Photo of an FMSC mobile meal packing event)

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We recently moved from VA to TX.  We were so sad to leave our church family in VA.  We really loved it.  Just for old times’ sake we tried a local SDA church here and this time we felt like the outsiders.  People were kind, but it was a traditional SDA church as described above.  God bless them.  I just know what’s right for me.  We tried four or five different local non-denominational churches.  I think we’d be happy to jump on board with any of them (except one pretty charismatic one that had barefoot people and lots of flag and ribbon waving which was a little overwhelming for us!)  The only way we made a decision was that one of the churches was particularly organized in their process for getting new people involved in the church and different ministries.  They have a system in place like clock work which we appreciated.  They are expecting growth and are prepared for it so we started the process of joining.  We’re taking membership classes now that end with you selecting an area of ministry to use your God given gifts to serve in. (Note the expectation to serve.  I really believe saved people who are unwilling to serve in a church are dead weight, no offense.)  They’ve grown from 80 to 2700 attendees in 8 years.  It’s not all about the numbers, but isn’t the point of the church to grow?  If it’s not to grow/reach lost people, then what is the point of any church?

In conclusion, I will probably always have a soft spot in my heart for the SDA church.  It gave me my foundation in Christ, provided many wonderful memories, I even met my husband through it.  It’s very much a part of who I am.  I know we are where we’re supposed to be now though.   Ultimately, everything goes back to my two must-haves:  an outward focus and an environment in place to welcome unsaved people.  In my experience, that’s very hard to find in an SDA church.  If Pioneer Memorial Church (the Andrews University campus church) was where I live, I’m sure I never would have thought of leaving the SDA denomination because of how much good is being done there.  People usually have to have a very good reason to question and then uproot themselves from a system they were raised in.  I really do appreciate Pastor Dwight’s ministry though.  I actually visited a friend there in April and was so pleased to get to hear him preach a sermon about some current issues Andrews is going through regarding their homosexual student population feeling unwelcome and unsupported.  I don’t want to go too much into it, but the basic message of the sermon was, you who are without sin can cast the first stone.  We’re called to love and support people, regardless of their area of sin.  Yours is no different than mine.  We’ve all got a sin problem and all need to deal with it with grace and compassion for each other.  Jesus Himself kept company with the outcasts in society.  Is the church following His example?  The Bible says the world will know us by our love, not by our doctrine or rules.  It’s our love that matters.
 
(I hope Triad Adventist Fellowship is a place where love and acceptance is always provided as we continue to reach out to help others in our community.) 


Why Church Planting Makes A Difference


I arrived at 10:30am, right when breakfast and bible classes around tables start. After a healthy breakfast, we went to the sanctuary, where the worship service was intentional, and to the point. Music, prayer and message followed by tithes and offerings and a short announcement. We were eating another healthy potluck by 12:15pm.

Triad Adventist Church is a new church plant in North Carolina. Started only 6 months ago, it is averaging close to 100 people a week. After worshipping with them last Sabbath and listening to stories from their attendees, I reflected on the similarities to other church plants.

Here are three ways that church plants make a difference.

  1. “I fit here.”

More than one person I spoke to expressed the same sentiment: This church has given me an opportunity to use my talents. That is a consistent occurrence in church plants. People that were relegated to pew sitters/warmers suddenly find themselves leading and serving. No matter the intentionality of the mother church, there are just so many offices to be filled. New churches provide new opportunities and levels of involvements. One more significant item. This church is LAY LED. It’s growing. It’s making an impact.

  1. “I came back here.”

Several families, young adults and even former church leaders that had stopped attending have returned. It’s amazing what a grace orientation does for a church. The focus I saw in Triad is a greater preoccupation for serving and reaching the community than for the myriad of secondary issues we often divide over. As one of the members put it: “I’ve been waiting for this church for 58 years”. New churches provide an option for people that have been burned, bypassed or bored.

  1. “I love it here.”

It’s no secret that Adventist churches have a challenge retaining their youth. As I looked into the audience, I could see a cross section of people that were represented:

Different age groups. This was not a “youth church”. It was a church that had everyone.

Different backgrounds. Former Adventists. New members. Non-members. Long-time members.

Different races. It was diverse and that is a great thing.

The most important question I left with, after visiting Triad is:

Where are the other church plants?

Let’s start by having one in every city. Triad is already planning their baby. Their dream is not to be a mega church, but to expand the kingdom. I am praying for more church plants.

When are you planting?

 
Roger Hernandez


Guest Speaker: Randy Roberts, D.Min.

We are please to announce that Randy Roberts will be our guest speaker this Sabbath, June 6, 2015.  Randy is the Senior Pastor of the Loma Linda University Church.  We hope you can join us!!