How to Connect Your Local Church To It's Surrounding Culture
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How do you Connect your local church to the surrounding culture?

It’s no lie this is something our churches struggle with.

But what if there were some practical, down-to-earth ways that you could begin bridging the gap between the two?

This week, I sit down with Daniel J. Blyden, co-host of The Pulpit Jam podcast, to talk about his experience as both a lover of the culture and the church. We discuss:

  • How art can be used to connect with people otherwise closed to the gospel.

  • What to do about church members living far from the location of the local church.

  • How to connect your local church to its surrounding culture by releasing Spiritual gifts

  • And more!

Click, listen and subscribe below!

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Connect with Daniel

The Pulpit Jam Podcast

Instagram: @restorethelove

Facebook: /restorethelove

church.restoreproject.co.uk/


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3 Bottom Line Things You Must Know Before Studying the Bible with Secular People (#2 is Huge!)
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I love studying the Bible with secular people.

In fact, if ministry meant I could spend 40 hours a week doing nothing but life and faith with secular folk, I would be the happiest dude in the world. Not saying I don’t enjoy ministering to the saints, I totally do! But there’s something about exploring faith with secular people that is on a whole other level.

I have zero idea what it means to be secular.

But that’s not to say I always get it right. One of the realities I have to embrace when it comes to studying the Bible with secular culture is that I have zero idea what it means to be secular. I might read a book about secular culture, philosophy and experience. I might even sit down with secular people and listen to their stories, ideas and perspectives. But one fact remains: I have never been a secular person. I have never shared in their experience. I have no idea what its like to live any part of my life without a theistic metanarrative that makes sense of my existence and the brokenness of the human story. I have always had a worldview that placed my identity and perspectives within an enthusiastic and hopeful framework. So I simply don’t know what its like to live, even for one day, without that framework. Even on the days that I doubted it, it was still there in my subconscious stringing my existential quest together.

Secular people, on the other hand, have lived with different frameworks or no frameworks at all. Whats it like to navigate life like that? I don’t know. The best I can do is listen and try and understand. In doing so, I can frame the message of scripture in a way that connects with their experience instead of assuming that framing it according to my religious experience is the only right way. This is the first lesson I have learned from studying the Bible with secular culture. Listen, listen, listen!

The second lesson is also embedded in there: Re-frame. The biggest mistake I have made when studying the Bible with secular people is framing the story of Jesus in language and archetypes that make sense to my religious psyche. But what I have found is that the angles that I find meaningful on the spiritual search many of my secular contacts find pointless.

Let me share a quick story. Last year I was studying the Bible with a group composed of 3 Adventists, 1 Catholic and 1 secular guy. During one of the studies, the topic of assurance of salvation emerged. The Adventists went on to dominate the conversation for the rest of the study. Because of a shared background in legalism, both the Adventists and the Catholic found meaning in the discussion. About 40 minutes in, I turned to our secular mate who had been awfully quiet the whole time and caught him desperately struggling to keep his eyes open. The poor guy was so bored! He later told me that he felt really disconnected not only at that study, but also the following studies in which the Adventists controlled the framework of the discussion due to the questions they were asking. He personally found the questions pointless and irrelevant, so he checked out and stopped attending.

Don’t assume that just because its seems important to you then it must be important to everyone.

Framing the biblical adventure in a way that connects with the present experience, value structures and concerns of the secular person is super important in keeping them engaged. Don’t assume that just because its seems important to you then it must be important to everyone. In the same note, don’t assume because X worked for that guy then X will also work for the other guy. Even when gifting books and resources, be careful to not give them something that you find insightful that they will find repulsive (I have seen this many times with secular people being scared away from further exploration because someone gave them a book or DVD loaded with bizarre apocalyptic imagery). People must be met where they are and led gently toward Christ in a diversity of ways.

Jesus himself exemplified this. To one person, Jesus preached the gospel of “you must be born again”. To another, he preached the gospel of “I am the living water.” And to another still, “Sell all that you have and you will have treasure in heaven.” These diverse frameworks were intended to meet people where they were and lead them toward his heart. He never used the same framework twice. And yet, we do it all the time!

The key to studying the Bible with secular people is 1) Listen, listen, listen! and 2) Re-frame. (PS. You will find re-framing much easier if you first take the time to listen.)

But there is one more lesson I want to share.

When studying the Bible with secular people, it is important to make a meaningful connection. It’s not good enough to just disseminate doctrinal information.

When studying the Bible with secular people, it is important to make a meaningful connection. It’s not good enough to just disseminate doctrinal information. Instead, you have to invest in connecting deeply with them on a personal level. As the studies progress, if the person feels connected to you they will be upfront about the areas they are struggling to understand and embrace. However, its not enough to simply connect with them yourself. Instead, aim to establish 2-3 good connections with church members. There have been two instances in which a secular person completely pulled out of studies simply because I went away for a number of weeks and they had no one else to keep them connected and engaged. During that time, Satan sows seeds of doubt and discouragement that can be overcome when a person has connections they can reach out to. But because these students of mine only had me as their primary connection, they didn’t have anyone checking up on them during my absence. In both cases, by the time I got back, they weren’t interested anymore despite the fact that when I left, they couldn’t wait to keep going.

So three simple lessons: Listen, Re-frame, Connect.

Of course, there is more to studying the Bible with secular people. I’d love for you to share your experiences and lessons below! Is there anything else you have learned from studying with the secular world?

Also, don’t miss this Free eBook I wrote that goes deeper into this topic: “How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns”. Free download below!

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Pastor MarcosComment
Dear Adventism, It's Time We Repented Of Our Dry & Cheesy Theology
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Note: The following article is an edited sermon manuscript. You can hear the audio sermon here.

Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

This verse once spoke to me and also confused me. It spoke to me because I needed freedom. Freedom from my addictions. Freedom from the seemingly endless cycle of sin, feel bad, repent, feel fine, hit rewind and replay. And it confused me because, as far as I was concerned I knew the truth. But I still wasn’t free!

I had grown up an Adventist. I had been through Sabbath School, Pathfinders, and baptismal classes. I only listened to Christian music and went to church religiously every weekend. I would even go to the local Christian book store and get some extra stuff to read. Truth was something I had in abundance.

But I wasn’t free.

Turns out, I didn’t understand Jesus’ words in John 8:32 at all. Because when Jesus spoke about truth he was talking about something quite different from what I was thinking of. But before I tell you what that is, I want to back up a bit and introduce the rest of this blog with the following statement:

All of scripture is a revelation of God’s heart.

What does this have to do with John 8:32 and truth setting us free?

Let’s find out.

THE ESSENCE OF SCRIPTURE

The foundation and essence of the Biblical narrative is to unveil, step by step, a deeper and richer picture of who God is and what he is like. And this reality is expressed through all of scripture. Not just John or Galatians or the Psalms - all of scripture is an unfolding and uncovering of the mystery that is the love of God.

Another way to put it is like this: The entire Bible is gospel.

The foundation and essence of the Biblical narrative is to unveil, step by step, a deeper and richer picture of who God is and what he is like.

Not just Matthew, Romans or Colossians. All of scripture is good news. Its there in Genesis, in Leviticus, in Isaiah and Ezra. The gospel doesn’t begin in the New Testament, and its not confined to the epistles. To the contrary, the gospel begins in Genesis and unravels itself through poetry, history and prophecy all the way through to Revelation.

What this means is that the entire narrative of scripture, from beginning to end, is about the love of God. His love is the essence, the theme, and the fullness of what the Bible is. And every doctrine that exists, does not exist independently of this love, but rather as a magnifier of it.

Picture it like this. Imagine the shape of a heart on a table surrounded by diverse magnifying glasses. As you approach the table, each magnifying glass enables you to zoom in on the heart in different ways. The main point of the whole experience is that heart. It is the hero of the story. But the magnifying glasses are there, not to take the attention, but to help you get a deeper look at the heart.

 
 

This is how the Bible is meant to be experienced. It’s not the love of God here and the doctrines there. Instead, the love of God is the centre of the entire experience and the doctrines are there to magnify that love in ways unimaginable to the human heart. If you think you have God’s love figured out, place it under the magnifying glass of the doctrine of baptism and you will walk away a totally new person, or the Sabbath, the Judgement, the Sanctuary etc. Each of these doctrines take us deep into God’s love and transform us.

DRY THEOLOGY

My biggest mistake when it came to this whole, “truth will set you free thing” is that I missed the essence of what truth was. Truth, in my mind, was a series of loosely connected doctrinal ideas. I understood the Sabbath and could defend it. I understood the judgement as well. And the sanctuary. But what I missed was how each of these doctrines came together to tell one perfectly tethered story that both discloses the heart of God and immerses the reader in it’s intensity.

In short, I had a bunch of magnifying glasses with nothing to look at. As a result, none of my doctrinal knowledge really led me anywhere. They were facts, but they were not truth in the fullest sense of the word. Although I understood them, they did not lead me to the place of freedom.

You ask, how so Marcos? Let’s look at Jesus’ words again. In John 8:32 he says, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”. But go down a few verses to verse 36. What does he say there? “Whom the son sets free will be free indeed.”

Jesus equates the truth that sets us free with himself. The truth that delivers us is not merely right theology or right doctrine. All that does it make you smarter. But if you want to be set free from your fears, insecurities and weaknesses then your doctrine has to lead you to Jesus. It has to lead you to God’s heart. Because true freedom only takes place in the presence of God.

Unfortunately, what happens is some people focus on the doctrines as though they are the main point of everything. This is what I did. It’s not that God’s love was ignored but rather, I treated it as a separate doctrine. God’s love and gospel are here and his law and church and end time events are over there. In this view, what I ended up with was a table full of magnifying glasses with nothing to look at. So I became obsessed with the magnifying glasses themselves and then wondered, “Why am I not experiencing freedom if I know the truth? Why isn’t Jesus’ promise working for me?”

In time, God showed me that the magnifying glasses are not designed to be looked at, they are designed to be looked through. And that’s how doctrine functions in the Bible. Doctrine is not something we look at, its something we look through. But when you remove the love of God, there is nothing to look at through the doctrines, so the doctrines, not God’s love, become ends to themselves that lead you nowhere. This results in dry theology.

 
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CHEESY THEOLOGY

On the flip side, there are those who say, “Forget doctrine! Its not important. The only thing that matters is the love of God!” Usually, they are reacting to Dry Theology which is understandable. I too went through this experience where, in my desire to taste the love of God I abandoned doctrine and treated it as the unwanted step-child of the Bible. But the downside is I ended up with a Cheesy Theology that was just as powerless to set me free.

In fact, lots of churches do this. And its sad. Its sad because while you feel a sense of self-righteousness in not being like those “dry people over there obsessed with doctrine,” you unavoidably nurture a shallow, irrelevant theology. In this model, doctrine is proudly ignored and we harp on about the love of God week after week. But the problem is we never dig into that love deep enough to discover what it has to say to the gut wrenching existential inquiries of humanity. This theology may be comfortable and marketable, but it is powerless before the atheist, the political ideologue and the sibylline like wanderer who wants to believe in God but can’t find a single Christian capable of answering his questions in any remotely compelling way.

 
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The only way to avoid dry theology on one end, and cheesy theology on the other is to embrace the tension between doctrine and love. That tension doesn’t really exist, but I find it necessary to codify it and speak of it in these terms because most of us treat them as antithetical to one another. And yet, read properly, the Bible is a progressive unveiling of the heart of God that transforms the reader. And that unveiling takes place in the harmonious dance between the overarching theme of God’s love, and the intentional presence of doctrinal magnifying glasses that give us greater, more colourful and more relevant glimpses into the bottomless ocean of his grace.

And it’s when those two are in harmony - God’s love as the central theme and doctrine as its continual magnifier - that we discover the life changing and freedom spawning nature of the Bible. In this dance we can encounter and communicate a truly relevant theology.

Why Does this Matter?

Once I discovered this, I realised once and for all why I wasn’t experiencing the freedom Jesus spoke of. It’s because I wasn’t experiencing truth. Truth and Jesus are one and the same. The Bible offers eternal life only because it offers him (John 5:39). You can understand all the doctrine you want, but if doctrine is merely something you are looking at and not something you are looking through - a portal into the presence of God - then you will never experience freedom, plain and simple. But once doctrine claims its rightful place as a microscope into the depths of God’s heart and you spend each day exploring those depths, your heart will begin to change.

But why does any of this matter? There are three answers to that question. The first is that the battle between good and evil is fundamentally rooted in the the person-hood of God. Satan spreads lies about him while God reveals truth about himself. Thus, at the end of the day, this lie-versus-truth conflict is a conflict over who God is and what he is like. And the only way to get an accurate picture that breaks the spell of Satan’s anti-God propaganda is to discover the love of God through the Biblical narrative, complete with the doctrinal magnifying glasses it provides.

In short, read your Bible! But more. If Satan cannot keep you from the Bible he will warp the way you read it. The cheesy model is one way he warps our ability to grasp the beauty of God’s character. The dry model is the other (which Adventists, I’m so sorry, tend to be most fond of.) Therefore, read your Bible but do it with a simple twofold approach. The first, to discover the heart of God in everything you read. The second, to read everything!

Read your Bible but do it with a simple twofold approach. The first, to discover the heart of God in everything you read. The second, to read everything!

The second reason why it matters is because we become like what or whom we worship. If the God we worship is strict, stoic and controlling we will become that kind of people. So Satan doesn’t really care if you go to church and read your Bible, so long as he can keep you chained to his lies about God’s character. And as you worship this god - this false god of approval, this false god who sits in heaven looking desperately for an excuse to keep you out, this false god who demands perfection of you on the threat of eternal damnation - then you progressively become like that god. Your character begins to reflect the insecurity, judgmentalism, criticism and stoicism that the god you worship exemplifies. In this sense, Satan’s lies about God have a double effect. First, they damage Gods character. And second, they damage ours. As we behold this false deity, our characters are shaped into its false image.

For those who doubt this, let me ask. Were the medieval crusaders just a bunch of blood thirsty sociopaths? Or did they worship a god whom, to a large degree, influenced their behaviour? What about the church in the Southern States - the one filled with members in good and regular standing who read their Bibles every morning and sung hymns every evening while wielding a whip on the bare backs of the slaves they purchased at the local human trafficking market? What of the faithful Christians who surrounded the steaks where men where burned alive for holding a difference of opinion? Were they stupid? Cruel? Yes, undoubtedly. But more, their actions were approved and sanctioned by the imperial god they worshipped. By beholding they became changed.

The third reason why it matters is the most shocking yet. Some of us may be thinking right about now, “Pastor, I would never participate in something like that.” Who knows? Maybe you are right. Maybe you are too squeamish. But regardless of whether you would ever do anything like the above, consider this. Jesus predicts a time in the end in which neighbours and families will betray one another. Daniel and Revelation reveal a time in which the economic cushion that keeps society sane will be removed and the survival instinct—violent and cruel as it is—will take over.

How are we to prepare for this?

The answer is simple. “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-32, 36)

How are we to prepare for this?

The book of Revelation reveals that there was a war in heaven (Revelation 12:7) followed by the displacement of Satan and his angels (Revelation 12:12, Luke 10:18). After the fall of man (Genesis 3), God formed a nation (Israel) to be his special people, set apart for him to reveal his beauty to the surrounding nations. But Satan’s war against God was not over. He “rose up against Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1) and led it astray. By the time Jesus came, his own people didn’t recognise him. But from those who did, he gave birth to a new people, the church. And yet, the church too was corrupted. Shortly after the apostles died, the church became a religio-political Roman power. It manipulated, coerced and murdered dissenters. It suppressed the truth of God’s heart for over a thousand years until a protest erupted which gave birth to a new movement seeking to return to the narrative of scripture (the protestants). But it was only a matter of time before the protestants themselves began reflecting a false picture of God. They persecuted, coerced and killed emerging protestants for diversity of thought just as the medieval church had done. (ex: The Anabaptist’s whom early protestants and Catholics tortured and drowned for daring to suggest baptism was by full immersion and not by sprinkling[1]).

And in case you are an Adventist and find yourself tempted with the thought, “not us!” Think again. Everywhere I go I meet wonderful Seventh-day Adventists who are stuck in the mire of legalism, unsure about their own salvation. The difficult God they worship, reflected in their own difficult characters. Our churches are dying - our monotonous worship merely a reflection of our mechanical God. Our youth are leaving. Our leaders are ageing. Our church is hardly known by anyone outside our walls. I have seen broken people driven out of our churches, gossip and slander our primary weapons of choice as we dig our trenches in never-ending battle between liberals and conservatives. In our history, we have promulgated lies about God just as much as the very religious institutions we were raised to protest. We are just as prone to being used by him as was Israel of old and the church of history. Satan’s war against truth is alive and active amongst us.

What this means is that our safety cannot rest in some label like, “Adventist”. Our only safety is in Jesus. The Bible must become to us a telescope into the character of God.

So there are three reasons why a true understanding of God’s character is so important. First, because it is the foundation of the war between good and evil. Second, because we become like the god we worship. And third, because the Bible predicts a crisis at the end of time in which your picture of God will be one of the primary determiners in how you treat others.

But there is a fourth.

In the book Christ Object Lessons, Ellen White tells us something else about the end of time. She writes:

The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love.
— EG White, Christ’s Object Lessons

Not only is the war between good and evil a war over God’s heart. Not only do we become like the god we worship. Not only does Revelation envision a final conflict in which professing Christians will act out the very cruelty they believe God himself demands of them, but in the midst of all this drama we are told that God, in his final act of mercy - a mercy tried and worn through thousands of years of sin, apostasy and rebellion, a mercy strained by injustice and exhausted by the murder of the innocents, a mercy strangled by human selfishness, the oppression of the weak and the exploitation of the fragile - that very mercy God will extend as he showers the earth with the truth about his character of love for the last time.

He will call out to wandering humanity, to the heart of a moribund race once more and ask, “What fault did your fathers find in me that they strayed so far from me?” “My people, what have I done to you? Testify against Me how I have wearied you!” (Jeremiah 2:5, Micah 6:3). “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

God’s heart is the final message to the world.

He has called us to be a part of that revelation.

So dear Adventism. Its time we repented of our dry and cheesy theology and recognise that all of scripture is a revelation of God’s heart. In every prophecy and poem, in every letter and biography and in every record and parable. God’s heart is the central theme.

And somehow, as we find ourselves immersed in the beauty of who he is, not only will we find freedom from our fears, insecurities, addictions and wounds but the world will begin to see him in us.

The old British preacher Alan Redpath said it best.

He will transform you into His likeness. You do the beholding–He does the transforming.
— Alan Redpath

_____

[1] Woods, Mark. “Burned at the stake, racked and drowned: Why did everyone hate the Anabaptists?”, [Web: https://www.christiantoday.com/article/burned-at-the-stake-racked-and-drowned-why-did-everyone-hate-the-anabaptists/81608.htm]

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How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns
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Note: The following article is an excerpt from the new eBook, “How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns”. To get access to the whole eBook, subscribe below or click here.

I want to begin this book with a twist. Rather than introduce myself as a church growth guru, boasting about how much of a postmodern outreach expert I am—complete with my list of accomplishments including a growing church that meets in a cafe on Friday nights in the city’s main party strip (none of which is true)—I want to unfurl the theatrical curtains to show you a completely different and unanticipated scenario: My failures.

No, you are not overdue for your next visit to the optometrist. You read that right. I want to begin this eBook by taking you on a journey through every botched and dramatically fumbled attempt at outreach I can remember. Because the truth is, I have stuffed it up more times than I have gotten it right.

I was born and raised in a premodern[1] Latino church, situated in Newark, New Jersey on a small hill overlooking the Hudson River into Manhattan. I have fond memories of that church. It’s where I learned how to play spin-the-bottle and truth-or-dare, where my first three girlfriends came from and where I slapped a nice lady (or so I’m told) right across the face, echoes and all, as she attempted to hold me in the middle of the worship service (I was one, so cut me some slack). It’s also where I was introduced to my Christian faith and taught how to share, express and experience it. But there was a problem: the premodern ethos of my home church did not exist in the world outside.

Modernism was winding down and postmodernism was gaining greater influence.[2] But we had no idea. To us, the world was simply in rebellion against God. There was no attempt to understand the culture, to get to know their value structures or to befriend them. Our premodernism insisted that we were right and they were wrong because we had the infallible Bible as “the” only source of truth. Those who rejected it were simply sinful, rebellious people who were denying what they knew to be true.

There were strong cases to be made for atheism and relativism.

Except they didn’t know it to be true. Their rejection of scripture was grounded in modern and postmodern sentiments. The questions were profound. The objections were intellectually compelling. There were strong cases to be made for atheism and relativism. But never mind all that. That’s too much work. Just stick to your bubble. The ideology that keeps you comfortably in the ivory tower of “rightness” and everyone else in the valley of “wrongness”. Because it’s comfortable there, and the world makes sense from up there. Step down into the valley to have meaningful discussions, to come close to the culture instead of attack it, to befriend the sceptic instead of debunking her and you might get soiled by their obstreperous heathenism. So I stayed. Far away from the culture despite the fact that I attended public school all my life. Far away from truly knowing and understanding. What was the point? I had this caricature in my head—a straw man if you please—that I found quite snugly. This cartoon of culture, how it thought and what it really needed, that informed how I felt about it. And because I had this, I didn’t need to get to know people because I already knew that so long as I told them the truth and showed them they were wrong then the little voice of conscience they spent every waking moment inebriating would eventually get to them and they would fall on their knees in contrition.

This shallow and one-dimensional picture I had of people, addiction, existential anxiety, brokenness, and doubt was fuelled by the assumption that everyone knew exactly what I did: the Bible was true, God was real, and Jesus was the only way to heaven. Those who denied it were really only denying what they knew to be true because they were looking for an excuse to party, get smashed and have sex with whoever, whenever. And all I had to do—good little Christian me—was tell them they were wrong and I was right. I could talk about how their lifestyle was sinful; and offer them Jesus. I could tell them their hearts were unsatisfied; and offer them religion. I could point out their nefariousness with undeniable conviction; and offer them salvation. It was easy!

Until it wasn’t.

One of my earliest memories “witnessing” was with a secular friend in High School. Aramir was his name. We hung out all the time. One day—for reasons I can’t remember—we got onto the topic of faith and somehow I ended up turning it into a discussion on why I didn’t listen to secular music. Here was my chance! I could tell him how bad it was, how it warped your soul and twisted your mind by awakening carnal desires and leading you to embrace mendacious ideological constructs. So I dove right in with all my arguments prepared. Nothing about Jesus. No relational expression of faith, God or scripture. Just a good old lecture on the evils of secular music that would have made my conservative community weep with pride and joy. My friend listened carefully. He never appeared upset. In fact, I thought I had somehow gotten through to him. But I was wrong. Dead wrong.

He never asked me about God or faith again. A year or so later we graduated school, went our separate ways and I never saw him again.

Opportunity blown.

But I can’t stop there. I am compelled, for some strange, uncharted reason, to tell you more. Allow me to fast forward a few years to my early twenties. I had just joined the US Army and was stationed in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. A young soldier there whose name was Baner (we went by last names in the Army), found out I was a Christian. One day he came to my room and engaged me in a conversation on faith. He asked what would happen to all those people who had never heard of Christ. Could they go to heaven?

My conservative, premodern glasses wouldn’t allow it. After all, there was only one source of truth. And the Muslims and Buddhists didn’t have it. So I looked him in the eye and boldly proclaimed the unadulterated truth: “No”. That was my answer. And I was proud. In the face of the sceptic, I had stood firm for what was right and true. Baner was shocked. Is that the kind of God you worship? His peering eyes, a soft azure that cut through your soul, asked. He shook his head and stood up, “Nah. Forget it.”

Conversation over.

Shortly after, my roommate challenged me to a friendly discussion. I had no idea how to have those, but I enjoyed it about as much as anyone can enjoy getting mopped on the floor by an intelligent agnostic who defied all of my caricatures. Then came Wilson, a drug addict who kept asking me where God had been during his dark nights of agony. Baner, also an addict, had the same questions. I had no answers. My premodernism had taught me that no matter what, you can always trust in God. But these guys had really good reasons not to. And I had lacklustre arguments that, while satisfying for me, left everyone else in the room wanting.

One day, Wilson came by my room and declared, “Someday, Torres. Someday, I will be free!” A perfect opportunity to invite him on a truth-seeking journey, wasn’t it? Except, I froze. I said nothing. He disappeared shortly after. For two years no one knew where he was. He turned up again, was consequently arrested and sent to military jail where he stayed until he was dishonourably discharged. I knew where he was. I knew how to get there. How to make an appointment. How to get in.

I never visited him.

Is that the worst of it? I’m honestly not sure. There was also the time that the Command Sergeant Major of my battalion had a once-in-a-lifetime conversation with me. It was remarkable. Command Sergeant Majors are among the highest ranking enlisted soldiers in the Army. I was separated from her by six ranks which meant the chances of her and I talking about the notability of Jesus’ claims were about as high as the average citizen going out for a pizza with their State Governor. Having even a basic, mundane interaction with people up there is rare, let alone an unveiling-of-the-soul kind of chat. And that’s exactly what happened. Mourning the recent death of her husband, the Command Sergeant Major looked at me, the file and rank of military structure faded, the wall disappeared, grace was up to something. “I don’t know what I am going to do with my life now,” she murmured.

There weren’t any tears or broken words. After all, she was a high ranking enlisted soldier in charge of an entire battalion. You don’t get there without freakishly high levels of tenacity and self-control. But her eyes, lost, as she gazed over the horizon of my cheap office table, unveiled an agony that few had ever seen and one which human eyes, I would venture to assume, would never see again.

My reply? “Sergeant Major,” I leaned forward with the paperwork she needed, “You have to sign right here.”

She snapped out of it. Signed the paperwork. And off she went.

We all stuff it up, don’t we? We do. But I can’t help but look back and wonder, Why was I so willing to stand so strong for the right though the heavens fall (referring to traditional Christian values I thought were important) and yet not be able to engage someone in a mutual truth-seeking journey?

Powers was next. She was going through a divorce. She asked me about divorce, adultery, and sex outside of marriage (she had hooked up with another guy in the unit). I answered. No journey. No mutual seeking. Just cold, hard facts. The premodern gurus would have bowed to me.

I was their poster boy.

Powers said I was brainwashed and never asked me about God or faith again.

People were not rejecting truth, they were rejecting me.

You might look at this and say, “That’s just the way it is. People are always going to reject truth!” And I don’t blame you. I believed the same thing. It was a convenient belief, really. I could avoid the responsibility of coming to know people, mutual searching, admitting I didn’t have all the answers. I could excuse my poor judgement, lack of interpersonal skills and black-and-white view of reality. I could stay in my self-aggrandising bubble—cosy and content—never bothering to consider, even just for a moment, that people were not rejecting truth, they were rejecting me. Oh, how commodious it is to live in a state of such self-delusion that you can emerge an instrument of the dark intelligence by becoming the very kind of presence that drives people away from the truth, and yet believe—I mean truly believe—you are right because you said what the Bible verse says (in the King James Version no less!).

How commodious indeed.

How many of us exist in this prison of misapprehension? This fantasy world where we have written a script of ourselves and those around us. Our script is always heroic. Theirs is either the damsel to be rescued or the Wormtongue for whom there is no recourse—only sharp and unapologetic words to expose him. All the while we think we are doing God a favour, without recognising that—in all our zeal—we have become instruments of the rebellion! Satan laughs. He laughs because we think ourselves so faithful and yet it is through our unsanctified defence of the truth that he most effectively catapults his anti-God propaganda into the cultural consciousness.

But there were moments of success. Moments where I did get it right. They happened without me realising what was happening. Moments where I would take a fellow soldier’s Bible question, bathe it in relational intimacy and offer them—not a religion with rules and regulations, but a personal, intimate experience with the divine. They listened. I remember the nods. The eyes widening with possibility. I saw secularism and hedonism stop dead in their tracks. I saw in my friends’ eyes, a battle raging deep within. Somehow, their ideological structures were collapsing in the presence of this relational God. This God of withness who was inviting them to friendship. They had never encountered this before. Sensuality and the mindless pursuit of trivial pleasure bowed in the presence of something infinitely more invigorating, compelling and satisfying.

That’s when I began to realise the mind of the modern man is not reached like the mind of the premodern. The premodern assumes the authority of God, scripture and religious teachers. The modern man holds each of these in contempt for science, he believes, has made a mockery of them all. Thus, my premodern arguments continued to be met with an echo of rebuttals: “God can’t be love in light of our pain.” “Where is he?” “Oh, you are religious?” “What’s up with the crusades man?” “Religion has caused more wars and more horror than anything else. No, thank you, I’ll just stay over here with my beer and TV remote. That’ll do.”

And yet, when approached with authentic relationship something happened. The walls came down. Their eyes betrayed a desire to explore. Somehow, the invitation to forget all the religious noise and just taste the goodness of God, to know him and be known by him, was a welcome proposition.

I left the Army and wound up in Australia. How? I met a pretty girl, that’s how. But that’s a story for another time.

In Australia, I was introduced to a truly secular, postmodern society. It was there in New Jersey, but my premodern bubble had shielded me from it. It was there in the Army, but my debates with modern sceptics took up all my time. Australia is a different monster. The secularism here is not anti-church. I wish it were! Anti-church crusaders acknowledge the church’s existence. They are angry with it! But this postmodern, secular Australian culture isn’t angry with the church. They don’t even know it exists.

Okay, they know it exists in a geographical, “Yeah, that’s St. Mary’s Cathedral over there,” kind of way. But church is not on their radar. The typical Australian, I was told, lived and died without ever setting foot in a church or even thinking about it. It just wasn’t important to them.

I was interested. So I began studying postmodernism, cultural outreach, and the art of truth-seeking relationships. The more I learned, the more I recognised signs of its presence throughout my life. It was a stimulating experience, reading those books and listening to those lectures. I even went on iTunes University and downloaded entire university lectures on philosophy, starting all the way back with Socrates and working my way forward through Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Marx, Kant, Hume, and others. And I learned a lot. But nothing prepared me for the real experience of setting the books aside and meeting with a living, breathing postmodern.

And then it happened. A woman in her 30s contacted me through a friend. She had never been to church before. She had never read a Bible. But one day she woke up with existential anxiety and was thirsty for answers. “How can someone as alive and conscious and full of life as me, just die and that’s it? It’s over?” We met. We studied. We talked. And I discovered she wasn’t some scary, unreachable millennial with a 30-foot thick philosophical barrier around her heart. Instead, I found her to be, well… human.

And then it happened again and again and again. A drug addict, a counsellor, a physics major. But perhaps one of the most memorable of them all was this one millennial who invited me to a cafe to talk God. She was the poster girl for postmodernism. From the very beginning, she lambasted me with questions about gay and transgender rights, the impossibility of knowing absolute truth and the value of feminism over against the supposed patriarchal biblical ethic (which she found repulsive). Her questions were tough. Tougher than anything my modern Army buddies ever threw at me. But by this point in my life, I had learned a few lessons. I wasn’t a postmodern guru and I’m still not. But I had learned, through failure and regret, that people don’t need gurus. They need partners. Someone to journey with them, wrestle with them, acknowledge the validity of their questions, doubts, and struggles. Someone who stops preaching and assuming long enough to hear—truly hear—what their hearts are searching for.

Relationship is the most potent conduit of truth.

As I sat there with this humanistic, relativistic, left-wing university student I listened long enough to hear that despite all the philosophical finesse, what she was really struggling with was a sense of abandonment. Abandonment from within her own family and a perceived abandonment from God himself when, as a teenager, she had traversed the treacherous minefield of love, chemical explosions, and romantic adventure only to be broken-hearted—or more like shattered—despite her faith-driven appeals to God’s help. Where was he? He’s just like so and so. They let me down. He let me down. I’ll harp on about the injustice of empire long enough to forget just how unjust those closest to me have been—especially God.

We studied together for over a year. There was no baptism after. There was no metric by which I can measure my success with her—not by institutional standards anyways. But there was that last meeting we had where we put the philosophy aside and just spoke about pain, fatherhood, and insecurity. Before we parted ways, she looked me in the eye and said, “Thanks. This is exactly what I needed.”

We are still in touch and plan to study more in the future.

How did this happen? Not by accident. It happened because I failed. Over and over again. And with every failure, I learned. With every failure, I grew. They humbled me and drove me back to the Bible for answers. They also schooled me. They were the practical lessons I needed to discover how to reach the secular, postmodern mind. The young lady above is one of others—secular, relativistic and altogether different kinds of people with worldviews miles apart from my own. I have talked, answered questions and asked many more. In the end, I have discovered that people don’t need data, facts or propositions. People need incarnation. People need people. Relationship is the most potent conduit of truth.

I am still not a guru. I have much to learn. But in this short eBook, I want to share with you what I have learned through pain and disappointment. In five concise chapters I want to take you through my bruises and regrets, so you can discover something that will inspire and equip you to more effectively reach this wandering and broken generation.

Welcome to my school of hard knocks.

Endnotes

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[1] The term premodernism has been used in reference to the historical period following the middle ages or as a blanket term alluding to the worldview that all truth has one absolute source which, in the Western sense, would be the Bible and its derived authorities such as the church or the priest. Throughout this eBook, it is the later use that I employ.

[2] Those well-schooled in postmodern history will find this statement difficult to reconcile since postmodernism was already in full swing by the 1950s and I, after all, was born in 1985. However, keep in mind that I was raised in a region that was primarily immigrant. The vast majority of the migrant cultures brought with them the premodern sentiments of their homelands where the cultural milieu was still governed by superstition, mythology, witchcraft, and Catholicism. As a result, the youth I grew up with tended to be the first generation of our migrant community to be raised in the US. This made us the first ones to be exposed to postmodern indoctrination.

 
 
Pastor MarcosComment
Why You Should Stop Going to Church with Maritza Brunt
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You should stop going to church.

No seriously I mean it. It’s time you closed that chapter of your life and put it behind you for good.

Because it turns out going to church is not just dumb, its also unbiblical.

Is pastor Marcos going all heretical these days? Maybe the 102 degree Australian summer days have finally gotten to him?

Only one way to find out! Check out this weeks new podcast interview with Adventist Record assistant editor, Maritza Brunt! We talk about why she stopped going to church and you should to.

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Connect with Maritza:

Twitter - @maritzaemunoz

Instagram - @maritza_brunt

Article we Discussed: record.adventistchurch.com/2018/02/16/why-i-dont-go-to-church/


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3 Steps Toward a New Adventism
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I love Adventism.

I love our theological narrative complete with our passion for Daniel and Revelation. I love the health message. I love the writings of Ellen White. I love the history of our church and its legacy. I love our sanctuary hermeneutic, our global structure and haystacks. And most of all, I love the way authentic Adventism lifts Jesus up. There’s just nothing like it.

Because I love Adventism I have a passion to see it thrive, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the one who raised it up out of the ashes of disappointment and into the global movement it is today. Jesus is the reason for Adventism. Our church exists to communicate the heart of God to the whole world. I consider it an honour to have been raised in this church and to be one of its leaders today. I want to see it blossom, flourish and grow.

It is because of this passion for the Adventist movement, that I am overwhelmed with emotion when I attend an Adventist church that is youth-less, lifeless, stuck in a bygone era and filled with people who either don’t seem to care or obstinately believe they are doing God a favour. But the thing that hurts the most is that this kind of church represents the majority of SDA churches I have been to in the various areas I have lived throughout my life (including two different countries, the US and Australia).

Research shows us that “our churches are growing older,” and “[m]any young people are leaving the Church once they reach independence.”[1] The primary reasons why people leave our church continue to be “hypocrisy, conflict and lack of friends (especially while going through life trauma such as marital problems")”[2] A 2013 retention summit “revealed the denomination has lost one in three members over the last 50 years. Additionally, for every 100 people the Adventist church gains, it loses 43 previous members…”[3] with one of the main contributions from the church being, “not helping people through their tough life experiences.”[4]

As a pastor who dialogues with other pastors and mission minded members, the conversations always revolve around three main points. First, why are Adventists so dead? Second, why do 80% of the members do nothing while the same 20% do everything? And third, "how can we keep our youth and reach the culture, when our churches are in such a bad state?”

No one really has the answers to these questions, but we must continue to agitate the conversation because the truth is, there is nothing like Adventism. The story that we tell is both unique to us and needed by the culture. We cannot rest while our churches continue the same unhealthy behaviours year after year. We must raise our voices and inspire the birth of a new Adventism. Here are three steps I believe can lead us there.

  1. Rediscover the relevance and uniqueness of our story. Part of the reason why our church members are so dead is because few of them realise how relevant and scarce our message is. There is a story we have been called to tell that no one else is telling. Do you know what that story is? If you and your church don’t have the answer to that question, nothing else will make any difference. I actually wrote a whole book about that very thing. You can read it with your church. Click here for more info.

  2. Reorient the focus of the church. Many churches are maintenance minded instead of mission minded. This means that most of their energy goes toward keeping the machine oiled instead of innovating new ideas and adventures. In order to change our trend and bring about a new Adventism, the focus of the church has to change from “keep the engine running” to “hit the race track!”

  3. Redesign relationships. When it comes to surveys, the one thing Adventists consistently score lowest in is “loving relationships”.[5] This is reflected in the data I quoted above. We don’t lose members because we don’t have cool churches with state-of-the-art resources and a hipster pastor. We lose members because we lack relationships. The way to foster relationships in your church is to create spaces where people can build memories together. A church mission trip. A church camp. A church service project in the community. Church picnics, fundraisers and holistic small groups - all of these activities are out of the ordinary and help foster memories that in turn raise the level of intimacy among your members.

Perhaps few have captured our current state and future potential as well as Danny Bell in his article, “North American Adventist Church Growth: The Untold Story”, when he wrote:

The reality is that the Church in western society has become insular, self-centred, and unconcerned about a suffering, dying world. We prefer to stand at church doors and call out to the public rather than go out and get involved in the dirty business of befriending the scum of the earth. The fortress mentality is alive and well in our churches and until we realise that it’s not all about “going home to heaven” and “wishing Jesus would come,” the sooner we can properly engage in the Master’s business.[6]

The challenges we face as a global church are big, especially in the western context. But the solutions are not as complex as many imagine. Passion for our story, mission-mindedness in our church structure and relational intentionality in our church life are simple things, but with them we can usher in a new Adventism capable of connecting with and ministering effectively to the culture.


[1] https://record.adventistchurch.com/2018/06/08/growing-young-how-to-save-our-church/

[2] https://www.adventistarchives.org/why-did-they-leave.pdf

[3] https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2013/december/seventh-day-adventists-assess-why-1-in-3-members-leave-sda.html

[4] https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2013-11-19/at-first-retention-summit-leaders-look-at-reality-of-church-exodus/

[5] This statement is in reference to the Natural Church Development Survey

[6] http://atoday.org/north-american-adventist-church-growth-the-untold-story/

Pastor MarcosComment
LGBT, Pop-Culture & Other Questions with Pastor Marcos
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2019 is here!

And I want to launch off with a brand new podcast episode where I answer your questions!

Just before 2018 ended, I posted a request for questions on social media and got overwhelmed with the amount that came through. It was awesome!

So for our first ep. this year, I will be answering those very questions. Here are just a few:

  1. How do Christians rid themselves of the mentality that they are better than others?

  2. How do we reach LGBT youth?

  3. How can millennials reach other millennials in or through evangelism without getting involved in pop culture?

Click below to listen in! (And don’t forget to subscribe).


The 1 Type of Adventist Church that Gives me Hope
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In Matthew 2 we read one of the accounts of Jesus birth. Its the story where the Magi show up in Jerusalem and ask Herod about the new king. Then Herod calls in the scholars for their input. Then he pretends to want to worship Jesus but really wants to kill him. So the Magi find Jesus, worship him and scoot it back to Persia (or somewhere in that direction).

If you haven't read it, take the time to do so.

But here's the main point. In this story there are 3 characters: Herod, the religious teachers and the Magi.

And each of these characters have a different reaction to Jesus' birth.

Herod: Is deeply disturbed and plots to kill Jesus.

The Religious teachers: They have no reaction. They show up, give their scholarly answer about the birth of the messiah, and then disappear. It's like they don't even care.

Magi: The pagans. They are filled with excitement and joy. They find Jesus, worship him and give him gifts.

Now, what does this have to do with our local Adventist churches? The answer is simple: Your church fits into one of the above reactions.

Some churches are like Herod. It's weird, yes, but its true. The story of Jesus disturbs them. I'm not necessarily talking about the Christmas season here (which some people don't gel with for ideological reasons). I'm referring strictly to the person of Jesus. There are Adventist churches where the person of Jesus is a threat. His grace is too wonderful. His supremacy is too powerful. So, like Herod, they pretend to worship him. But when it comes down to it, its their own kingdom they want to protect. Whether it be traditions, some ultra-strict theology, ideology, culture or political identity there are, oddly enough, churches that like Herod say "we too will worship him" but in reality they are only interested in preserving their little empire. If Jesus were here in person, such churches would be among the ones who sought to get rid of him.

Other churches are like the religious teachers of the law. This is perhaps the most common one among Adventist churches. They have all the answers. They have all the doctrine. They have all the knowledge and they are big on the prophesies. They can quote texts with ease and are very particular about their theological brand and identity. But their hearts are cold. Their worship is dead. There is no enthusiasm, no joy and no excitement. It's as if they have gotten so caught up in theology they have forgotten to be human. If you challenge their theology, they will come with answers and propositions. But if you ask them about Jesus, you wont get much reaction. They will fight about all kinds of things: worship/ music styles, dress standards, health reform etc. etc. But turn their attention to Jesus and its as if, they don't really care. They will drop a few "theological" answers on the table and then disappear from the conversation.

And then there are the churches that are like the Magi. I love these churches. They are the ones that give me hope for what Adventism can become the world around. They don't have it all together. The members are broken people who come from the "foreign" lands of sin and confusion. And while they know what they believe, they are on a journey of growth toward Jesus. They have read the Bible and in there they have seen a light and they are following that light. They ask questions, travel any distance to find answers and are filled with excitement and joy. When they worship Jesus, they do so with enthusiasm and joy. They have no ego to protect. No image to project. And no person to impress. They are lost in Jesus, bow to Jesus and bring gifts to Jesus. And when God speaks to them, they are willing to return to their foreign land to tell others what they have experienced in Jesus.

Which of these best reflects your church? Or perhaps your church finds itself somewhere in between some of these reactions? I don't know. But my hope and prayer is that every Adventist church in the world would react to the story of Jesus just as the Magi did, not only during this Christmas season, but all year long. Because if we do, I believe we can make a difference we never would have imagined.

Merry Christmas everyone!

What Adventists Get Wrong About Truth
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There is something Adventists get totally wrong about truth.

But before I tell you what it is, I want to lay the foundation.

The word appears 99 times in the New Testament. A few times here and a few times there. But there is one author that is obsessed with the word truth. Matthew mentions the word once, Mark twice, Luke four times and John? Yeah… he mentions it 22 times.

22! That’s a lot by comparison.

So what does this have to do with what Adventists get wrong about truth? Keep reading. It will all come together soon.

The first time John uses the word truth in his book. It reads:

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.
— John 1:14

John says “we saw his glory”. Now John is making a play on words here. He is going back to Moses where God tells him “I will show you my glory, but only a glimpse of my backside because no one can see my face and live.” Well here is God now, John declares, dwelling among us in tangible human flesh and guess what? We saw him. We saw his glory.

But John goes further than that. In 1 John 1:1 he adds, “What was from the beginning (Jesus), what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands...”

We didn’t just see him. We touched him.

Now this is strange. It’s strange because John is obsessed with truth and yet his picture of truth is quite different from what many of us imagine. According to John, truth is not a list of ideas, ideological constructs or abstract philosophies. Truth, John says, is something you can see and something you can touch.

Correction. Truth, John says, is someone you can see and someone you can touch.

So I ask again, what is truth? And what do Adventists get wrong about it?

We live in a culture today that no longer values truth. But before I explore that, allow me to briefly describe the three main ways human beings have historically related to the concept of truth.

Pre-Modernism

The first is what some refer to as the pre-modern conception of truth. I visited a lady one time in New Jersey. She was an alcoholic. A lot of problems in her life. She was not a church goer. She was not a Bible reader. She was not a Christian at all. And as soon as I told her I was a pastor she gave me this look and said, “I just got chills running through my body”. And what she meant was, “Oh my goodness I can’t believe I am in the presence of a man of God.”

We talked about God and the Bible and she was super receptive even though she was not a believer. This lady falls into the category that we call pre-modern. Even though she is not a believer, she assumes that truth is real and that the main source of truth is God and his word. This used to be the dominant way in the west. The priest, the pastor, the preacher - they have truth.

Modernism

But with the influence of the enlightenment and the scientific revolution the world began to change. It moved from the pre-modern era into the modern era. People now believed that truth is real but it’s not the Bible or the preacher that has it. Its the laboratory and scientist. And the advancement of science promised to bring about a new Utopian era. But then science gave us the atomic bomb and the bloodiest century in history. And so the culture lost its faith in science.

Post-Modernism

There then emerged what is known as the post-modern era. The era we currently live in. And the post-modern era can be summarised like this: the church promised us truth and brought us war and horror. Science promised us truth and brought us more war and horror. Therefore, the conclusion is that there is no such thing as truth. Truth does not exist.

Truth does not exist.

Now this is the cultural milieu that we find ourselves in. People no longer assume the Bible is trust-worthy, or the church, or even the scientist. There is no such thing as truth. The best we can do is live as honestly as possible and create our own individual reality. And if you tell me that your reality is more true than my reality then that is offensive because there is no such thing as an absolutely true reality that applies to everyone.

Now this is a problem for us Adventists because we love truth. So how can we communicate the truth that we love to a culture that denies the very existence of truth?

I believe it’s not some fanciful or new theory that we need. Rather, I believe that the answer is ancient. It’s found in John’s conception of what truth actually is. So let’s go back to John.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John describes Jesus as full of truth. But notice the pattern here. Jesus was not a philosopher. He was not an academic. And he was not a lecturer. Jesus was full of truth, John says, but instead of predicating this declaration on Jesus’ supposed ideological constructs, John predicates it on Jesus’ presence. In other words, the evidence for Jesus being full of truth is not his PhD, it’s his dwelling with us. And if that isn’t enough, John quotes Jesus in John 14:6 saying, “I am the way, the truth…”

We saw him. We touched him. He was full of truth. But more, he is the truth.

Now this is challenging on so many levels. It challenges the post-modern by declaring that there is such a thing as absolute truth. But it does it in a very interesting way that challenges the church as well. I tried really hard to find the right way to express what truth is according to John and here is the best I could do:

Truth is not merely academic, Truth is personal. Truth is not merely ideological, Truth is dynamic. Truth is not merely information, Truth is friendship. Truth is not mere facts, Truth is acts of kindness. Truth is not an it, Truth is a him. A baby boy is born in a stable because truth is not in ivory towers. Truth is flesh and bone.

And that baby boy grows up. He is full of truth and he is truth. And the truth befriends drunkards. And the truth eats meals with thieves and prostitutes. And the truth blesses little children. And the truth washes feet like a servant. And the truth comforts widows and orphans, social outcasts and failures. Because the truth is not an it. The truth is a He.

Today, the culture doesn't trust the church because the church claims that it has the truth, but does not live the truth. It preaches of God’s love but does not love its neighbourhood. It proclaims Gods justice but does not defend the weak and the poor. It sings about the bread of life, but it doesn't feed the hungry. It celebrates the living water, but it does not alleviate humanities thirst.

Sometimes people will tell me, “Marcos all this meeting people’s needs and nurturing friendship and community is not important. The truth is all that matters.” And I feel my heart break just a little. It breaks because these are sincere people who say this. People who love the truth. But people who, in all their love for truth still don’t know what truth truly is. If truth was merely information then yes, forget the greeters, forget community and friendship, forget social events. Let’s just make a plan to ambush our neighbours with as much information as possible. But if truth is more than information. If truth is a verb not just a noun, if truth is a person, not just a thing, if truth is relationship not just a textbook then we need to do more than just communicate information. And when we love one another, when we care for one another, when we serve one another we are proclaiming truth.

St. Francis of Assisi once said,

Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words.
— St. Francis of Assisi

This is what Adventists get wrong about truth. We treat truth like data when in reality, it is a person. We communicate truth in doctrinal statements when in reality, it is most powerfully communicated in acts of love. All of a sudden we have to rethink evangelism. It’s not just Adventists shoving information into people’s skulls. Its Adventists serving, and caring and incarnating with others. Because when you love someone, when you smile at someone, when you care for someone you proclaim truth. Because truth is relational. Which is why God didn’t just send a lecturer from heaven. He sent a friend of sinners. A person. Not a thing. A relationship. Not a manuscript.

In that manger that we celebrate on Christmas lays a baby boy, and he is truth. And that baby boy grew to be a man who declared I am the truth. And because of that declaration his enemies conspired for his death. Hours before his crucifixion, this Jesus stands before the most powerful man in his region. Pontius Pilate.  And Pilate wants to know, what kind of King is this Jesus? So he asks him, you are a king? And Jesus replies,

You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.
— John 18:38

In other words Pilate, I am a king. Not a political king. Not a military king. A truth king. I am a king who has come into the world to proclaim truth. But then he adds, “everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” Why? Because you cannot separate truth and Jesus. They are one and the same - intertwined so tightly that to claim truth and reject Jesus is to believe a lie.

If you preach the Sabbath without Jesus, its not truth. If you preach Daniel and Revelation without Jesus, its not truth. If you preach any of the doctrinal statements of scripture without Jesus call it anything you want, just don’t call it truth. Truth is found in the person of Jesus. And when he said, “whoever is of the truth hears my voice” he was reaffirming that truth is more than multiple choice answers in an exam. Truth is Jesus.

Pilate missed the point.

Verse 38: Pilate answered him, “What is truth?”

And then he left.

Pilate missed it. He missed the point. The religious people missed it too. Will we?

Ellen White once wrote these words,

If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tender-hearted and pitiful, there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.
— Ellen White, 9T p. 189

Why? Why would there be 100 conversions to the truth where there is now only one? Are we not now proclaiming the doctrines? Are we not teaching the true theology? Yes. But it’s not enough. Truth is more than right belief, it is right action. And when we live out the truth in kindness and courtesy it draws the world to Christ. Because truth is not just what you preach, truth is a helping hand, a gentle touch, a needed hug. Ellen goes on,

Why do we not live in constant communion with Him, so that in our connection with one another we can speak and act kindly and courteously? Why do we not honour the Lord by manifesting tenderness and love for one another? If we speak and act in harmony with the principles of heaven, unbelievers will be drawn to Christ by their association with us.
— Ellen White, 9T p. 190

What is truth?

It is more than a list of ideas. Truth is a person. And today he declares, “by this will all men know that you are my disciples. If you love one another.” Not “if you preach the Sabbath” - although the Sabbath is true. Not “if you publish studies on the sanctuary” although that is also true. But by this will all men know - if you love one another.

As you look forward to a Christmas season and a new year, I want to invite you to proclaim truth. Not just information but kindness, acts of love and a warm spirit. Because it is that act of incarnation - that doing of life with others - that truth is most effectively proclaimed to a post-modern world.

It's Time to Burn Adventism with Josh & Jesse (Burn the Haystack)
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Have you ever looked at the message of Adventism and thought - man this is beautiful - only to be turned off by the culture and tradition that surrounds the message?

Me too.

So I have concluded that its time to put Adventism to the flame… and burn it.

Fire, in scripture, has a disinfecting role to it. It destroys yes, but it also cleans. And I believe that as a church we are in need of a disinfecting fire. An experience that can kill the parts of us that damage our missional capacity and leave us with a simple, uncluttered faith capable of fulfilling the call God has placed on us.

And it is in that sense that I say, its time to burn Adventism.

Burn the negative attitudes.

Burn the legalism.

Burn the often idolatrous commitment to traditions.

And may all that remains be a story of God’s heart that invades the culture.

That is what this weeks podcast interview is all about! I sat down with the hosts of Adventist podcast “Burn the Haystack” and we discussed:

What is it in Adventism that needs to burn?

What is it that needs to stay?

And what does the end result look like?

Join us for this weeks featured podcast as we discuss these hot questions on our journey toward an Adventism that is less about us and more about Jesus.


StoryPastor MarcosComment
Here's Why You Can't Motivate Your Church (& How to Do It)
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I hear these complaints from church leaders all the time:

“No one want’s to do anything!”

“The people don’t support the events.”

“We tried, but no one showed up…”

At times, the frustration can get so overwhelming that we are tempted to actually judge the spirituality of the church.

“If they were serious about their faith…”

“People aren’t committed anymore.”

“Back in my day we didn’t have this problem!”

Now grant it, these statements are not entirely false. Our church is dead. And a dead church is simply the outflow of dead individual church members. However, as leaders we don’t have the luxury of pointing fingers or passing blame. We have to find solutions. Real and lasting solutions. That is why we are leaders.

The first step toward solving any problem is to properly identify its epicentre. Where is it coming from? What is the source? If your church members don’t support events, if they don’t participate in evangelism and if they don’t buy into your attempts at creating a strategy to reach your community then you have to find out why. Those are mere symptoms of a deeper problem. And it is through conversation and one on one, face to face dialogue that the real issues can emerge. You can’t simply guess as a leader. You can’t go on “gut” or “feeling”. Opinion has to be dropped. Facts alone will help you push ahead.

Because every church is different there is no way to write a blog that accurately diagnoses the source of the problem in every single one of them. The source is going to differ. Sometimes the source is a historical wound. Sometimes is a theological warp. And sometimes the problem may be you. If it is, listen pray for guidance and grow. The people will respect you for it.

However, there is one theme that is recurrent in many churches I have been to and I want to bring it up here. If you keep this in mind, along with having those needed conversations, I believe you will unearth the core issues and resolve them.

So here is the recurring theme I have witnessed in countless churches. Imagine you have a car sitting in your garage. You never drive it but it’s a classic so you don’t want it to break-down from inactivity. However, you just don’t have the time to take care of it. Naturally, you hire someone to come to your house once a week and make sure the engine is oiled, the coolant topped off, the transmission fluid clean and the battery healthy. You have this person take the car for a small spin around the block - nothing eventful - and then they go home. Job done.

This person has done nothing spectacular. They did not take the car to a car show. They did not sign up to a charity drive. They did not hire it out for romantic dates. They simply maintained it. That’s what you hired them for. Nothing more.

The person described above is exactly how the vast majority of church members see the nominated church leadership team. They don’t have time. They don’t have energy. But they don’t want to let go of the church. So year after year they nominate people to maintain the church’s engine and take it for a small, uneventful spins. Nothing more.

In short, most churches don’t perceive of their nominated leaders as real leaders. They perceive them as a maintenance crew.

So when the leaders get together and plan to take the car to a show (follow the metaphor here), or sign up to a charity drive or hire it out to weddings the members who nominated them just sit back and watch. They don’t dive into the process because that’s not what they had in mind when they nominated you. They don’t get pumped about the new possibilities because when they voted you into office, they were not thinking about new possibilities. They were simply going through the motions of putting people into positions that would keep the machine oiled. Nothing more.

So here is why you can’t motivate your church as a leader - because few people even see you as a leader to begin with. In their mind, you are there to oil the machine and that’s it. They weren’t expecting a revolution when they voted you in. In fact, they weren’t even asking for one. So if you decide to start one, they are not following you because its not what they had in mind when they approved your name for the office. You are an engine-oiler. And so long as you do that well they will vote you back in year after year.

So how can you change this? The solution is simple but it requires some high level commitment. You can’t change this mindset over-night. It will take time and repetition. The process can last up to 3 years before the culture begins to change. But it is worth it. Here is the process I use in my churches.

  1. Create a mission plan for your church with your leaders.

  2. Have every leader write a one page document on how their particular ministry is going to fulfil that mission. Then, have each leader meet with their respective team and communicate the contents of that document to them.

  3. Ask the team members to then discuss the mission with their families and friends in the church. Give them a time-frame to do this in.

  4. Celebrate your leaders and the difference they are making in front of the church. Use their example to inspire the rest of the members.

  5. When Nominating Committee returns, invite the members and committee to think in terms of kingdom building and not in terms of maintenance. If new leaders are nominated have them agree to the document from step 2 as a condition of accepting the roll. Then repeat steps 3 and 4.

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So what exactly is this process accomplishing? Two things. First, it is enabling the mission of the church to go from the leaders to the people. Think of water trickling from the top of the mountain down to the valley. That’s what you are doing here. The mission and vision should not remain at the top of the mountain with the elected leaders. It needs to trickle down into the valley of the people.

Second, this process is rewiring the minds of church members to expect results from their leaders and to view them as leaders, not machine-oilers. Over time, as the process repeats the new expectation and process settles in and the people begin electing leaders with the desire for forward movement. And once that culture is in place, you will no longer have to motivate your church as a leader, because the very fact that you are in your position is the result of motivated people who are ready for you to lead them to the next level.

ChurchPastor MarcosComment
How to Attract Millennials to Your Church (with Luke Farrugia)
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Millennial’s have been on the forefront of church chatter for nearly a decade now.

Articles, books and research projects have been dedicated to this particular generation in a way that hasn’t really been seen before.

Why are they leaving church? How do we get them to stay or attract them to our churches in the first place?

A few weeks ago I sat down with Luke Farrugia, host of the Aus Table Talk podcast, to discuss “How to Attract Millennials to your Church”. If you are interested in youth and outreach to post-Christian generations you don’t want to miss this interview!

We bust some of the biggest myths about millennial outreach and share just how simple it is to nurture a church culture that attracts this elusive generation.

Listen below and don’t forget to like, subscribe and share!

Make sure to also head over to www.austabletalk.com.au for some fresh and relevant Adventist podcast material!

ChurchPastor MarcosComment
Why I Can't Stand Busy Churches
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Before I dive into this article, I need to say something important.

I love busy churches. I can’t stand them, but I do love them.

I love them because they are doing their best to do what God has called them to do and that’s a ton more than can be said for many local SDA churches.

But if I love busy churches why is it that I also can’t stand them?

To answer that question, I want to invite you to come with me to World War 2 (yes, another military metaphor. I’m a former Army Sergeant so, can you blame me?). The Third Reich launched its campaign in Europe and it was unstoppable. Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands and France fell like dominoes. The British Expeditionary force numbering over 350,000 troops was also forced to retreat from France. To those looking on, Hitlers regime looked unstoppable.

One of the main contributions to this swift expansion was a military tactic known as the blitzkrieg (lighting-war). A Nazi blitzkrieg was a strategy that concentrated overwhelming force on a portion of the enemy defenses in order to smash through the line with shock and awe (think of a football blitz), and pour in behind the line before the defense had a chance to recover. It was a hard and fast strategy that would leave the enemy thinking, “Where did that come from?” and defeated before they had the chance to answer.

And it worked.

Until it didn’t.

As the Third Reich expanded into the east they hit Russia hard. The blitzkrieg had not failed them yet, so they aimed at Moscow and gave it everything they had. But this time, the blitzkrieg proved to be fatal. While the campaign began with victories, it ground to a halt and was eventually repelled. Historians often look at the struggle in Russia as the moment when the war turned. The Wehrmacht was pushed back to Berlin. Shortly after, Germany surrendered.

Now what does this have to do with why I can’t stand busy churches?

Take it easy. I’m getting to that.

First, allow me to explain why the notorious blitzkrieg failed in Russia (and I’m glad it did). While there were many variables involved, I am going to highlight two (because I am not a historian and also have other things to do).

  1. Poor Intelligence. Hitler doesn’t appear to have done his homework. When his army entered Russia they were not prepared for the brutal winter. The ground turned to mush so their heavy tanks and artillery got stuck. The cold was insane and the soldiers under dressed which left them vulnerable to the counter-attack.

  2. Over-Stretched. Because the blitzkrieg was so fast the force launching the attack formed like a column with tanks at the head to start the attack followed by infantry and artillery. In Russia, the columns were stretched too thin which prevented supplies from getting to the front quickly and, once again, left the army vulnerable to attack.

OK. Enough of the history lesson. Let me now explain to you why I can’t stand busy churches.

  1. Poor Intelligence. Like the Wehrmacht, busy churches tend to be too busy to actually know what is going on in the battlefield. They have ministry here, there and everywhere. Their pastors and elders are bombarded with the incredible amount of admin it takes to keep this monster going. Their members are racing for openings in the calendar. And people in general are so beat, they don’t have time to be students of the culture. As a result, their ministries get stuck in the mire of irrelevance and their members are ill equipped to handle changes in the culture.

  2. Over-Stretched. Like the blitzkrieg column, busy churches are way overstretched. Their resources, time, finances, pastors and volunteers are barely able to keep the machine going. This leads to clergy burnout, lack of creativity and lack of cohesive ministry efforts. In worst case scenarios, it leads to infighting as ministries compete for more time, more money, more volunteers and more pastoral support.

So here is why I can’t stand busy churches. I have been to quite a few in my days and what I have found is they give the false impression of success. Everyone seems to think the church is on fire because its occupied. But the problem is that you can run around all year and get to the end and discover you have accomplished nothing. Being busy and being productive are not the same thing. Being busy and transforming lives are not the same thing. Being busy and making disciples are not the same thing. Being busy and honoring God are not the same thing.

Rather than busy churches, we should aim to be simple churches. Churches that are focused on loving God, loving one another and serving our communities. Churches that know what their mission is and work to accomplish it by uniting all of their ministries for this one common goal. Churches that impact their sphere of influence without sacrificing the slow and beautiful process of growing in love. This may mean saying no to some projects, letting others die a natural death and instructing your nominating committee to NOT try and fill every role in the church manual (please stop doing this because… why?). Instead, the church should aim to fill the most important roles to its mission and operation and not be afraid to leave positions unfilled that are not essential to that mission.

If you aim for this, your calendar wont be overloaded. You wont have program after program to administrate. In fact, you’ll end up with extra time to get to know the culture and even the person next to you.

I like the sound of that.


Recommended Reading: Simple Church by Thom S Rainer

_____

[1] https://www.rbth.com/blogs/2015/05/12/how_russia_blunted_the_german_blitzkrieg_43057


Is There a Future for the Local Adventist Church?
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Is there a future for the local Adventist church?

That is the topic of this weeks latest podcast interview with pastor Matthew Hunter. We talk about the challenges local Adventist churches face today, the opportunities that we have and we even dive into the art behind growing a sick beard and should Adventists learn from non-Adventists?

Below are some summary quotes from the interview to entice you ;)

Pastor Matthew Hunter

Pastor Matthew Hunter

What we have now is so antiquated and disconnected from our communities. We have to start deconstructing our idea of church, and rebuilding it through the lens of mission.

The big thing we have to ask ourselves is, what is our ultimate purpose?

How intentionally tailored is our church gathering for reaching the lost?

Who are we doing what we are doing for? For us? Or for others?

Jesus tells us what to do, but not how to do it. That part is up to us. We need to use our creativity to reach the world.

The biggest obstacle to church plants today is the cost of real estate. But what if there was a way to reach our communities without ever having to buy a fancy building?

Watch the “We are Church” documentary here:


Pastor MarcosComment
Why is Church so Insanely Boring?
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Why is church so insanely boring?

Don’t sit there and pretend you don’t know what I am talking about. You know exactly what I am talking about. ;)

 
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Church, as we know it today, is this tedious, uninteresting experience. Most people who attend do so hoping to heaven that there is a good sermon. And if the sermon is good you kind of forget how uninspiring, uneventful and repetitive everything else was.

Now of course, not every church is like this. Some of them are the opposite and it amazing! But I’m not talking about them today. I am talking about the boring ones, so stay with me.

Boring churches are all the same. You park your car, walk in, someone says hello and hands you a bulletin. You sit down. The people around you might say hello in one of those “I shouldn’t be talking” voices or they might not. Then someone gets up to the front and gives a welcome and announcements. Then we sing a hymn or two. Collect offering. Have a kids story. Sing another hymn. Maybe there is a special item (I still have no idea why we call solo performances “special items” so if someone could enlighten me, that would be great). Then the sermon time arrives. The pastor gets up to the front.

“Happy Sabbath!” he says, enthusiastically.

Two or three people respond out of sync. Everyone else stares on like they are in a trance.

The pastor looks out over the crowd and says it with a louder voice “HAPPY Sabbath!”

If he’s lucky, this particular church has been trained to respond super loud the second time and he can move on. But if they aren’t trained, he comes back with an awkward third:

“HAPPY SABBATH!!!”

At this point, you get a better response. Most likely because the people don’t want to be there all day. But come back the next week, and the same exact scenario repeats. Then next month and next year too by the way. It never seems to end.

Why is this the experience of so many of our churches? Why does the preacher have to act like an MC getting the crowd hyped before a concert? Why do the saints need to be hyped up to begin with? Some people think the problem is the church’s traditional style. If only they switched to a more contemporary style these problems would go away. But I have been to contemporary churches with the same exact problem. Style has nothing to do with it.

Instead, the answer, I believe, lies in a psychological concept known as “state”.

A state is essentially frame of mind. Think of when you are watching a thriller and you are “on the edge of your seat.” At that moment in the film, as the tension builds, you find yourself in an anxious “state.” Any sudden noise and you practically jump out of your seat. Or think of being at the beach with friends. It’s night time. There’s a bonfire, a guitar and marshmallows. Everyone is sitting back enjoying the care free evening, singing together and laughing. What state are you in? Relaxed. Composed. You feel free. (In fact your state may have changed ever so slightly just by reading and imagining that scene). Or how about a nice dinner with friends? You are eating some good food and having a laugh. Everyone’s state is happy, content. Then suddenly, a person none of you like and who wasn’t invited to the dinner walks up and says hello. All of a sudden previously happy people feel awkward. The state has changed.

There is nothing particularly weird or amazing about this. It’s how we are as humans. Our minds can move in and out of states. You can be depressed and a friend lifts your mood. They take you out of one state into another. This is what Solomon had in mind when he wrote, “Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.” (Proverbs 12:25) In other words, an encouraging word can change a persons mental state. It can pull them up from a gloomy place into a cheerful place.

Now back to our question. Why is your church service so boring? It’s not because you sing Hymns instead of Hillsong. Its not because you are traditional or not entertaining enough. You don’t need more jokes, more high paced videos or a louder band. No. Your church is boring because from the moment you gather you collectively feed a boring state.

In other words, a boring church is boring because of state, not style. Style is not the issue. State is.

Let’s go back to our original scenario but change the state. Imagine getting to church and out in the parking lot are cheerful welcome signs. Maybe even cheerful parking attendant (if necessary). Then you walk in and are greeted by cheerful people who don’t simply hand out bulletins but they ask questions, they comment on your new hair due, your nice tie or ask where you are from and how they can make your guest experience as wonderful as possible (supposing you are a guest). At this moment, without changing anything else, you have already changed everything. Those who arrived are now going into Sabbath School and the church gathering in a cheerful state. Regardless of how they walked in, you have placed them into a mental state capable of spreading cheer to others.

Imagine walking into Sabbath School and you are greeted warmly. Someone even offers you their seat. The conversation is safe, warm and inspiring.

Then you go to the main service. The announcements, song service, tithe and offerings - all of it is done in a spirit of praise. The person who announces the songs smiles. They share a Bible promise from the week that spoke to them. They offer a short word of encouragement.

All of these small, simple changes - smiling, warmth, energy - create a state of mind in people. But have someone get up to the front with a sombre spirit and drag their feet through “we… will… now sing the hymn… number 323… please stand” and the state changes again. And if that’s what people have gotten in the parking lot, in the foyer, in the Sabbath School and all throughout the worship gathering then that’s also what they are going to give.

Your church is not boring because of its style. Its boring because of its state.

And by the time the pastor gets up and says “Happy Sabbath” no body responds because everyone is in a state of boredom. Now some people think this is normal because they are conservative and sombre and they think this is the way its meant to be. But spare me the hoopla. God didn’t invite us to gather together for that. And the reason why the preacher has to force some excitement out of the crowd is because they are BORED. Their minds are in a state of boredom. They are not inspired to be there. They are not excited to be there.

And its got nothing to do with your style. Its got everything to do with your state. Change your state, starting with the parking lot all the way through every aspect of the church gathering, and you will have a room full of people who are inspired to be there every week, month and year.

Now of course, creating a positive state at your church is not something that can be forced - not unless you want to end up with a bunch of phoney people pretending to be all cheery when they cant stand each other. There are other things that need to be addressed for a change of state to be an authentic step and not a gimmick. As a church leader, you need to identify those in your context as they aren’t all the same. But once you do, make sure you include a step in which you address the states that are nurtured at your gatherings and create a change of state from the parking lot all the way to the altar.

Because if your church is insanely boring, chances are its got nothing to do with its style and everything to do with its state. If you change that state, your church gathering will gradually become the most inspiring experience of your week.

Colonialism, Costumes & Compliance: A Millennial Take on Annual Council with Pastor Nelson Fernandez
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The biggest talk in Adventist town right now is Annual Council 2018.

Seriously, head over to the Adventist Review, Spectrum Magazine or Adventist Today and among their latest articles you will see multiple posts dedicated to what took place at this often boring event.

And in case you need a quick snippet to pike your interest, the main topic of the event was “What does the GC do about non-compliant Unions who go against a world vote?” (in this case, its obvious the topic is Womens Ordination). The proposal was to approve a new compliance document which gives the GC more power to enforce compliance in the world church. As you can imagine, this was pretty controversial.

Now if you have no clue what the Womens Ordination debate in the SDA church is about, then seriously, you may have landed on the wrong blog.

Anyways, that’s basically the main theme of this years annual council. Its controversial. People are mad about it. And some have even hinted at a possible split in the church.

So I decided to do something out of the blue.

I called my friend and host of Nelsonsblog.com pastor Nelson Fernandez and had a conversation with him about all the craziness of Annual Council this year and we recorded the whole thing!

We discussed:

  • Some of the key happenings including the “lets dress up like our pioneers” thing (yeah they did that beards and all)

  • Colonialism, Euro-centrism and irrelevance at the local church level

  • The controversial compliance document

  • Plus, what do these things mean for the local church?

All this from the perspective of two millennial pastors (that’s us) who love their church and want to see it thrive.

Check out the episode below and let us know what you think!

The One Thing I Would Change About Church with Jessica Shipton

A few weeks ago, I asked Jessica Shipton - an Adventist millennial and host of the Smile Without Reason blog - to share the one thing she would change about church.

Because Jess represents the one demographic local churches struggle to retain, I wanted to know!

Her answer totally blew me away.

Not only was there depth to what she had to say, there was also power in what she did not say. When elaborating on the one thing she would change about the church, this Adventist millennial said nothing about how fun church is, how cool the band is or how hip the pastor dresses. Instead, she opened up her heart, dug real deep and shared something that I believe represents what most Adventist young people today are thinking.

I am confident that if we pay attention to what Jess shares and implement it in our local churches, we can change our culture from one that loses young people, to one that attracts them.

So what is the one thing this Adventist millennial would change about the church? And how can I implement this in my church?

Check out the latest podcast interview to find out!

Check out Jessica Shipton at:

www.smilewithoutreason.com

www.instagram.com/smilewithoutreasonblog

www.facebook.com/smilewithoutreasonblog

Pastor MarcosComment
Why We Need to Change Our Message, Not Just Our Method
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I’m sure you have heard the following saying a thousand times: “Change the method, not the message.”

The phrase simply means that there are things as Christians that we can’t change - like the message of the Bible - and things we can change - like how we deliver that message. While the message itself is timeless and changeless, the way we deliver that message shifts and evolves over time.[1]

The problem church leaders often encounter is that, when attempting to change the method they get accused of trying to change the message. For some reason, some people see any deviation in method as a step toward apostasy. In a recent article, I suggested having churches that gather at a different hour on Sabbath besides 11 AM. As you can imagine, some folk accused me of trying to change our theology of Sabbath even though I never suggested such a thing. In my defence I appealed to the “change the method not the message” phrase as I have done countless times in the past.

And to be honest. I do still believe that this is the way to go. However, in recent months I have begun to rethink this idea and am now approaching it with more nuance. While I believe the message of the Bible is timeless and changeless there is a sense in which I think we need to change our message.

At this point, some of you may be horribly confused and possibly even alarmed. If that’s the case, relax. I don’t have any tantalising heresies to bring to the table today. Just keep reading.

During the past month I have noticed something during my social media binge sessions. Many of the Adventist pages that I follow have been consistently publishing this message:

“The seventh day is the Sabbath, not Sunday.”

 

 

Now of course, I agree. It was true yesterday, it is true today and it will be true tomorrow. But here is what troubles me - this message, true as it may be, is utterly meaningless in today’s post-Christian culture.

When Adventists first proclaimed the Sabbath message the majority of our listeners where mostly Protestants with a very high regard for scripture and the Ten Commandments. As a result, many already kept the first day (Sunday) as Sabbath. The message that the Biblical Sabbath was not on the first day but on the seventh and rooted in a continued protest of Papal oppression had value. Our listeners, most of who (once again) were already Sabbath keepers, found relevance in it because it spoke to an active part of their already active faith life.

We live in an increasingly post-Christian society.

However, we no longer live in a wold where the vast majority of people are Christian. Instead, we live in an increasingly post-Christian society which means no one gives two hoots about whether the Sabbath is on Sunday or Saturday. The entire conversation, to them, is a non-issue at best and a colossal waste of time at worst. While the “Sabbath is on Saturday” message may have had meaning to a culture that already kept some form of Sabbath, it is meaningless to a culture that never even heard of Sabbath. The vast majority of our post-Christian society has never even set foot inside a church or opened a Bible. In fact, many of them don’t even know what a pastor is.

So when I see present day Adventists constantly pushing this message of “Sabbath is Saturday not Sunday” my immediate question is - who are you talking to?[2] Is it our increasingly secular society? Because if it is, they have no idea what you are talking about. Is it to the emerging post-truth, post-church meta-modern generations? Because if it is, they hardly know who Jesus is (apart from a swear word) let alone what day the Sabbath is.

See here’s the real problem. There are too many Adventists that have zero contact with anyone outside of Adventism. We talk to ourselves about ourselves until we are full of ourselves and the whole time we have no idea what people out there are really, truly in need of. We need to change our message because what we are saying isn’t connecting at all.

Now of course, I am not suggesting we pull an emergent church relativist spin on the Bible and completely alter the narrative of scripture to placate post-modern sensibilities. What I am saying is that the message we proclaim must come from the Bible but must also be meaningful to the people who hear it. Sadly, most of the topics I have heard Adventists get all riled up over (change of Sabbath, secret rapture, speaking in tongues, human nature of Christ) are things few outside our faith community have any interest in. So while the message of the Bible is changeless, the parts of that message that we emphasise need to be relevant to our listeners or else… they ain’t listening.

Don’t believe me? Let’s just look to Jesus for a moment. Christians love preaching the gospel using the phrase “you must be born again”. It leads all our gospel presentations. But do you realise Jesus only ever used that phrase once and never again? He spoke it to a Jew who believed his natural birth as a descendant of Abraham qualified him for heaven. Jesus message to him was, “you must be born again.” (John 3) But when Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, he didn’t use the born again language. Instead he told her that he was the living water and whoever drank of him would never thirst again. (John 4) Then, in the very next chapter he tells the healed paralytic to “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you” and to the pharisees “you refuse to come to me to have life”. (John 5) In other words, he preached the same message, but it was also a different message. The foundation was the same, but the emphasis was different. To one he emphasised rebirth to another he emphasised satisfaction, to another he gave a warning and to another he presented himself as the true source of life. We see this same pattern of preaching the same foundational message in diverse ways throughout the Bible. Salvation is presented as adoption in one place, as reconciliation in another, as forgiveness (using the picture of debt and debtor), Jesus as the unknown God, and yet again, Jesus as a recapitulation from first Adam to second Adam.

So here is my point. The narrative of scripture is changeless. But the message we extrapolate from it and present to the culture has to change over time the same as our method. Today, the world still needs to hear about the Sabbath but it needs to be presented from a different Biblical angle to what our pioneers found meaningful. I have found that presenting the Sabbath in terms of anti-consumerism, social justice and equality (as some examples) connects much more effectively. I have yet to share the Sabbath with a secular person who then turns around and asks what day its on. They see it in the Bible. They like it. They move on. The argument over the day is utterly meaningless to them.

Now to be clear, this article is not about how we should present the Sabbath. Please don’t get hung up on that. I only used the Sabbath to illustrate the larger point that its not just our method that needs to adapt to diverse times and cultures but our message as well. While the foundation of what we believe and teach will never and must never change, as our understanding grows, as God reveals more, as language evolves, and as time and cultural trends shift we must be prepared to adapt our message as well in order to speak present truth into the hearts and minds of our listeners in a way that will capture the attention and lead them to Jesus.

To wrap things up, here are some basic examples of how I preach the same foundational message while preaching a different message at the same time.

Sabbath: When speaking to post-Christians, I present it in the frame work of the Old Testament minor prophets emphasis on social justice and on the overall theme of God’s desire to be with us. The increasing popularity of holistic lifestyles also makes for a simple inroad to discuss the Sabbath. Basically, if you approach the Sabbath religiously you have lost them. If you approach it relationally, you have an audience.

The Pre-Advent Judgement: The book of Daniel has an overarching theme that is very anti-empire, a sentiment many millennials gel with. The Investigative Judgement culminates as the beginning of the end of human empires (including the institution of the church), oppression, coercion and injustice.

The Gospel: The idea that in Jesus all our sins can be forgiven and we get a free ticket to heaven doesn’t connect with post-Christians whose high regard for justice goes unsatisfied. In addition, this generation has witnessed a church culture that sings cheesy songs about how forgiven it is while simultaneously mishandling (at best) and perpetuating (at worst) abuse, rape, male dominance and mistreatment of the LGBT community. Therefore, this culture is less interested in how forgiven they can get to squeeze into heaven. They want to know that God’s justice is just. As a result, I present the gospel as a dynamic, progressive restoration to creations original love design rather than a “I’m so bad but Jesus is so good he gives me a free ride to heaven” narrative that they find repulsive. This does not mean I deny the beauty and truth of justification by faith which is the foundation of Christian faith, but I am careful to present it in a more holistic way.

End Time Events: For Adventists, end time events tend to revolve around the Pope and that’s basically it. I still believe this. But for the culture today, the Pope is a foreign figure. While Luther lived in a society that was perpetually conscious of the church and its influence over conscience, politics, law and existential inquires today the culture is by and large unconscious of the Roman Church. As a result, I begin with the 1260 days and describe the oppression of empire, including the church as a violation of human rights. From there, I progress into Revelation under the same theme of injustice and present the Roman Church as playing a role, among all other oppressive empire systems, in what will be the greatest humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen - a universal regime of oppression at war with God’s kingdom. I also present the remnant church theme as a rebellious, underground movement of anti-conformists who protest in favour of God’s kingdom of love, equity and justice.[3]

State of the Dead: This is one doctrine that hasn’t required an awful lot of rethinking. That is because millennials and post-millennials tend to have a high interest in supernatural, metaphysical themes (see the book Meet Generation Z). The popularity of New Age, mystical and eastern ideologies means that questions over the human soul are still very relevant. However, because this study touches on the original holistic design for human consciousness I also find it opens the door to conversation on how God relates to gay marriage, transgender rights and gender fluidity.

While there are more examples, I think I have made my point pretty clear. It’s not just our method that needs to change. It’s our message as well. Not its foundation but certainly its contemporary proclamation. And all of us can do this. All it takes is stepping out of our SDA bubble and becoming students of, and friends with, the culture. As we engage in conversation and pour into understanding their value structures we will be more capable of presenting a message that meets their interest instead of parroting stuff people stopped caring about a long time ago.


[1] Biblical examples of method shift are clear. Paul, for example, spends a whole chapter in Acts laying the theological foundation for why circumcision is no longer necessary and then in the very next chapter, he has Timothy circumcised before going to see the Jews. Likewise, when speaking to Jews Paul makes ample use of Old Testament history while, when speaking to the Greeks he utilises a combination of a simple gospel message and their own poetry and religious practices. The tension over adapting method, while quite apparent in scripture has been contentious in post-reformation Christian history. For example, John Wesley was criticised immensely for preaching outdoors instead of in a church despite the numerous examples of Jesus doing so.

[2] Adventists who say their target audience is other Christians when they promote the message “Saturday is Sabbath, not Sunday” are also out of touch with the broader Christian world. While this message may still be met with interest in some circumstances, the vast majority of times it is discounted as a legalistic obsession. In addition, while most protestants in the days of early Adventism were sabbatarians (they believed the Sabbath command still applied, albeit on Sunday) today, most Christians are not sabbatarians at all and do not believe in any solid theology of Sabbath whatsoever. Therefore, discussing the change of the Sabbath with them is about as meaningless as discussing it with a post-Christian. Instead, the Sabbath must be approached as a celebration of the salvation story in order to be met with a positive reception that opens the door to further dialogue. The most basic reaction to the message “Sabbath is Saturday not Sunday” in both Christian and secular circles is essentially, “so what?”

[3] Some may be thinking that all I have done here is taken outmoded theological frameworks and bathed them in contemporary buzzwords. But this would be a caricature of what I am suggesting. While we do need to use new words to communicate truth, my contention is that we need to paint a whole new picture of that truth. Growing up, for example, the picture of the remnant church at the end of time was an isolationist picture bathed in religious ideas but absent of any real social impact. As I have rethought this doctrine, as well as all the others, it is not simply the language that I use to communicate it that has changed but also the big picture I see the Bible presenting and how that relates to contemporary issues. The isolationism and sectarianism of remnant theology I was taught has been replaced with an inclusivism that brings the concept to life, for example.

Do Adventists Stink at City Ministry?

In his recent Adventist Today article, “Do Adventists Understand Urban Ministry?” pastor Zack Payne wrote the following (among many other cool things):

Every time ministry to the cities is brought up in an Adventist context, the well-meaning saints come out of the woodwork with this or that Ellen White quote to the effect that yes, we can minister to the cities, but we’d better not live in them.
— Pastor Zack Payne

Zack then goes on to express how this model is faulty and doesn’t work in today’s urban context. And I agree! Are we contradicting Ellen White (things are getting spicy here!) or is there a side to this story that hasn’t been told?

The article was so insightful (you can read the whole thing here), that I decided I had to give Zack a call and interview him about his thoughts and experience as an urban pastor.

You can catch the whole interview below.

Let us know your thoughts!

To Contact Pastor Payne:

USA 920 609 0483

pastor@racinedistrictsda.org / www.racinedistrictsda.org

Referenced Articles:

https://atoday.org/do-adventists-understand-urban-ministries/

https://thestorychurchproject.com/bloghost//2014/08/city-dwelling-vs-country-living-brief.html?rq=ellen%20white

Why the Local SDA Church is Failing
why adventism (10) Cropped.jpg

This week, I want to do something different. Rather than an article, I am sharing a video of a sermon I preached at the Livingston SDA Church in Western Australia a few years ago titled, “Why the Church is Failing”.

Be sure to share your thoughts below!


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