Failing to Fulfill Our Mission

Dear Adventists, I think we’re failing to fulfill our mission …

As a world-wide organization, the Seventh-day Adventist church is accomplishing many things. We’re caring for thousands of patients, providing disaster and development aid, educating from the lowest to the highest levels, and making a lot of baptismal pool waves. But while laudable, these activities are not of themselves the mission of our church.

The voted mission of the Seventh-day Adventist church is:

Make disciples of Jesus Christ who live as His loving witnesses and proclaim to all people the everlasting gospel of the Three Angels’ Messages in preparation for His soon return. 

I believe this is a powerful expression of what we desire this church to be. But unfortunately, I think we’re failing. Wherever Adventists are known, we are likely to be described as Biblically literate, diet-conscious, educated Sabbatarians. But these, our most prominent positive descriptors, fail to encompass the kind of disciples our mission statement says we seek to make. While mostly applicable to Jesus’ disciples, these were not prominent descriptors of them. Indeed, they were far more prominent descriptors of His murderers than of His disciples. And if this is the extent of what we are producing, I believe we are failing.

Quickly, let me say that I know this failure personally. While I believe I am seeking to be a genuine, loving, gospel-proclaiming disciple of Jesus, I know that too many of my acquaintances would primarily describe me in terms that are more applicable to a Pharisee than Jesus. My intentions are good, but they do not diminish the reality of this failure. If those who know me do not describe me primarily as Jesus was described, I am failing to become a true disciple. And if those who know Adventists do not describe us primarily as Jesus was described, we are failing to produce true disciples.

On the surface, this judgment may seem to be too harsh. It may seem that our success or failure should not be judged by the condition of our members. Perhaps you’ve heard the counsel, “Don’t look at people because you’ll be disappointed.” While this statement has value in certain contexts, in the present context it is only an admission of our failure. Is it not a failure that so many children can go through our VBS’s, students through our schools, pastors through our seminaries, and members through our pews without the dominant output being loving and lovable Christians who demonstrate the highest moral intelligence and integrity within their societal sphere? What training program, in any field, could long remain credible if its graduates could not endure examination? Is this not the most appropriate arena for Jesus’ standard, “You will know them by their fruits”? The only reasonable method of judging the accomplishment of a mission predicated on changing people is to examine the people who are supposed to be being changed. And unfortunately, I think such an examination confirms that we are failing.

I know that accomplishing this mission is a difficult task. My wife and I are currently raising three children whom we hope will be disciples of Jesus Christ who live as His loving witnesses and proclaim to all people the everlasting gospel of the Three Angels’ Messages in preparation for His soon return. I know that prioritizing external behavior over internal motives is easy. Prioritizing specific dos and don’ts over universal principles is easy. Prioritizing acting over thinking is easy. Too often I fall to the easy with my children and with myself. But we cannot be content with the easy. We cannot be content with failure. When we fall, we must get back up and refocus on the complete reformation of heart and mind that Jesus desires in us all.

But what if we do? What if, by the grace of God, you and I and our families become the disciples Jesus intends for us to be? Will the church then find success? To be honest, I don’t know. I have known many Adventists, at every level of the church structure, who are beautiful examples of the kind of disciple I hope to be. But unfortunately, their experience is still not the dominant narrative within Adventism. And so, I cannot say that our change will certainly end the failure of the church as a whole. But I can say that if there is to be an end to the failure, it must begin with people like you and I re-evaluating everything we do within Adventism.

This re-evaluation must be applied both personally and wherever we have influence in the church. We must scrutinize everything. Is this personal devotion, Sabbath School study, church program, academic curriculum, ministry seminar, or worship service focused towards developing genuine disciples of Jesus? When its done, will its target audience have grown towards being more loving of others and more understanding of the will and ways of God? Have I prioritized internal reformation (that is revealed externally) over external reformation? Have I avoided giving the impression that anything other than faith expressing itself through love is of value with Jesus (Gal. 5:6)? Should previously unimagined programs and/or structures be introduced to better advance these goals? Consistently applying questions like these, personally, and wherever we have influence in the church, is the beginning of the change that can bring success.

Finally, God is with us in this effort. He desires this change more than we ever can. As we faithfully seek Him in prayer, He will give us the wisdom, courage, diligence, and power needed to accomplish this great work.

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