01 Jun


What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.

— NT Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

We were having lunch near the Washington National Cathedral. There were three or four of us–two high-level clergy of another Christian denomination, and two Seventh-day Adventist Christians. As we concluded a conversation on ways to cooperate in international aid and development and how we could work jointly in combating poverty, it was time to plan a timeline for our efforts.

Deciding on who would research what, one of the bishops asked, “So, shall we meet and report our findings in three months?”

“Did you actually mean three weeks?” I asked.

Turning to his colleague, the bishop commented, “Look, let’s remember that we are meeting with Seventh-day Adventists. They are a missionary church. We can learn from them. That’s why they continue to grow, and we are standing still. They have no time to lose.”

It is always better to be told by others than to brag about our own success. Their reaction reminded me of a comment by a Vanderbilt University professor, Paul K. Conkin in his book American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity: “It is worth noting that no other American-based denomination have ever attempted to transform itself so fully into a worldwide fellowship.” (p. 144).

Reflecting on my Adventist journey for several decades, I must not overlook the essence of our church witness. It was usually called “evangelism,” but mostly “witnessing” to … other Christians.

It was perhaps 60+ years ago when this experience happened that stands out in my memory. My father held a series of evangelistic meetings about a premier Adventist topic: “The Last Day Events.” A woman came to our door (the meetings were held in a church, and we lived on the second floor of the same church building) and as it appeared, she had responded to an invitation to have a Bible study.

My father ushered her into our living-room, and I eavesdropped from a bedroom next door. I will never forget how the conversation went between our guest and my father.

“What brought you to our meetings? Were you invited by someone?” he asked.

“I heard about your church. I was searching for a church that would teach what I also believe. You Adventists resent Catholics. I do, too,” she answered.

That’s what she said. Her comment was rough, but genuine. Obviously, she spoke about a perception many people have developed about our church, a reputation assigned to a Protestant faith community in a Catholic country. Whether she was right or not, my own perception developed along similar lines. For many, an evangelist’s concentration mostly on teachings and practices of Catholicism would contribute to it all.

I grew up in such an evangelistic atmosphere. Over the decades, I also learned what Ellen G. White wrote: “There are many who need our sympathy and advice, but not that advice which implies superiority in the giver and inferiority in the receiver.” (Testimonies, vol 3, p. 534) When you say that you have the truth, they hear that you are better than they are.

She also said, “There are many among the Catholics who live up to the light they have far better than many who claim to believe present truth, and God will just as surely test and prove them as He has tested and proved us.” (Evangelism, p. 144)

And since my youth, I have learned even more. Our Christian call is to share Him who sends us into the world with the Gospel of Good News. Just as the Twelve, whom He sent into the world, we are to preach and teach the world about Jesus. Jesus alone. And the church will grow. Until He returns.

 Rajmund Dabrowski is the editor of Mountain Views and RMC communication director. Email him at [email protected]


01 Jun



The desert of the Sahara is spread out like an eternity. The vast expanse of nothingness is large enough to fit the entire U.S. inside of its 3.6 million square miles. According to Smithsonian Magazine, new research is revealing that the wasteland was once lush and green. Evidence includes satellite imaging revealing hidden rivers, deltas, and settlements underneath the endless sands. Archeologist David Wright hypothesizes that, “Through overgrazing, the grasses were reducing the amount of atmospheric moisture and vegetation.” Leading to soil failure and desertification.

This same evidence is likely what destroyed the once fertile lands of ancient Mesopotamia. Overgrazing along the ancient Tigris River led to soil degradation, making Babylon unfarmable. The Persian Gulf then filled in with nutrients that should have been going to the fields, leaving the once-prosperous waterfront city of Sumar, land locked and lifeless; not unlike what we are doing to the Mississippi today.

Learning from these hypotheses, China’s Chongqing Jiaotong University has been experimenting with reclaiming their northern deserts and valleys through redirecting grazing lands and soil reclamation… and it is working. Valleys that were dying are now green again. Deserts that were encroaching upon cities have now been pushed back by miles with self-sustaining reclaimed soil.

Systems Theory

The term I use to define all these various issues is called Systems Theory. It’s a social work term describing the importance of resolving problems holistically, rather than just at the point of the issue itself. Webster defines “system”, as an interdependent group of items forming a unified whole. Cake is a good example. It is a collection of ingredients that, should you leave certain elements out, it would cause the cake to either collapse or to taste terrible. Each individual part is just as important as the other.

A car is an example of a mechanically-based system. A computer is an electronic system. A building is a structural system. A plane is a redundancy of systems. A society is also a system that includes individuals, families, communities, cities, and the state. And so then, religion is also system of many parts making up a whole.

And as a system, Adventism has a sort of butterfly-effect taking place in the arena of evangelism. As David Trim’s research on Adventist attrition rates has shown, “Our net loss rate is 39.25%, which means 4/10 of church members have slipped away over the past half century.” If we are collectively losing nearly half of all our members, then there is a systemic problem, not just a local church issue.

Let’s be honest, 40% is an immoral number. Based upon attrition, our churches could be twice the size they are. And while there are a multitude of contributing factors, there is one issue I would like to address: Our existing members are people too! Simply said, if we are evangelizing the prodigal, we should also be sharing the good news with the elder! As Sky Jethani said in his book, With, “We have missed the whole point of the prodigal story: What mattered most to the father was neither the younger son’s disobedience nor the older son’s obedience but having his sons with him.”


Each individual part is just as important as the other. The system cannot work without every single one of us. Therefore, God needs every hand on deck. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So, it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.

We are all part of the Spirit. We are all individual ingredients needed in the cake. Authentic evangelism, the kind without attrition, needs a hope centered in Jesus, and friendships based in genuine love. We need to put a tourniquet of love on the bleeding body by feeding the sheep that are already here.

Because mentoring is how people grow into mature Christians. It’s how they learn to avoid the ditches of extremism. It’s how they learn to use the Bible for themselves. Modeling shows them how to love better. How to break the chains of their family dysfunctions. How to follow through with commitments. How to be stable. Discipling shows them through example, how to live in the Spirit, how to know God for themselves.

That’s how the dying wastelands can become green again. How the encroaching deserts can be pushed back. Because the entire body will be authentically sharing joy with others. As it says in Acts 2:46-47, “Day by day continuing with one mind … breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Shayne Mason Vincent is lead pastor, Casper Wyoming District. Email him at [email protected]


01 Jun


Although He was not on any conference payroll and never held an official church office, unequivocally, Jesus was the greatest evangelist that ever lived. How He so effectively reached those who were outside the main focus of the church in His day is something the church of our day needs to fully grasp if we are ever going to finish the gospel commission.

One of the most important theological issues we seldom focus on may be the key to reaching a broader people group than we could ever imagine. Let me start by asking you one important question: Have you ever reached a point in your life when you seriously doubted God? “Why God?” is a question that often seems to have no answer. I personally believe the reason many people don’t identify with organized religion and are skeptical when they receive a colorful flyer inviting them to a prophecy series, is because they don’t have a right concept of who God really is and, therefore, don’t trust us with answers regarding their eternal future.

Let’s be honest, in today’s world, many people don’t look favorably toward the church in general. Theology aside, they question our integrity— many popular church leaders have given them adequate reasons to do so—moral failures and self-exalting leaders taking advantage of the vulnerable and abusing their sacred trust readily come to mind.

So, how did Jesus break through the hypocrisy that filled the church in His day and reach the disenfranchised masses? Well, for one convert at least, it happened unexpectedly. She was not prepared to attend church that day. In fact, she had other plans, plans that did not resemble anything close to what a member in good standing may be seen doing. In fact, at the moment she first met Jesus, her life was being turned upside down. Devious men had manipulated her in order to trap Jesus. And, according to the apostle John’s account, she was in immediate danger.

Looking around, I’m certain she must see angry eyes and hear ugly, hurtful words spoken about her. “You’re an adulteress, you deserve to die,”1 they boldly declare! As this nightmare unfolds, she must have been wondering, hoping, praying that someone would intervene, someone would care enough to stop this madness! As we ponder this situation let’s ask ourselves one question: What does a person in her situation need most? If they received that beautiful flyer we sent advertising our evangelistic series, how are they going to respond?

The short answer is clear, yet not so simple. When someone’s world is falling apart, when God appears to be absent, when everyone around them has forsaken or turned against them, they need to know the church—yes, our church, the one excited about sharing evangelism—is really going to be there when urgently needed most. Do we exist to share prophetic truth? Or, more importantly, do we exist to show the true love and character of God—a God they may not really understand or accept?

So, what did Jesus do when He was introduced to this precious, sin-stained woman? He defended her. “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.”2 Unlike the church she is accustomed to seeing, the first thing she learns about Jesus is that He is just and fair and can be trusted. How do we portray this in our ministry? If we are going to effectively share the Three Angels Messages of Revelation 14, then we need to exemplify their true meaning. The same Jesus who is standing right now in defense of His people in the Heavenly Judgment, as depicted in Revelation’s prophetic message, is the same God who defends this woman. Like millions of hurting, lost souls—those who also stand accused—caught red-handed in shameful, sin- compromising lives, our God has commissioned us to proclaim the message of His eternal love—a love so great that even “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!3 As people see and understand that we exemplify this kind of ministry and integrity in our lives, they will learn to trust us with other eternally important doctrinal truths.

The power of our prophetic message is found at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. For the woman who is condemned to die, He utters those life- changing words, “Where are your accusers? Is there anyone left to condemn you? I don’t condemn you either. By my grace you are forgiven and forever set free!”4 There are countless numbers of hurting and lost souls who need to hear these life-changing words. To effectively share prophecy’s final warning to this world, our evangelism outreach needs to focus on God’s love and the transforming power of His grace. Thankfully, Jesus has shown us how to incorporate this into our daily lives and ministry, and this woman exemplifies what others so urgently need at this final hour of Earth’s history. Understanding who the beast powers of the Book of Revelation are only important once we personally know who the Savior of the entire Book is.

The bottom line, as we focus on connecting people with Jesus, is that God sets His children free to live the life Jesus died to give. Once they have experienced that freedom, they will eagerly ask for more. The heart’s door will open wide to learn other the prophetic truths—truths that are unfolding right before our very eyes.

Steve Nelson is a pastor of the Worland, Wyoming district. He has a passion to help hurting people find hope and healing through the transforming power of Jesus Christ. He can be reached at [email protected]  

1 John 8:4-5 (Authors’ paraphrase).
2 John 8:7 (GNT).
3 Romans 5:8 (GNT).
4 John 8:10-11 (Authors’ paraphrase)

01 Jun


I recently started a new job.

It’s exactly like the old job, but with a new company. Same territory. Same facilities. Better paycheck.

“Better” being very relative.

Because this new job, like the old job, is in hospice, I had to get a TB (tuberculosis) test. It’s not a test to see what I know about tuberculosis, which to be clear, is very little, but a test to see if I have it. I could have been exposed, be carrying it, and then spread it to every person in every facility I walk into whether they are on hospice or not.

That would be very, very bad. I mean, sure, my job is to help make people comfortable as they die. However, my job is not to MAKE people die. We in Hospice genuinely want our patients to somehow recover and go on to lead full extended lives. Which is why we take precautions like COVID tests and TB tests, just to name a couple.

I do not have TB. Thank you for asking.

Fortunately, if I did, TB is very curable. It’s a long process involving 6-9 months of antibiotics, but it is easily done. Without those antibiotics, TB is very deadly. With them, it’s very curable. For example, the death rate for TB in the USA is about 0.09 deaths per 100,000. That’s pretty good. Not the best in the world, which is Iceland with 0.00 deaths per 100,000, but still super great.

By comparison, Somalia has 109.27 deaths per 100,000 and Central Africa leads with the highest death rate at 148.01 deaths per 100,000. And this all raises an interesting question.

If TB is so easily curable, then why are there countries with 1,645 times the TB death rate of the USA?

There are lots of competing opinions and views all supported by varying facts. However, what most of them have in common is money. It’s not that the antibiotics are so expensive to make. It’s that there is a lot of profit to be had, and the poor countries either don’t have the money, or they aren’t prioritizing the money for the purpose of TB. That is an overly simplistic answer, and I recognize that. But the statistics are super clear. If you are a citizen of the USA or pretty much any first-world country, it is very unlikely you would die from TB, let alone even contract it.

But if you live in an impoverished country, your odds of contraction and death are exponentially higher.

Lives could be “easily” saved, but priority and distribution is heavily biased toward those in the correct group. Apparently, all one needs to do to all but ensure they never die from this illness is to change their national affiliation and live in the right place.

Does it disturb anyone that this is a thing?

A similar question… does it disturb anyone that I just described modern evangelism within the Adventist context?

Evangelism is about the good news. In fact, the Greek word that we get the word “evangelism” from literally means “good news” or “to proclaim good news” and a few other variations of the same thing.

The good news was that the Kingdom of God was at hand. It was the good news of Jesus. The good news that God sent Jesus to bring transformation to this world. Jesus was born, lived, and died to make this future possible. He ensured eternity for people who have never met Him. He ensured eternity for people who have never even heard of Him.

Jesus didn’t care what group you were in or what you believed. He cared that you existed and lived his life trying to show a better way. And He did all this while being very much at odds with every religious group he came in contact with.

This all forces us to ask another question. Why then, is all of our evangelism focused on making people part of our group instead of bringing people hope and healing and love in the spirit of Christ?

Why are we using the Tuberculosis model of evangelism?

I mentioned this in a previous article, but I will restate it. If you attend any mainstream Adventist evangelism seminar, it might last between 2-6 weeks, depending on who does it and which version they are using. But no matter how long it is, out of those 2-6 weeks, there are only 1-2 nights that focus on the life/death of Jesus. And even those 1-2 nights do so within the context of the rest of the series. A series that is designed to do exactly one thing.

Make more Adventists.

The primary goal of Adventist evangelism is to make more Adventists. It spends the entire time attempting to prove to the audience why Adventists are the true church of God. Everything is tied into prophecy-based remnant theology, interpreted differently and in a sketchy manner by every different evangelist. And in the end, it does lead to baptism, but only when those willing accept that it must end with them being Adventist.

In short, to be baptized at the end of an Adventist evangelistic seminar, one must first decide to become an Adventist. They can’t accept Jesus without first accepting Adventism.

They can’t get the antibiotic unless they change countries.

This is with the understanding that the overwhelming majority of “converts” were already Christian. They just changed clubs.

What we do isn’t evangelism. It’s more closely related to nationalism. It’s us vs. them. It’s about growing the club. It’s about sustaining the organization. It’s not about saving lives. One doesn’t need a prophecy seminar to do that.

Feed people. Heal people. Give them lifesaving medicine. Give them shelter. Give them clothing. Show them the love of God. The good news isn’t about changing minds. It’s about healing hearts. It’s about showing people that they matter to us and that they matter to God and that it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live or what groups they are a part of.

Let’s stop trying to do God’s job. We just aren’t very good at it.

Our job is to love. God’s job is to transform.

Maybe it’s time we stop getting in the way of what God is trying to do.

Maybe we need to experience the good news for ourselves.

Tony Hunter is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor and a hospice chaplain working for Elevation Hospice in Northern Colorado. Tony and his wife, Nirma, live in Firestone, Colorado. Email him at: [email protected]

01 Jun


The Greek words εὐαγγελίζω and εὐαγγελίζομαι sound very much like our English word “evangelism”. Even without knowing Greek, the sound of the word leaves no room for misunderstanding. The deeper challenge is to define the what and how of evangelism in 2022 and beyond.

The word itself means to “bring good news,” and connotes sharing/announcing/proclaiming the concept that Jesus is the Messiah who lived, died, was resurrected, and is returning for His people. Note these things: It is GOOD news, not scary, sketchy stuff and it is about Jesus.

When Jesus initially called the disciples, He said to them, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” See: Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17.

Fishers of men…it sounds pretty simple. But there is more to it than meets the eye. Ask anyone who is an avid fly fisherman. They will regale you with details, stories, and data that will make your head swim. To the dedicated fly fisherman, it is more than a sport; it is an art form that has many facets.

There are two fascinating fishing stories in the New Testament that can help us understand the rather simplistic sounding idea of being a fisher of men.

The first story is in Luke 5:1-11. The setting is in the early call of the disciples as reflected by Matthew and Mark in their Gospels. Luke gives us more setting and story.

As Luke tells it, Jesus was preaching, then asked Peter to use his boat as a floating pulpit. After finishing preaching, Jesus asked Peter to go out into deeper water and cast his net to catch fish. Peter’s answer was pure Galilean fisherman: “Master, we have worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything….” The clear, but unspoken, implication is: “Look, I know what I am doing. I am a life-long fisherman. I know how to do this, I have always done it the same way, for years. I know what works and what doesn’t.” You can almost see Peter’s eyes rolling back at a suggested change in his tried-and-true fishing methodology.

In my imagination, I can hear the voice in Peter’s head mumbling, “No way will this work! Every fisherman knows when the sun comes up, the fish go deeper than the nets will reach. We have worked hard doing it the way we always have. We gave it our seriously focused best effort. This won’t work, but… (sigh) whatever.”

The results of trying something new were massive. There were so many fish, the nets were breaking. The results were so positive, they were astonishing. Peter fell to his knees, grabbed Jesus, and fearfully cried out, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Note some interesting details here: Peter is hanging onto Jesus while telling Jesus to leave him! Peter is filled with fear because he has encountered success that was clearly not his doing. Jesus responds by telling Peter: 1. not to fear; and 2. that from now on he will “catch men.”

The second story, found in John 21:1-14, talks about Peter and six others going fishing in the Sea of Tiberius/Galilee post resurrection. They fished all night and caught nothing. Then a voice on the shore asks if they have had any luck. The answer is a brush, “No!!” The sharp, disappointed reply must have echoed off the water like the crack of a whip (no one likes to admit defeat, especially a fisherman).

The voice then makes an audacious suggestion: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

“Right side! You obviously know nothing about fishing,” would be Peter’s unspoken thought. “We have never done it that way.” There was an obvious reason to not fish from the right side of the boat. That’s where the rudder and rudder equipment were. Common sense would tell you that you would have a tangled mess of rope, nets, and rudder if you even tried. Besides, it’s now morning, and when the sun comes up, the fish go down. Everyone knows that!

I imagine it was with a shrug of semi-indifference combined with a dose of disbelief that they pitched the nets on the dreaded “other side of the boat.”

Then it happened. The nets went taut. “See, the nets are caught and tangled. I knew it wouldn’t work,” probably went through Peter’s mind. But the nets were not still; they were strained with literally a boatload of fish! BIG fish! One hundred and fifty-three of them! Suddenly, there was the recognition that the voice from the shore was Jesus!

“That’s the way we have always done it” netted zero. Trying something audaciously different netted 153 fish. The score is zero to 153. Maybe there is a lesson here.

There are some striking commonalities with these two stories about fishing and fishermen. In both stories, the fishermen were doing what they had always done, the same way they had always done it. They had worked hard all night. There was no lack of sincere, serious, ardent, dedicated, deliberate work. But the results were zero. Zip. Nada.

In both cases, the fishermen were following the “We have always done it that way” mantra. It had worked in the past, so the tendency was to stay with the traditional practice of history and habit. When there was a request to “Throw the net on the other side of the boat” and courageously try something audaciously different, they were shockingly successful. In the second story, they not only caught fish, but they also caught BIG ones, and plenty of them. So many they had to count them to believe it really happened.

Admittedly, I wasn’t in either boat, but my reflections on the stories teach me something about evangelistic fishing for men.

Deeply sincere effort doesn’t guarantee success.

Like the stock market, past performance is not necessarily a predictor of future performance.

It takes more courage to do something new than to repeat what worked in the past.

One definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different outcome. Jesus even said if what you try doesn’t work, dust off your feet, and move on. (Matthew 10:14.)

Creativity is the hallmark of Divinity. The first and last pictures of God in the Bible show Him changing the norm and being creative.

Listening to the Divine voice when He prompts us to try something different brings success.

There are some temptations in evangelism that can lead to few or to zero “fish.”

One fatal flaw is for us to focus on our favorite fallback fly (bait, spinner, technique, or topic). Success asks us to focus on the “fish,” not on what we assume will work because it appeals to us. Focusing on what I want or what I am comfortable with, can prove to be an error. Success means focusing on, and learning, what appeals to the “fish,” not what appeals to me.

Doing the same thing and not learning from what was or was not successful disallows important learning opportunities (serious post evaluation can help us here).

“These sermons worked in the 1860s (or 1960 or 2000) so they will work today!” Buggy whips were hot items in the 1860s too. Not so much today. Perhaps we need relevance, not relics.

“We already know what you need to know. You just don’t know. We will tell you what you need to know.”

“We have the truth, and we can proof-text it. Then you will join us!”

Perhaps the largest hole in our evangelistic fishing net is the assumption that people already have a basic grasp of the Bible and the plan of salvation, so all we have to do is focus on our unique doctrines.

I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance where I mentioned the name Pontius Pilate. My friend looked at me quizzically. “Pontius Pilate? Who is he?” was the response. This man is sincere, and a very new Christian, but he obviously has lots more to learn. Trying to teach him esoteric details of Bible interpretation would be like trying to teach quantum physics to someone who has never been exposed to basic math.

For a fisherman to be successful, they need to understand the fish. Fishing techniques vary widely, and differ with various species, seasons, locations, and conditions. I believe the same is true with evangelistic fishing for people. Understanding the changing tastes will inform me about changing my fly (technique). Case in point: Several years ago, I hired a fishing guide to coach me on fly fishing techniques. I had “learned” to fly fish on my own. It was an eye-opener to say the least. He selected a fly to start with because, “That is what is emerging this week.” Okay, I used that fly quite successfully up to about 3 in the afternoon when I could literally see fish come up to the fly, look at it, then turn away. Then he said, “OK, time to change the fly because that bug is done being in the air in the afternoon, so we will change to this (very different one), because that’s what the fish will be interested in until about 6 tonight.” He was aware of what interested the fish. He was not providing a fly based on what he liked. Big difference in positive results.

So, here are some “Throw the net on the other side of the boat” quotes to consider:

“If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.” (Testimonies for the Church vol 9, p. 189). Or, “The strongest argument in favor of the gospel is a loving and lovable Christian.” (Ministry of Healing, p. 470).

Evangelism, like the fly fisherman’s kit, needs to have multiple options to increase the potentials for success. When I hike into the back country to fly fish, you better believe I take more than one pattern of one fly. Otherwise, all the planning, effort, expense, and time, could be an exercise in futility no matter how sincere I might be.

Perhaps our greatest need is to find ways to reach the largest and fastest-growing demographic in our communities: those who list None as their religious affiliation. Our tendency is to fish for those in the most rapidly diminishing demographic: middle-age and above church attenders, where we can share distinctive doctrines and build on what (we assume) they already know biblically.

Jesus told the parable of the net, and fishing (Matthew 13:47-52). He closed the parable by saying, “…every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” The wise leader respects, values, and uses tried-and-true “old” treasures/methods, and also uses that which is “new,” creative, and fresh. There is no doing new things to be novel, nor is there clinging to the old simply because “we have always done it that way.” Jesus taught us to have an intricately positive balance.

Someone said the seven last words of the church are, “We have always done it that way.” And the cousin of that phrase, “We have never done it that way.” Maybe it would be well for us to cast the net “on the other side of the boat” with prayerful, careful, planned creativity as we ask, “What if….  Why not try….?” We just might go from zero “fish” to one hundred and fifty-three “fish.”

To quote Peter’s words (John 21:3): “I’m going out to fish.” In response, the other disciples said, “We’ll go with you.”

Will you join the “fishing trip” too? We are all invited to participate, not just watch.

Dick Stenbakken, Ed.D., retired Army Chaplain (Col.), served as director of Adventist Chaplaincy Services at the General Conference and North American Division. With his wife Ardis, he lives in Loveland, Colorado. Email him at [email protected]

01 Jun


“Where hustle’s the name of the game…” 1

I don’t remember his name, but he represented a well-known Adventist evangelistic ministry, and had some amazing facts to share with our church in Wyoming.

He was also surprisingly candid. When I questioned the purpose of his frequent use of altar calls, he told me, “I use altar calls to show the congregation that I am in control. It forces them to decide. It builds my confidence, and it gives them confidence in my ministry.” His breathtaking honesty was both refreshing and disturbing. It wasn’t clear to me that he appreciated all that he had revealed.

In another small town where we lived for several years, Adventism had a rather mixed reputation. There were fewer than ten members in the church, and most of them were known as kind, generous, and hard-working farmers, and ranchers. One member, however, had taken on the self-appointed burden of community evangelist and watchman. Almost every Sabbath afternoon, he could be found going door-to-door, handing out literature, to ensure that the blood of his neighbors would not be required at his hand (Ezekiel 33:8).

His approach was rather unconventional. He would move toward each door with caution to avoid detection, and once it was opened, he would insert his foot to make sure it couldn’t be closed. If the literature was refused, he would attempt to toss it through the door frame before he left. One more “wicked” family had been warned! He may also have been the inspiration for Neighborhood Watch, for as soon as he was spotted in a neighborhood, the phone lines would come alive with warnings of a different kind.

The world of evangelism has had its fair share of obnoxious folks. In 1926, Sinclair Lewis’s satirical novel, Elmer Gantry, chronicled the exploits of one fictional evangelist, based on real-life examples. It was so critical of American evangelism that it was banned in several cities and denounced from pulpits across the country. It became a best-seller. In the mid-twentieth century, Marjoe Gortner and his family ran a well-documented evangelistic con game. Marjoe began preaching on the sawdust circuit at the age of four, and he estimated that his family had taken in more than three million dollars by the time he was sixteen. Watching some of today’s televangelists, especially those espousing the prosperity gospel, one sees similarities to Elmer Gantry and Marjoe Gortner. Creflo Dollar, a well-known televangelist, asked his followers to each donate $300 so he could raise $65 million to buy a Gulfstream G650 twin-engine jet airplane, not necessarily for his benefit, but so that they would receive a blessing by giving. He got his jet.

This “in-your-face” quality is not rare among evangelists. To make a “sale,” some feel they must apply pressure and exhibit a high degree of confidence in themselves and their product. The faster they talk, the louder their conversation, and apparently, the more outrageous their claims, the more likely it is that they will be successful.

One son and nephew of Adventist evangelists referenced this characteristic when he said that he and his brother also tried to become an evangelistic team. They gave it up, however, when they realized that, to be successful, they would have to become the kind of persons most people don’t want to be around. Oswald Chambers described this characteristic as pseudo-evangelism, and said it requires “that you must be on the watch all the time and lose no opportunity of speaking to people…. It does not produce a disciple of Jesus, but too often, it produces the kind of person who smells of gunpowder and people are afraid of meeting….”

I have found in conversations with classmates and others of my generation that many of us have a rather negative view of evangelism. We feel we were manipulated in our youth by professional evangelists playing on our emotions. I cannot remember how many times, usually after a rousing sermon on the Judgment or Last-day Events, with the heat turned up, the lights turned low, and the piano playing softly in the background, a silky-voiced week of prayer speaker, or itinerant evangelist, challenged us with, “While every head is bowed, and every eye is closed, is there just one more who would like to give their heart to Jesus?  Thank you, Jesus! Just one more?”

Every eye was not closed, and over the coming weeks, we would closely watch our colleagues who had yielded, to see how sincere the conversion had been. Such manipulative methods are a type of spiritual and psychological force, based on fear and emotionalism, and “while force may secure outward submission, the result with many…is a more determined rebellion of the heart.” 2 This we frequently observed.

But didn’t Christ call on all His followers to be evangelists? Yes, yes, He did. He was very clear on that point, and I know that many of our professional evangelists have the best of intentions in their actions and methods. They have a sincere desire to save the lost, and many of them approach their work in a very Christlike manner.

So, what did Christ ask of us, and what were His methods that we might imitate?

Here, in my modern paraphrase, is what He asked His disciples to do: “Before the end comes, this good news will be preached in all the world, so go everywhere and teach everyone to obey the command I’ve given you: love one another.” (Matthew 24:14; Matthew 28:19, 20; John 13:34)

Some Adventist evangelists seem to have adopted the methods of commercial salesmen and other evangelical denominations because [those methods] seem to be so successful. But Christ’s method of approaching people with the truth was much less elaborate and aggressive than many we see today. He did not apologetically chase after the aggrieved rich young ruler, but sadly, because He “loved him,” watched him walk away from salvation. After a special request, He secretively met late at night with Nicodemus, who was too embarrassed to be seen with God in public and was too proud to make his decision for Christ until after His crucifixion. He did not try to evangelize the two thieves on the cross, but waited for one to show interest. He then responded with loving acceptance.

He seemed to have more respect for the freedom of choice of His creatures, and more trust in the working of the Holy Spirit, than we apparently have today.

The closest example of an altar call that I can find in His ministry was His call to, “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, GNT). There was no fearful or emotional appeal. No heated room with low-lit lights. No soft piano or choir in the background, and no pressure to make an immediate decision.

By definition, evangelism must be good news, and by Christ’s command, it must result in love for one another. Fear is not good news. Love cannot be forced, controlled by another, or manipulated. Neither can the Holy Spirit.

Mark Johnson is a retired public health physician and the chairman of the Boulder Vision Board. Email him at [email protected]


1 Weiss, Larry, Rhinestone Cowboy.

2 White, Ellen G., Child Guidance, p. 210.

01 Jun


Many of us came of age in a generation taught that the requirements for faithful discipleship with Jesus were daily Bible study, prayer, and witnessing. The first two could be done in private, the last required a foray into the public square.

Personal witnessing was the natural outflow of filling the well of one’s spirit with regular prayer and Bible study. It was also a necessary part of mission outreach. When Adventists gathered in a city for a youth conference, a noted speaker would come to inspire the youth, workshops would be held on techniques of witnessing, and the armies of youth, rightly trained, would take to the streets to apply what they had learned. They would sweep through the malls and parks, often in matching T-shirts, to hand out literature to startled shoppers and pedestrians.

It was urgent to get the information into the hands of the public. The belief in the power of the message to persuade was implicit. Our job was simply to spread the literature “like the leaves of autumn” and trust that the Holy Spirit would take it from there. But we were also taught that if we had the opportunity to witness to someone and didn’t take it, the responsibility for their soul would be on us in the Judgment. The sight of people stuffing the literature into the nearest trash bin was not cause for an adjustment of techniques. It simply meant that they had hardened their hearts against the entreaties of the Spirit.

As a summer youth pastor in California in the ‘70s, I received training in evangelistic outreach methods. These were usually modeled after Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade for Christ tactics. Conference youth ministry leaders were constantly refining their methods and creating handouts, brochures, pins, and other materials that could be used in witnessing efforts. I tried my best, gamely going where I had not gone before. But my heart was not in it.

I wasn’t sure why I was so reluctant to witness. After all, I was a religion and journalism double major. I had been involved in religious activities in high school and my year at Newbold College in England working in the Gate, a Christian music and conversation center, had enlivened and confirmed my love for Christ.

My my junior year in college, I knew that being a pastor was not my calling. I hoped to parlay my fascination with religion and its meaning into an academic career, and that my love of writing could somehow be of use in drawing people to Jesus.

In the classroom I found my vocation, my calling. In teaching religion, communications, ethics, and philosophy courses, I was able to speak freely of the spiritual life and, when asked, “give answer to the hope that was within me.” With my students, I got involved with feeding the homeless in Washington, DC, working alongside local activists. Our campus organization also supported students working for Big Brother/Big Sister programs and we often spoke at local churches and academies in the Columbia Union Conference. I found this a solace for my soul because it was personal, direct, and authentic.

I taught a college course on “Persuasion and Propaganda” for many years. It helped me understand why I am crosswise with most public evangelism methods. First, I recognized how powerful crowds can be in swaying individuals to give up their will. The methods that many evangelists use is on the spectrum from persuasion to propaganda, with some tools differing only in degree from coercion. A skilled evangelist can produce ends, no matter the means used.

Second, I was not convinced that television was an effective means of evangelism. I agreed with Marshall McLuhan’s dictum that “The medium is the message.” That is, if television is primarily an entertainment medium, then no matter what goes into it, entertainment will come out of it. The medium itself changes the message. Granting that television can draw millions of people world-wide to the same event and unite them momentarily in sympathy or excitement, it does not allow for the natural intimacy when people honestly share face to face about the Spirit’s movement in their hearts.

I am moved by dramas I see on television. When the writing is superb, the actors fully invested in their characters, the direction, cinematography, lighting, and music are inspired, the experience can bring tears of appreciation to my eyes. Likewise, the concerts I’ve attended in which the musicians are not only consummate artists, but they create a communion for thousands of people—those moments are spiritual ones for me. But I am a spectator, deeply involved, but still a person watching, listening, appreciating—at a distance.

I have realized that Jesus calls us to use the talents we have in the ways that are true to who we are. Like many teachers, I am an introvert. I could walk into a classroom with joy, engage every student as I was able, sparkle, be effervescent, draw them into rich discussions, and then gratefully return to my office where I could study, research, and write. Teaching provided opportunities to be a listener in a natural movement of empathy. When appropriate, I prayed with students and, when asked, gave advice—although the longer I was a teacher, the more reluctant I was to tell students what they should do. That too, was witnessing.

I began this essay recalling how prayer, Bible study, and witnessing were set before us young butterflies while yet in our cocoons. I still believe in and practice the first two, realizing that “practice” is the operative word for my stumbling efforts. But my understanding of evangelism and witnessing has necessarily evolved over the years.

In the past two years, and more, of the pandemic, my social ties were loosened in person and strengthened online. I have only been to church once in more than 120 Sabbaths, and that was for the memorial service of a beloved church member who died of COVID. I write poetry and post it online. I Zoom with a friend in England once a week. I keep up a sporadic correspondence with friends around the world. My family and my online Sabbath School class are my confidants. All this witnesses to the lifelines God throws to me daily.

I leave the science and art of persuasion to others. I reach out to read, understand, and experience the ways and means that people up and down the centuries have used to come into the presence of the holy. When I walk every morning before dawn, I witness the beautiful complexity of life in the forest. I breathe in, I breathe out. What I take in gives me a reason to give back to people as I can. What I learn teaches me what I can pass along.

We witness to and we witness for. We are witnesses to the ways God’s presence shimmers in and out of our lives. We are witnesses to God’s absence also. We are witnesses for Jesus when the Spirit calls us, giving us the words to say that will bring healing and hope to others and to ourselves.

Barry Casey has published in Adventist Society for the Arts, Brevity, Faculty Focus, Lighthouse Weekly, Mountain Views, Patheos, Spectrum Magazine, The Dewdrop, and The Purpled Nail. His collection of essays, Wandering, Not Lost: Essays on Faith, Doubt, and Mystery, was published by Wipf and Stock in November 2019. He writes from Burtonsville, Maryland. Email him at [email protected]

01 Jun


The Seventh-day Adventist Church prides itself as the custodian of a specific message found in Revelation 14:6-13. The global scope of the proclamation embedded in the Three Angels’ Messages aims to prepare the world for Christ’s Second Coming. The introductory phrase, ‘Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air,’ expresses motivational haste for a dynamic activity encapsulated in the movement’s evangelistic thrust. The Church’s life and exponential growth are entrenched in the message’s spiritual DNA, drawing attention to the proclamation of the eternal gospel, and calling on people of all nations to worship God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth (Revelation 14:6:7).

While the character of the message’s evangelistic proclamation has been adjusted to a more profound and relevant response to human needs in the changing world, the eternal gospel’s spiritually relational quality eludes its life-transforming influence. The traditional, cognitively grounded, and program-oriented sharing of religious information devoid of the spiritual heart-to-heart dissemination of God’s love contributes to the formation of heartless religiosity.

Such an environment opens the floodgates to dogmatism, theological arguments, authoritarian control, a focus on oiling the organizational machinery’s status quo, and congregational attrition. Bosch argues, “If the Church is to impart to the world a message of hope and love–of faith, justice, and peace–something of this should become visible, audible, and tangible in the Church itself.”[1] The eternal gospel’s message has an all-inclusive application – not only to the world at large, but also to the Church. It calls on the Church to depart from the exclusive, judgmental mentality of triumphalism and step into the world of human brokenness, as Jesus did, to proclaim the message of hope and healing, justice, and mercy, not only in words, but also in the service of authentic witness.

The lack of contextualized adaptation of the eternal gospel to life in a progressively changing world confronts the Church with a dilemma. De Waal argues, “We are now living in one of the fastest periods of change in history, and the local Adventist church is in danger of becoming irrelevant, even outdated. The local church is at the crossroads and needs to biblically reinvent itself to stay relevant.”[2] He expands his argument by stressing the change’s impact globally: “While the Church is growing rapidly in the Global South, it is stagnant or experiencing malaise in most parts of the Global North. Many churches are in maintenance mode. Even though transfer and biological growth are steady, kingdom growth is minimal or by only addition. In its mission work, our Church often seems to be servicing institutions more than engaging in frontline work.”[3]

It’s painful and heartbreaking to pose honest, reflectively evaluating questions out in the open because it places individuals at risk of open criticism, silent exclusion, and even loss of employment. However, the contemporary emergence of authoritarian control and the dangerous pangs of fundamentalism in the ranks of the Adventist community, a community defined by Johnsson as “people of dream,”[4] encourages many thinkers to ask genuine questions concerning the state of the Church. De Waal extends the question to the spirit of evangelism: “Will the local Adventist church continue in its same structural mode, resourcing a paradigm of audience-centered and program-oriented ministry?”[5] In the depths of such heartfelt reflections, it’s necessary to refocus on the meaning of Jesus’ way, heart-to-heart proclamation, and sharing the good news of God’s kingdom of grace. In his challenging book Exiles: Living Missionally in the Post-Christian Culture, Michael Frost muses, “All Christian missional and [I add organizational and evangelistic] activities must emerge from our relationship with Jesus…. It is the Spirit of Christ within each of us that gives rise to a missional lifestyle.”[6] How did Jesus announce and proclaim the presence of God’s kingdom of grace?

Adjusting the Lenses

Space does not permit a detailed analysis of Christ’s Messianic entry into the domain of human life, but a brief, thoughtful reflection highlights the waves of inspirational motivation that enrich the meaning of the ‘eternal gospel’ and its application to God’s last invitation, calling people to step into the safe haven of God’s kingdom of grace. Frost defines such moments as “God’s songs.” Such songs dispel notions of fear, judgment, and condemnation, for they “give birth to a new world and a new way of being his followers.”[7] This succinct rumination suggests that God’s songs enhance the vision of healing, inspiration for life, and an unconditional acceptance.

Jesus announced the pathway of His redemptive ministry as “the good news for the poor. It aimed to proclaim freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and release of oppression” (Luke 4:18,19). His proclamation’s evangelistic thrust was short and sweet: “Today, the Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:21). John’s gospel summarized its theological significance in another profound statement: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Christ’s proclamation of the good news was not a top-down imposition of information shared from a distance. Moffett argues that in the kingdom’s context, the evangelistic proclamation was never so narrow that it became isolated from the immediate pressing needs of the imprisoned, the blind, and the oppressed.[8] It may be added that the presence of God’s kingdom of grace extended its healing influence beyond the realm of physical needs, grounding its healing power in the spiritual domain of human experience. Christ’s physical healings provided just a microscopic taste of the future glory, in which death and suffering would reign no more (Revelation 21:1-4). However, His journey to the cross displayed His attitude toward marginalized, spiritually wounded, and homeless people.

The selected narratives in the first three chapters of John’s gospel are significantly intentional. He is the only gospel writer who refers to Christ’s miracle at the wedding in Cana (2:1-11). While the other gospel writers described Christ’s cleansing of the temple during the Passover Feast just before His death, John includes the story at the beginning of Christ’s Messianic mission (2:12-23). The story of Nicodemus appears only in the gospel of John. The listed narratives outline the scope of Christ’s relational attitude that guided the human heart to the place of spiritual healing–the cross.

First, life in Jesus’ presence generated a spontaneous willingness to witness (1:35- 51). Jesus knew that His disciples did not understand His Mission’s real purpose.[9] Nevertheless, He was not hesitant to change Peter’s name, for he knew his potential and uniqueness. Jesus was not afraid to provide encouragement, motivation, and unconditional acceptance, rather than criticism. He knew and understood Nathaniel’s struggles with doubts, yet he encouraged him with a greater vision (1:51). The entire story opens our minds to the welcoming environment of acceptance that ignites human value.

Second, the wedding miracle at Cana reminded the disciples to focus on the unfolding presence of God’s grace, for the best was yet to come (2:10). As Leon Morris suggests, “He [Jesus] changed the waters of Christ-lessness into the wine of the richness and the fullness of eternal life.”[10] Christ’s miracle of changing water into wine unfolded the pathway of creative inspiration for life, reminding the disciples that the best comes last. Even though the disciples did not understand the spiritual significance of the miracle, they “put their faith in him” (2:11).

Finally, Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus confronts all with the challenge of decisions – the challenge to be born from above to receive the healing and life-transforming power of God’s grace (3:10-17).

This brief reflection suggests that the outlined character of unconditional acceptance, inspiration for life, and the life-transforming and healing power of the cross represents the spiritual depth of the “eternal gospel” to be shared with the people of all the nations (Revelation 14:6-7). Furthermore, the attitude role-modeled by Christ’s witness safeguards God’s message from any form of fiery and critical condemnation of the world (John 3:16-17). Instead, it challenges the community of faith to mold the footsteps of God’s mercy on the pathway of human life, focusing on the victorious liberation accomplished by Jesus, the Lamb of God (John 1:35; 3:16; Revelation 5:6-13). So reciting Frost, “Why can’t our corporate singing summon up a world where the poor are fed, and the marginalized are welcomed to the table of the Lord? Why can’t we sing about the world that Jesus dreamed of on the side of the mountain? Why does our singing so often seem so trivial?”[11]

Jesus is not just another story among many stories; HE IS THE STORY–He is the home of hope, peace, and inspiration in the messed-up world.

John Skrzypaszek, DMin, a retired director of the Ellen White/Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, is an adjunct senior lecturer at Avondale University College, Coranboong, NSW, Australia. Polish by birth, John takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. He is married to Brenda and has two sons Raphael and Luke. Email him at: [email protected]


[1] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995), 414.

[2] Kayle de Waal, “A question of mission,” Adventist Record. (August 1, 2017), 1

[3] Ibid.

[4] William Johnsson, The Fragmenting of Adventism (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1995), 105.

[5] De Waal, 1.

[6] Michael Frost, Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006), 29.

[7] Frost, 23.

[8] Samuel Moffett, “Evangelism: The Leading Partner” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Eds. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1992), D-208.

[9] Luke 18: 31-34; Mark 9:32; John 12:16; Luke 22:18-21.

[10] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1971), 176.

[11] Frost, 23


01 Jun


Writing a book can be an all-consuming endeavor requiring an intensity of focus and an amount of energy that seems absurd for the amount of energy needed to simply sit still for long enough. Even more so when the book is based on an intense personal experience.

But that was the task I had set for myself: two weeks traveling with a tour group through Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories, exploring many of the key places and stories of the Bible, writing in my hotel room late into the night and early in the morning, as well as on the bus in between. Then writing for most of a day during a long wait in the back of a Starbucks in the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, on much of the long flight home and then more writing, re-writing, and revising across the following week.

Wanting to share as much of the experience as I could with those who might never be privileged to take such a trip, I was trying to get it down while the reactions were fresh, the details sharp, and the reflections at their most intense, even if it resulted in being as jumbled as the experience itself. As well as telling the stories of travel in exotic and interesting places, I was wanting to share some of the insights into reading Bible stories that can be gained from visiting the places where they happened and to reflect on how such experiences might change how we understand those stories. And at the end of that intense three weeks, I had completed the manuscript that would become Of Falafels and Following Jesus: Stories from a Journey Through the Holy Land,* with additional reflections to be added from two friends with whom I shared the journey.

It was close to the end of this time that I shut the computer for a break and headed to my usual Thursday-evening “old man’s” basketball game. I play in an over-30s league—and have done so for quite a few years with many of the same teammates. Because of the life stage of people in this league, some of us will miss games from time to time because of work and other commitments and some of the team will regularly bring their kids to help keep score and to cheer us on, even if with only occasional enthusiasm.

As I have missed games from time to time because of my travel for work, that Thursday evening, one of my teammates asked about where I had been the previous week, perhaps chiding me about what could be more important than our basketball team. I thought back to where I had been the previous Thursday and told him that, at that time the previous week, I had been walking the stone-paved streets of the Old City in Jerusalem. That’s quite a thing to be able to drop casually into conversation. And, with increased interest, he started asking about my trip and what I had been doing there.

But our conversation took an unexpected turn—for both him and me—when his elementary school-aged daughter tapped him on the arm to get his attention and, speaking more to her father than to me, half-asked, “But I thought Jerusalem was a place they made up in the Bible.”

We paused for a moment, before the father began gently teasing his daughter about what she was learning at school. And I pulled out my phone and began showing them photos of a few of the places I had a visited with a brief travel narrative, interrupted by the previous basketball game coming to an end and our team needing to begin our warm-up shoot-around.

But the brief exchange left me thinking. Consumed as I was with crafting profound reflections on the stories of Jesus and my intense experiences and focus on these stories over the previous three weeks, for that girl—and perhaps for her family as well—the most relevant thing I had to share was a few photos of real places that might move her a step closer to beginning to think about the possible reality of some of the stories of the Bible or even the potential credibility of the Bible itself.

We might lament the growing biblical illiteracy in our societies. This is real and no less a relevant concern even within some of our church communities. But we should also embrace this challenge and note the opportunity that comes with it.

The challenge is that we need to meet people at a much lower level in their knowledge, experience and understanding of what our faith is about. My teammate’s daughter is a long way from a Bible study, much less a detailed explication of each of the 28 Fundamental Beliefs, the finer details of an obscure prophecy, or an argument about the day on which she “should” be going to church. Let’s not assume that our concerns are the things other people most need to hear. My literary reflections on the contested nature of holy places and the politicization of the temple, from the time of David and Solomon to its rebuilding by Herod the Great, would not answer this girl’s query about whether Jerusalem is a more believable place than a fairy-tale kingdom.

If we really want to share our faith, rather than merely saying what we think we ought to say, we need to begin by listening, asking careful questions, and then listening some more. This is modeled in some of the key “witnessing” stories in the New Testament—for example, the woman at the well in Samaria (see John 4), the disciples on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13–27), and Phillip and the Ethiopian on the road to Gaza (see Acts 8:26–38). Each of these conversations happened amid the activities of life and the conversations began where the people were, not with the conversation we might think most important or pressing.

When we do this, the opportunity we have is that of a fresh hearing for the stories, teachings and promises of Jesus. When the opportunities arise, I can share Bible stories with people like my teammate’s daughter without them knowing how the stories end, without their cultural baggage, without assuming that we know what they mean. And with our own stories and experiences of faith, we can invite them to share in exploring these stories together, which in turn, will help us see and appreciate them with new eyes. And, in its own way, that is as valuable as a trip to the Holy Land.

Nathan Brown is a writer and editor at Signs Publishing near Melbourne, Australia. His Christmas devotional book Advent: Hearing the Good News in the Story of Jesus’ Birth is great for seasonal reading and gifting. Email him at: [email protected]

*A little product placement never hurts. The book is available from an Adventist bookshop near you: https://adventistbookcenter.com/of-falafels-and-following-jesus.html

01 Jun


A few years ago, I was hanging out with an older friend, and we were talking about the trustworthiness of the Bible. A Yale- and MIT-trained Jew, we focused only on the Hebrew Bible, since that is his context, but he was fairly skeptical of my confidence in its authority. Despite being Jewish, or arguably because of a certain rendition of Judaism, he leans more toward a pantheistic understanding of God, maintaining that divinity inhabits everyone and everything.

Growing a little impatient and somewhat frustrated that I wasn’t making much headway in my attempts to convince him of the Bible’s reliability, I decided to bust out an evangelistic “secret weapon” that Adventists have used since our inception in the nineteenth century: Daniel 2. I described the statue Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream—the head of gold, the chest of silver, the thighs of bronze, the legs of iron—and how they unequivocally align with the four historical kingdoms, starting with Babylon, that dominated the world from the time of Daniel. I pointed to the feet of iron mixed with clay, and how that represented divided Europe, and the rock cut out of the mountain without human hands, representing God’s kingdom, that would shatter all earthly kingdoms and nations and ultimately set up God’s eternal kingdom. It was all directly out of Adventist Evangelism 101, used thousands of times by confident and zealous evangelists.

And it was all thoroughly unconvincing.

After listening to my passionate explanation, my friend looked at me, and without a hint of sarcasm or guile, simply said, “It sounds like you’re really stretching that interpretation.”

His response was quite jarring to me. I didn’t expect him to jump into the baptistry the minute I finished my exposition, but I at least thought it would give him pause. Instead, he displayed utter ambivalence.

To make it clear, I know that’s not the end of the story. Despite what many “mission spotlight” type stories leave us impressed with, sudden come-to-Jesus’ conversions, at random coffee shops, rarely occur. Conversion is more like a slowly developing journey, with smaller accumulated insights, rather than a sudden burst of revelation that dramatically alters a person’s trajectory in an instant. Who knows as to whether my exposition of Daniel 2 might serve as just a tiny dot that one day, when combined with other small dots, turns into a beautiful painting of a Jesus-centered life.

I also remain fairly persuaded that Daniel 2 pretty accurately reflects, in broad strokes, the scope of human history from the time of Daniel to our day. I don’t say this with absolute certainty, but despite my friend’s apprehension, I still find the outline of Daniel 2 pretty impressive.

The point is, however, that I found myself using a nineteenth-century argument, and a nineteenth-century evangelistic approach, with a twenty-first-century person. This is not at all to deny that such an approach can work with many, many people in the twenty-first century. It’s simply to point out that, as one of my friends—who himself is an evangelist—once told me: “Adventist evangelism is very creative . . . for the 1950s or 1850s.”

The truth is, Adventist evangelism has, it seems to me, suffered from arrested development. Where once our denomination was a creative and risk-taking movement, willing to try new and innovative approaches in order share the gospel, we have now become conservative and stale. This is not necessarily unique to Adventism, since the natural—and, to some degree, appropriate—development of organizations is to institutionalize and conserve, providing a somewhat-appropriate conservatism that promotes stability. But the trick is to take all the positives of institutionalization and combine them with fresh approaches.

In pointing to the need for creative and innovative approaches to evangelism, I’m not even talking about anything all that crazy or revolutionary. I’m not talking about dancing bears or fog machines or strobe lights at contemporary worship services. I’m not talking about having the fanciest or most up-to-date websites, or killer social media platforms. Those things may be all well and good, and part of the answer, but, to me, it’s even more fundamental—and perhaps even more creative and scary—than that.

What I’m talking about is this: the most creative and innovate evangelistic thing we can do is to draw close to people, enter into life with them, and listen to their stories. That is truly revolutionary—though I would propose it actually works at all times and in all places. It is, in many ways, trans-cultural and effective in any historical era.

Too many of our evangelistic approaches are drawn up in laboratories or after reading books. Even methods that are deemed “innovative” are often implemented as the result of learning them from a sort of cookie-cutter, one-size-fits all evangelism template. We have, in the words of Ellen White, taught our people to become thinkers of “other men’s thoughts,” instead of teaching them to listen to the Spirit for themselves, and to listen to the stories of those they’re trying to reach with the gospel, and then sharing the gospel with them in creative and relevant ways.

This idea really hit home for me a few years ago when I spent three or four days at the General Conference headquarters, visiting a couple friends who worked there. As I just floated around the halls, occasionally popping in on various meetings, a thought suddenly occurred to me: these people, dedicated servants of God, are trying to create content that will reach people in Bangkok as well as Bangor, Laos as well as Los Angeles. How does that work?

I don’t write this to be critical of anyone at the General Conference—or anywhere else. The same could be said for content that comes out of our Divisions, Unions, and Conferences. We are extremely reliant on one-size-fits all programming that, by its very nature, cannot connect in completely relevant ways to your neighbor in Denver or Boulder the same way it does to mine in Bangor or someone else’s in Tokyo.

The truth is, as they say about politics, evangelism is local. It must be local. Only then can it be innovative and creative, in the truest sense of the word. It’s only as we enter into life with real people, who have unique stories, that we can fully understand how the gospel speaks and applies to them in unique, innovative, and beautiful ways. While the content of the gospel doesn’t change, utilizing a canned evangelistic approach, and prescribing canned evangelistic arguments, is like prescribing surgery by simply consulting with WebMD.

In other words, instead of thinking about and planning creative programs, we should think about coming alongside people—our neighbors, co-workers, and friends—and asking the Spirit to show us how to share the gospel, in both word and deed, in ways that uniquely apply to each individual.

Of course, all this challenges traditional Adventism. In my experience, Adventists typically prefer to keep people—especially non-Adventists—at arm’s length and to do our evangelism from afar. We would often rather send out a tract or post a YouTube video than to draw close to people and share life with them. We’re afraid of keeping bad company that might influence us away from the truth.

There are many reasons for this attitude and posture, but I’d propose that chief among them is our failure to fully grasp the gospel, both intellectually and emotionally. At its core, the gospel teaches us that the God of Scripture is a God of incarnation—of one who steps into our mess, meeting us where we are and embodying His truth amidst all our mess and sin. As John declared, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”—or, as The Message renders it, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14).

Simply put, when we understand the radical condescension of God in the Person of Jesus—when we understand and appreciate the depths to which Christ went in order to reach and save us—we will embody such a posture in our own approach to evangelism, seeking to meet people where they are and fully communicating the gospel not only in word but also in deed.

And that is the most creative and innovative thing we can do to share the gospel.

Shawn Brace is a pastor in Bangor, Maine, whose life, ministry, and writing focus on incarnational expressions of faith. The author of four books and a columnist for Adventist Review, he is also a DPhil student at the University of Oxford, focusing on nineteenth-century American Christianity. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @shawnbrace, and sign up for his weekly newsletter at shawnbrace.substack.com