By Ron Price … I believe Adventist doctrine appeals to the intellectual mind. Being a member of the Mensa Society, what other church could I possibly consider joining? (Side note: If you do not know what the Mensa Society is, please Google it so you will get my humor, and no, I am not a member.)
Seriously, our message is so grounded in Biblical Truth and makes such rational sense that we sometimes expect people to accept it on that basis alone. But, aye, thars the rub. Especially these days, perhaps, people are not focused solely on rational thought. With the stress and strain of life, other matters typically take precedence. The state of the dead, vital as it may be, simply does not matter to one who is hungry, or grieving, or struggling to stay alive. Nor is it significant to someone who has been hurt or mistreated by a church member, but that is a matter for a separate column.
While I would never suggest we veer away from or somehow cheapen our message—make that God’s message—I do believe we need to be more focused on meeting people’s felt needs before we seek to bring them to a knowledge of “the truth.” Yes, Truth is essential and should always be a component of our mission, ministry, and outreach, but without love, we will come across as a clanging cymbal (see 1 Cor 13:1-4).
For too long now, we have relied on the Truth of our message to win souls for The Kingdom and to fulfill our part of the Great Commission. Maybe that is working at your church, but I doubt it is working everywhere. Some people will respond to a flyer they receive in the mail, but I dare say the vast majority will not. Many more are likely to respond favorably to an invitation from someone they know cares about them and has their welfare in mind.
The planning for an evangelistic series of meetings cannot begin with designing and purchasing a flyer. It must start with building relationships and showing people we genuinely care about them. We could do this through a series of non-religious outreaches. Our church has a plethora (I just love that word) of resources to help people in every area of their lives. Our health message is without comparison. We have programs that any church could deliver to help people meet their relationship needs, financial awareness needs, mental/emotional health needs, dietary needs, etc.
The 20th century English economist John Maynard Keynes said: “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping old ones.” I doubt he said that with our present-day church in mind, but he could have. We have been following a model of evangelism for so long that some might believe it comes straight out of the Book of Acts.
I am a product of the church’s evangelistic outreach, so I dare not be too critical. But that, I have to say, was 40 years ago. I hope I am not the first to tell you that things have changed a bit since then, but our methods not so much. Of course, that is not a universal indictment of our church or our “movement”—I haven’t heard that term in a while. I’m certain many churches have adapted to the times and are reaching out in new ways to reach a new world.
One outreach I recently became aware of is found in The Inviting Church by Mitchell L Williams. In it, Pastor Williams provides a model for loving your neighbor before you witness to them. Or better yet, you witness through your love and service before you witness through your knowledge of the Truth. That sounds like a great idea to me—what say you?
–Ron Price is a member of the RMC Executive Committee and lives in Farmington, New Mexico. Email him at: [email protected]