How would you define true success? In the Olympics, it is having a gold medal draped around your neck. For a student, it includes getting an A on the final exam and graduation day. Many hard-working people see career advancement as the obvious marker of worth and success. The church has common gauges for success as well. None is more powerful than “We want to finish the work and go home.” The “finished work” rings in Adventist ears as the completion of the Great Commission of Jesus given in Matthew 28:19, which says, “Go therefore and baptize.”
Jesus declares that the final sign before His return is “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world…, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14, NIV). Adventists have interpreted this prophesy in different ways throughout our history. The pioneer generation thought for a time that preaching to new immigrant groups in America meant “the world had been warned.” Later it involved sending at least one missionary to every country on earth. Today some believe that a billboard in town or mailing books to every address in a zip code might fulfill this command of Christ.
As the planet’s population has grown, we see challenge growing daily. Our current membership as a church is around 20 million, facing a world population of 7.9 billion. Humanly speaking, we could naturally puzzle at how the mission can be accomplished. Undaunted in the face of these odds, we prayerfully and boldly have a denominational objective of prioritizing the megacities of the world for evangelism. Additionally, we utilize the technology of television, radio, internet, social media, print, billboards, and direct mail. All these build on the foundation of health and wellness programs, education, and weekly worship services. Each of these are motivated by the deep desire to reach the hearts and minds of people to come to know Christ and His saving message for our time.
But progress seems slow. The world’s population grows faster than our church membership. The slow progress we face today is not because the gospel message is more unpopular (Jesus’ audience was tough, too), not because people are more resistant to truth (every age of history from pagan Rome to today has had a culture at opposition with God), not because we are less holy than people 2,000 years ago (Christian have always struggled with living up to God’s calling—just read Paul’s letters to the Corinthians). Even the theological question of the apparent delay was on the minds of first-century believers. Peter reminded them that God is longsuffering and not wishing any to be lost.
So what are we to do today in response to the mission challenge before us? Is it possible in these last days to have the same success as Jesus in reaching this generation? Without a doubt, I declare a resounding “Yes.” But only if we do it Jesus’ way. And what is the “Jesus way,” you ask. I have the definitive answer! It’s the heavenly prescription for us.
In 1905, a visionary Christian leader published a book that begins with these words: “Our Lord Jesus Christ came to this world as the unwearied servant of man’s necessity” (p. 17). What follows is over 500 pages of commentary and application on how Jesus did this work. The book is The Ministry of Healing, and the writer is Ellen White. It thrills me to be reminded that she penned this amazing book right in the Pacific Union territory at her home in Elmshaven, California. Nestled in Chapter 9 of this masterpiece of mission, a treasure is laid bare. It is the thesis of the entire book: “Christ's method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Saviour mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me’" (Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 143).
I believe that when we embrace this divine prescription for a finished work, the final sign of the end will come to pass.
There are many methods that can be tried to reach people, but herein lies the answer that is prophetically designed for the mission challenge of the Adventist church in the Pacific Union Conference for the 21st century. Its simplicity and directness can mask the real power behind the words. Ultimately, what is revealed in these inspired words is a call to unselfish service to others—laying down our preconceived ideas, prejudices, and sinful lives before the cross of Jesus and then taking up our own cross to follow Him.
Perhaps this quotation from Ellen White is already familiar to you. In fact, I have heard it quoted many times, but never have I heard the rest of the quotation shared with equal passion and call to action. Let us read the words she penned that describe what it means to “mingle” and “minister,” which wins “confidence.” Watch out, because Ellen White is coming directly after our methodology of mission! “The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit” (The Ministry of Healing, pp. 143-144).
Usually, all these things are what we do for people in the church. But she declares that true success requires moving out into a neighborhood, a city, a community. Activity in the social settings of our communities are the heart of this directive from God. In so doing, we win the confidence of people to meet Jesus. Ellen White makes a bright line connecting Jesus’ personal work—His method—and what we must be doing to have a genuine impact on our world today. And as we minister, we are also changed to be more like our Master in love and service.
I believe that when we embrace this divine prescription for a finished work, the final sign of the end will come to pass. “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14, NIV). What should the top agenda item at your next church board meeting be? Where do you need to go? Who needs your love, your sympathy, your kindness?
Bradford C. Newton is the president of the Pacific Union Conference.