Posts tagged Discipleship
Why the Modern Church Has Failed

I grew up in a traditional church that was more interested in hanging on to its formalities than it was in open-mindedly assessing why it was losing its youth. My own youth group was quite large but by the time we had reached 18 the vast majority of us had walked away from the church. As a result of these experiences I have, for a long time, been quite interested in the topic of youth and church.

Enter the modern church. Among many other things, the modern church was an attempt to create a church culture that was both attractive and retentive of its youth. However, after many years of going down that road we are still publishing books on how youth are leaving church in droves. It appears the modern church has failed.

But why? The answers are as complex as the problem, but allow me to present a paradigm that I believe contributes, perhaps more than any other reason, to the youth exodus that plagues churches everywhere.

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Before I do so, allow me to dissect the church into three chunks. The first chunk we will call the "heart beat" of the church. This is what gives the church its life, breath and relevance. In other words, the heart beat is the purpose of the church. The second chunk we will call the "muscle". This is what enables the church to live out its purpose. In an Adventist local church this would include- in part - the "business meeting" (most powerful meeting in the church which involves every church member), the "board meeting" (where appointed leaders of the church meet to implement the decisions of the church and to steer the church through representative decisions) and "ministry meetings" (where ministry leaders of diverse ministries get together to plan for the year). In other words, the muscle of the church is its system. The third chunk is the cosmetics of the church. This is the stuff everyone sees like the age of the building, its cleanliness and it's upkeep. But this also involves the church's style like its dress code, its musical niche, its interior design etc. In other words, the cosmetics of the church is its style.

Now that we have divided the church into these three chunks allow me to introduce what I believe is the major problem with the church today. Jesus gave the church a heart beat: the great commission. This task to make disciples of all nations is why the church exists. It is its purpose. The muscle of the church is thus fully employed in bringing this purpose about. And the cosmetics of the church adapt to the different cultures and generations that that particular local church is speaking into. However, at some point in history the church seems to have lost its heart beat. Once it lost its heart beat (making disciples of all nations) it became obsessed with itself. As a result the muscle of the church switched from an outward focused system set up to facilitate the accomplishment of the great commission to an inward focused system set up to keep the church members happy. The end result of this was churches that cared little of how they were perceived in their communities and instead focused on keeping one another happy. The cosmetics of the church thus evolved, not as a tool for speaking into culture, but as a celebration of nostalgia.

Then one day, a well meaning member realized that all the youth were totally not clicking with church. So this well meaning member spoke with another well meaning member and together they decided something had to be done. What can we do to attract and retain our youth? They asked. And the answer was always the same: We have to make church cool.

OK, maybe no one ever used those exact words. But that's what it all boils down to. Most of the modern church is ultimately concerned with being "cool" enough so that its youth feel comfortable and perceive the church as relevant. But it hasn't worked. We are still publishing books and funding research on the "youth exodus issue" and church leaders across the board know that youth are still leaving. In addition, the modern church's attempt has become the object of scorn both in the church and in the culture the church is supposedly reaching. Check out the video below, by Nick Thune, which communicates exactly how many secular post-moderns perceive the church of today.

This video is both hilarious and sad. Hilarious because the dude is funny! Sad because the modern church has become so predictable, shallow and "cool" that it can be so easily caricatured and ridiculed. And the worst part of it all is it hasn't worked.

But why? Well, here is my theory. Remember the whole heart-beat, muscle and cosmetic thing? When the church lost its heart beat its muscle became useless and its cosmetic gradually lost touch with its culture. When well meaning members decided to seek a solution, however, rather than go to the core of the issue and fix that (the church had no heart beat) they simply tweaked the cosmetics. But what do you get when you wash a tomb white? You get a white washed tomb. Its pretty on the outside, but inside its still full of dead men's bones. So what do you get when you take a church that has no heart beat with an atrophied muscular structure and simply change the cosmetics? You get a church that's pretty on the outside, but fundamentally it is still dead, irrelevant and useless. It only takes the youth (who might be initially attracted by your coffee bar and contemporary Christian worship band) so long before they figure out that your contemporary church is, apart from the cosmetics, no different to the traditional church that they ran away from. It's still boring. It's still irrelevant. It's still exists for nothing more than the appeasement of its own membership. It has no lasting, impacting or legitimate reason to exist. And without that heart beat you can change your cosmetics all you want and you will end up with nothing more than a shallow and cheesy version of Christianity that hardly resembles the world changing movement Jesus intended us to be.

Am I against the cosmetics? Of course not. There's nothing worse than walking into a church and it feels like you just stepped back 100 years. There is nothing worse than churches who clearly have no interest or knowledge of the culture and its language. But here's my point - the cosmetics should be the result of having a heart beat. They are not the thing that causes it. Change them all you want, but it wont revive your church, keep your youth or attract your neighbors. But a church with a heart that beats for the broken and lives to share the gospel to its community by acts of mercy, justice and service is a relevant church that will impact its sphere of influence for decades to come.

Lets be that kind of church.

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ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A DIFFERENT KIND OF CHURCH?

My Top 3 Frustrations as an Adventist Pastor
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I have been in full-time ministry now for four years. However, I have been involved in volunteer ministry for well over a decade. I started preaching when I was 17, and since then I have also done youth ministry, worship ministry, health ministry, evangelism and outreach. So while I have titled this post, "My Top 3 Frustrations as an Adventist Pastor" what I share has been on my mind long before I became one.

At the moment, our church is hashing it out with various issues that impact us worldwide. There is lots of heated debate on the union and conference levels over things like authority, ordination and hermeneutics. And while these massive debates can be frustrating, the truth is they are not anywhere near my top 3. Rather, those spots are reserved for issues that are much smaller, and yet arguably more important. So here are my top 3 frustrations as an Adventist pastor:

1. Our desperate need for a giant caffeine overdose.

No, I don't promote the use of coffee but don't miss the point. While coffee isn't exactly good for you, sometimes I wish I could spike everyone's potluck juice with two or three Allmax caffeine tablets. Maybe then we will find the energy to actually get up and do something?

OK, so maybe that's a bit polemic, but hear me out. At nearly every church I have ever been to, the pattern is identical. Eighty percent of people are mere spectators while twenty percent invest themselves year after year in service and mission (this is why no one gets excited about being in the Nominating Committee). And I'm not the only one. Most of the pastors I talk to have the same drama. And no one seems to know what the solution is. It's like many of us are super content to just show up, watch the church leaders do their thing and then go home. With that kind of culture, there is just no way the church can ever grow.

However, I have concluded that the current state of member involvement has less to do with the members themselves and more to do with a church structure that doesn't encourage involvement on any level. So it's not simply our members who need an Almax, our leaders need a double dose themselves. Maybe then we will find the energy to finally recreate our church structure into something more empowering? 

Solution:

Adventist leaders need to stop pretending that the 80/20 principle is normal. As already mentioned, I personally believe it is the result, not of lazy Christians (though that's there too) but also of a system that is designed to encourage passivity. We need to restructure the way our churches operate to encourage and reward involvement. 

For a simple approach to restructuring your church for missional success, check out the 7-day video course "The Church Optimizers Online Course." To gain access, subscribe here.

2. Our Forgotten narrative.

Adventism has the most beautiful theological system I have ever encountered. And believe me, I have studied many of them. Calvinism, the Westminster Confession, the Second London Baptist Confession, Dispensationalism, New Covenant Theology, Arminian-Wesleyanism, Catholicism and on and on. And in my estimation, none of those theological narratives are as compelling and beautiful as Adventism. But most of our members seem to be totally unaware of this. It's like they have forgotten, or perhaps never really known, what our story is.

On the other hand you have those who haven't forgotten what makes us unique, but have taken that narrative and divorced it of Jesus. This results in the imbalanced and repulsive theology so prevalent in many Adventist circles. And what do you get when you have a group of people who have forgotten Jesus in their story? You get a bunch of bored folk who argue and bicker about all kinds of dumb stuff. When we lack vision, we perish.

Solution:

I wrote a book on this titled "Why is Adventism So Weird?". You can download it here, read it and share it's challenge with your church family.

3. Our Severe lack of excellence.

I don't know if this is just a Sevvy thing, but boy do I see it a lot. Somehow, there is this cultural pattern among us that settles for mediocrity. Our churches look atrocious. Our services are boring. Our ministries are vague and uninteresting. Our Sabbath Schools are irrelevant. Our corporate worship vibes are substandard. Our websites, if we even have one, look like they were designed in the 90's. And if you ask me how many churches I have been to with a carpet that was laid in the 70's I honestly can't remember. I have lost count.

Sometimes we try and baptize our lack of  excellence with religious platitudes. "It's all about the Holy Spirit" or "All we need is the truth, not these other things" etc. etc. And I agree that those things are most important. But since when did they become excuses for mediocrity? If anything, they should be motivations for a greater commitment to excellence. After all, it was the Holy Spirit who enabled artists to design one of the most compelling ancient works of art - the Hebrew sanctuary.

Solution:

If you iron out the first two points made above, a commitment to excellence will follow naturally. Church members need to come to the realization that we are not there for ourselves. This can only happen if we restructure our local church to promote a missional culture and begin celebrating our narrative in that process.

So there you have it guys! Top 3 frustrations as an Adventist pastor. Do you have any (with solutions)? Share them below!

How to Become a RELEVANT Church
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What does it mean to be a Relevant church?

Is it all about having an edgy building, slick graphics on all your designs, a pastor in skinny jeans with tattoos and a cool band? Or does Relevance go way deeper than all of this?

Is "Relevance" reserved only for big, wealthy churches? Or it possible for a small Adventist church with outdated facilities and limited budget to become a Relevant church? If so, then how? What is the secret?

These are the questions we tackle in this months Pomopastor Podcast interview with pastor Ben Tavao, a leader and practitioner in the pursuit of relevance for Adventist churches..

Listen below!

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Check out the New Sermon Series!

HEART-SEARCH: DISCOVERING THE HEART OF GOD

3 Ways Adventist Churches Fail Parents
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Are you a parent?

If so, I dedicate this weeks blog to you. Because I too am a parent, and I have to admit - it's not easy.

But let me start with a quick illustration to set the foundation for what I will say next. When I was in Army basic training I noticed something interesting. The training itself wasn't actually that hard. I had been a wrestler in high school and when it came to physical training, I found that ten times harder. And yet, basic training remains one of the most difficult things I ever did. The reason is simple: sleep deprivation. Somehow, everything gets 20 times harder when you are sleep deprived. Tasks that you would normally be able to do with relative ease, become nearly impossible.

But basic training isn't the hardest thing I have ever done. Parenting is. Because now you can add emotional deprivation to your sleep deprivation and suddenly, the simplest tasks become overwhelming. As Emily Morrice noted in her article, "Moms with Hands Full Need the Church"

With young children, everything is more difficult. 
— Emily Morrice

That includes church. If something as simple as leaving the house or getting inside the car becomes ridiculously difficult with kids, can you imagine going to church? If you are a parent, you don't need to. You already know - its insane.

But here's the thing - even though life is difficult with kids there are ways to make things easier. There are all kinds of tools and resources to alleviate some of the stress. Nowadays, there are even barber shops designed just for kids with airplanes and fire engines for them to sit in during their hair-cut. It's genius! But in my estimation, when it comes to making worship meaningful for the family, the local Adventist church is generally way behind. Here are 3 ways in which we fail our families and what we can do better.

1. Stares and Comparisons

There is nothing worse for a parent than a kid throwing a tantrum in church. Oh wait, yes there is something worse. A kid throwing a tantrum in church with everyone staring and no one offering to help. Yep. That's definitely worse. And it happens all the time.

But I can also think of one other thing that's worse. Parents asking church leadership to think of ways to make the church experience easier only to be met with "Well, when I had little children we did it like this" or "My kids never acted like that". The message behind these comparisons is clear: "You are not as good a parent as I was because if you were you wouldn't be having any problems." But this is nonsense. Kids are different, some high energy and others low. And parents are different as well and have different stress limits. Comparing is a sure way of saying, "We don't really care about you."

The solution to this is a cultural shift and cultural shift only happens in conversation and relationship. Many of our churches lack in relationship (In Natural Church Development surveys, Adventists consistently score low in the "relationship" side of things) and this is the only real way to change culture. But this is a long journey. In the meantime, I encourage pastors to find ways of speaking possitivity into this space either through sermons, comments or a church email newsletter. I also encourage churches to create a space for parents to gather and worship together and to find an advocate for those parents who can develop ways of making life easier for them. This can be either an individual or a committee specifically assigned to that task (if the situation calls for it).

2. Substandard Parenting Rooms

I don't know how many Adventist churches I have been to with substandard parenting rooms. Whether they are way too small, under resourced, isolated from the main service or difficult to enter and exit with a pram the message these rooms communicate is "you aren't that important to us".

Churches, especially the older ones, need to prioritize a renovation budget and plan for their parents room and make it a space that nurtures the parents church experience rather than hinder it. If a renovation is out of the scope of reality, there are still other things that can be done. The bottom line is this: Most local SDA churches don't have a lot of budget invested in the children's department and yet, these are the ages where kids are already cementing their decisions for Christ. For example:

The current Barna study indicates that nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%)...
— Barna Research

In light of this, we need to invest way more in our kids ministry than we do anywhere else.

3. Lack of consideration

I don't know how many times my wife has said to me, "why do I even come to church?" The kids don't listen, act up the whole time, which means she cant listen, worship or do any church thing. She either ends up sitting in the substandard parenting room or takes the kids to the car and sits there until I'm done preaching. Grant it, part of the problem is she doesn't always have my help because I have to preach. But I have spoken to many other parents who tell me the same thing. Some go to Sabbath school, and then leave right after because, whats the point of even trying to go to the main service?

At this point some people pipe up with the old, "If you don't take them, how will they learn to sit in church and behave?" Let me tell you why I absolutely despise that argument: because its d.u.m.b. 

I have seen plenty of people come to church for the first time ever with their nine or ten year old kids, and the kids sit perfectly still. They had no practice or training whatsoever. But hey, they were so well behaved! Know why? Because they are old enough to sit still. This whole, "you need to drag your 3 year old into this horrendously boring experience every week and then get mad at them and tell them off for not doing something a 3 year old is not meant to do anyways so that they can learn to do it" is utter nonsense. The real problem is our church services are never designed with kids in mind. They are designed to meet the needs of adults who favor a verbal-logical learning style (ignoring other learning styles such as visual, aural, physical and social). As a result kids, as well as teens and youth, tend to get bored. But for me, the worst part is seeing young moms who are single and seeking God come to church and have to leave early because their kid threw a tantrum. So this isn't simply an inreach issue, its an outreach one as well.

My suggestion is, we need to develop worship gatherings that can speak to every learning style and make life easy for parents with kids. A church designed exclusively for the verbal-logical doesn't have room for kids. They are a nuisance because they are loud and don't sit still. But a church gathering designed to incorporate movement, visual art, social interaction and sounds is a good place to start. Alternatively, a children's church running alongside the main service can work as well. But my main point is this - make the incorporation of children in worship an active and intentional part of your worship planning. If you take that first basic step, you will find and develop solutions that work in your local context.

Comment Questions

What other ways can local Adventist churches make church more meaningful for parents of young children?


Sources:

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/moms-with-hands-full-need-the-church/

https://www.barna.com/research/evangelism-is-most-effective-among-kids/

Top 3 Adventist Church Growth Myths
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Click here for video version.

Click here for audio version.

Do you want your church to grow?

I hope your answer to this question is a resounding "yes". Because if it isn't, seriously - what gives?

Of course, you may be skeptical about the church-growth movement with its "seeker-sensitive" approach and that's OK. You don't have to like that model. But you should still want your church to grow - not for the sake of measuring numbers like some corporate entity, but because God himself wants this. The apostle Peter makes this clear when he said, 

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
— 2Peter 3:9

God wants to save everyone! So should we.

But here is where things get weird. Regardless of how Adventists relate to "church growth" there seems to be a set of myths that accompany us when it comes to this topic. So in today's post, I want to talk about the top 3 I encounter in the many conversations I have on this topic.

Myth #1: God doesn't care about quantity, he cares about quality. 

The idea behind this myth is that God isn't interested in numbers joining the church but in true disciples who are walking with him. While this is true, the main problem with this statement is that it posits an "either-or" mentality. The truth is, God is interested in numbers as well! In fact, as we saw above he wants to save everyone. And the Bible uses growth language repeatedly to reflect this:

  • Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41)
  • The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)
  • But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. (Acts 4:4)
  • After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9)

Of course, God doesn't care about numbers in the sense that a corporate marketing department does. He cares for each of us personally. We are not metrics to him, but family. However, there is a sense in which he cares about the growth of the church and celebrates it. So here is the truth: God cares about both quantity and quality. So should we.

Myth #2: My church can't grow because its too traditional.

This myth is often accompanied by a series of other myths such as:

  • We need a contemporary church service or we wont grow
  • The people in this church are too conservative. Until they change the church will stay stuck.
  • If only we could modernize our music and service style, the church would grow.
  • Our youth are leaving because they find the service boring. We need to make it more hip.

You get the point. And here is the problem with this myth. First of all, after reviewing lots of different surveys conducted by Barna Research and Natural Church Development I have found zero correlation between contemporary music and church growth. Youth retention studies have also found that the issue of music doesn't even make it to the top ten reasons why youth leave or stay. Seriously, you don't need a contemporary church service to grow. There is no conclusive evidence to demonstrate that (and this is coming from a guy who loves contemporary worship).

The other problem with this myth is that it creates a practically unsolvable problem. Unless we can somehow convince every single Adventist on the planet that they need to be contemporary then we simply wont grow. If we tried that approach, the church would be locked in ideological warfare for the next 100 years. Seriously, the worship wars of the 90's are so over. Contemporary worship is nice, but it's not a hill worth dying on. You can grow your church without it.

I am currently pastoring two traditional churches. While the work there has only just begun both churches are showing signs of revival and growth. And we haven't changed a thing about their traditional culture. Instead, we have focused on what really matters: peoples lives. So here is the truth: When you focus on developing a positive and inspiring culture that impacts the lives of people, your church will awaken and grow.

Myth #3: All we have to do is be faithful to the truth and God will take care of the growth.

Yes and no. Yes. We have to be faithful to the truth. But no, God will not magically grow the church just because we are being faithful to the truth. I don't know how many Adventist churches I have been to with this mentality and rather than growing they are dwindling. 

The fact is, God gave the administration of the church over to human-kind. He blesses it, leads it, guides it and empowers it. Without him at the helm, we can do nothing. But when it comes to administering our resources and reaching the lost - he gave that task to us. We are the ones that have to plan, devise methods, develop strategies and put in the hard yard to get the work done. Yes, be faithful to the truth. But do more than that. Develop a simple and effective plan for how you are going to reach your community and get to work. Here is the truth: God is not going to administrate the church for you, that's your job. Your church clerk is not going to receive an email from heaven with a detailed community outreach plan for your church. You have to do it. And if you don't, get ready to age and die.

These are the top 3 Adventist church growth myths I have encountered. What myths have you encountered? Share them in the comments below.

Replacing Tradition with Creation
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When it comes to the conversation of Adventism, the church and our struggle to fulfill the great commission one word comes up more than any other:

TRADITION

Yep, that's right. I said the "T" word. A word which, in some sectors of Christianity is almost a cuss-word. A word which invokes emotional responses that vary from warmth and appreciation to disgust and aversion. I have concluded that no conversation on mission can ever occur without a season of wrestling with the "T" word.

Now here's the thing I have learned. Tradition is not a bad thing. Everyone likes it. Traditions are nice. They help create artistic and meaningful expressions of faith that we can celebrate. The problem emerges when tradition morphs into commandment. When the church comes to the place that it is unwilling to change, adapt or evolve on a non-essential simply because we have "always done it this way". And the end result of this attitude is missional ineffectiveness.

Don’t be a traditional Adventist. Be a creational Adventist. 

The only solution is to replace tradition with the powerful, theologically intense foundation of creation. If we, as a church, model our ministry and culture after God's creative heart we will be constantly creating new traditions that are meaningful to emerging generations and cultures. Its not about doing away with tradition, its about subverting it to a theological commitment to creation.

In other words, don't be a traditional Adventist. Be a creational Adventist. 

The best part is, there is already a huge movement of creational Adventists sweeping the church. This month, I interview a young, up-coming millennial pastor at Avondale university on  his vision for the future of Adventist evangelism and how creativity can restore missional effectiveness to our church. Check it out below!

To check our Lachland Harders project on creativity, visit The Worship Collective.

5 Types of Adventist Churches that Need to Go Extinct
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If you have followed my blog for any number of months you probably found it hard to miss the fact that I am freakishly in love with Adventism. That doesn't necessarily mean I am a fan of the local SDA church through. Adventism is a story and the local SDA church is the organization that is committed to telling that story. The story I love. The organization - not always.

Now allow me to clarify. I am not one of these anti-institution people. I do believe that institution has its place and I like it so long as it stays in its place (a dif topic for a future post). But sadly, the institution can, at times, step into a lane it doesn't belong in and when it does the story gets muddled. Below are 5 kinds of Adventist churches that get in the way of Adventism.

1. The "We're It" Church

Ever been to a church where the people feel like they are the only faithful Adventists left? "We're it" is the message you get when you go there. This kind of mentality breeds big heads - people who think way more highly of themselves than they should. It also breeds lots of complaining and whining about "those other churches", conspiracy theories about pastors and church leaders and unhealthy seperationism. The problem with these churches is they are so caught up in how right they are (and how wrong everyone else is) that they don't have the capacity to be missional.

2. The "Way-too-Faithful" Church

I once belonged to a church (that shall remain nameless) that was obsessed with being faithful to God. Now, allow me to be really clear here. There is no way to be "too faithful" to God. All Christians should aim to be radically faithful. But this church was different. It wasn't simply being faithful to what God had said. It wanted to go beyond what he had said. It would be like a husband telling his wife, "I will always be faithful to you and never run off with another woman. In fact, I will never speak to any woman ever again!" That's what you call being "way too faithful" which in all honesty, is not faithfulness at all.

Sadly, most western Adventist churches I have been to are like this. This is the result of two things. 1) The natural human inclination to focus on our own works and, 2) The work of independent ministries who market directly to peoples fears and insecurities. These ministries, all competing for the same churches to bring them in, have to develop unique selling points that appeal to the minds of people. So most of them operate off a "warning message" kind of marketing that makes people feel that there is this new spiritual danger lurking around that they need to be warned about. The end result is a culture of distrust that stunts the church's missional capacity.

3. The "By the Book" Church

This is the kind of church that is so committed to doing things by the book they could care less about anything else. Are the youth leaving? Have we baptized no one in 3 years? It's all good. We are sticking to the book and that's all that matters.

If you try and raise a discussion about adapting or innovating the way the church functions in order to facilitate discipleship and mission you get shut down quick. There is no flexibility. "We must do the right thing even if everyone leaves" they will say. Sadly, 9 times out of 10, the things they are being so rigid about are nowhere to be found in the Bible. These churches would do well to redefine their culture with Paul's words: "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God" (Acts 15:19).

4. The Nostalgic Warriors Church

A few years ago I was part of a nice and friendly church that shall also remain nameless. They spent years raising money for a new building and when they finally got it everyone was excited. The building was modern and had plenty of growth potential. But despite the new building, everything else remained exactly the same. The culture, structure and function of the church was not adapted in any way to facilitate growth. An ancient lectern was placed at the front of this modern church building that I feel captured the ethos of that community well. They were too in love with the way they had always done things and nothing was going to get them to change.

5. The "We're So Tired" Church

These churches come in two flavors. The mission-less flavor and the missional flavor.

The mission-less flavor kind are the ones that invest all of their time, energy, resources and focus on in-reach. You look at their yearly calendar, scan through the treasurers report or simply hang out with them for a week and you will discover these people place 99% of their church emphasis on themselves. They are tired of evangelism, outreach and mission. So they stop talking about it.

The missional one is different. It tends to be a reaction to all these other churches. Rather than recover the beauty of Adventism for everyone to see, these churches tend to assume that the problem with all the other churches isn't simply their structure but Adventism itself. They are so tired of the legalism and rigidity that they conflate those experiences with the Adventist worldview and then take the doctrines they don't like very much and store them away in the basement. The ones they do like they emphasize till they are blue in the face. The problem with both of these churches is that they are ineffective when it comes to the mission that gives Adventism its identity.

All of these churches, in my estimation, need to go extinct. Some will probably die a natural death since they have no life in them anyways. But if we are not careful, the cycle can repeat itself with different colors. Satan doesn't want the church to succeed and he has a thousands tricks up his sleeve to stop it. And the only solution is for the members, leaders and pastors of the local Adventist church to focus on Jesus and the mission he has given us at any cost to ourselves.

Rather than dying on the hill of tradition, live on the hill of innovation. Enter into eternity knowing you did everything so that by all possible means you "might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Why is Church So... Blah?
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Have you ever felt like church just doesn't seem to matter? I mean, its cool and all. It's not like you are angry at the church or with anyone in particular. It just seems as though the only major thing that would change if you stopped going was how you spent your Sabbath morning which is quite often kind of, well, blah...

If you have ever felt that way, consider yourself totally non-weird. Many people, especially in today's generation, feel that way. In fact, many pastors feel that way and I am definitely one of them. I'm not a huge fan of "church" and there is so much about it that I simply don't connect with.

However, there is something weird about all this. Whenever I read about the church in the New Testament I get stoked. I especially love the book of Acts which chronicles the journey of the early church. But for some reason that sense of excitement hasn't always transferred into my local setting. It's almost as if there is a big difference between the church in Acts and the church in my city. One is pretty cool. The other is... blah?

But why do we feel this way? Is it because the Acts church was perfect? Not at all. They were messed up. In fact, the New Testament testifies to how messed up the early church was (one church even had a guy hooking up with his stepmother!). They were certainly far from perfect. Is it because the Acts church was trendier? No. There were no hipsters then. They didn't even have a Snapchat account.

And yet, when I read about the church in Acts one thing is clear. They lived and died for the kingdom of God. They impacted the world around them. They were a force to be reckoned with. If you left the church, it wasn't just your Sabbath morning that changed, it was your everyday life that changed. Church wasn't simply a tack on to the week - a religious ritual to adhere to. Church was a movement, a way of life, identity, purpose, and the force that was responsible for ushering in the kingdom of God. Perhaps few have said it as well as Francis Chan:

Church today has become predictable.... You go to a building, someone gives you a bulletin, you sit in a chair, you sing a few songs, a guy delivers maybe a polished message, maybe not, someone sings a solo, you go home.

Is that all God intended for us?
— Francis Chan

I think that closing question is one all of us can relate to. And yet, here is another question. Is there hope? Can the modern church go back to its roots? Can we restore what it means to be the church?

I believe the answer is Yes. However, it will never happen if we all sit around and wait for the leaders to do it. Leaders are amazing, but they also have a lot on their plate. The typical pastor is dealing with interpersonal tensions in the church, administration challenges, families going through crisis and theological controversies threatening the church's unity. If you think you can just tack on "church revival" to his or her list of things to do, then make sure you get a comfy chair. You are going to be waiting a while. 

My belief is this. Pastors need to commit to church revival yes. But it begins with the everyday church member. You are the one with the power. Most pastors will support any initiative for church revival and optimization if they know there is a core group in the church already working in that direction. But if they are the ones who have to initiate and run the entire thing, its often impossible.

So I want to challenge each of you to go against the current. I want to challenge you not just to be counter-cultural in this sinful world but to be counter-cultural in the church. Stand up and make a difference. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Don't be discouraged. Yes, the church is quite often comfy and doesn't want to do much but that should not surprise us. Jesus told us the tares will remain with the wheat until the final judgment and the book of Revelation also predicts the Laodecian phase of the church. It's to be expected so don't let it wear you out. Fight for change knowing that God is on your side. 
  2. Don't complain. Do something! Leaving the church because its dead, or gripping about what is wrong with it wont do a thing. Instead of criticizing the church lead the church. Critics may have good points but they are all yap. Leaders on the other hand zip their lips and get to work. 
  3. Find your passion in building the kingdom of God and milk it for all its worth. Get books on it. Watch videos or read stories of other people who are doing the same thing. Get stoked! And get to it. 
  4. Surround yourself with people who feel like you. Yes, they can be hard to find. I get that. But the beauty of the modern age is, if you cant find anyone locally you can still connect with people who share the same burden all over the world. Join a Facebook group! I currently host a group with over 300 members called "Adventist Evangelism & Church Optimization Group" where we share, inspire and challenge each other. Join us here!
  5. Start a ministry. Anyone can do this. You don't need permission. Start it and get people plugged in. Take advantage of the networks you built in step 4 to gain wisdom, insight, and encouragement. On the other hand, consider joining an existing ministry if you have the chance. 
  6. Remember your circle of influence. God hasn't called you to change the entire world. He has called you to be faithful to your particular circle of influence. So stick to that or else you will burn out. 
  7. And lastly, keep yourself entirely connected to Jesus. After all, its his kingdom we are building not our own. 

If each of us where to do this we can begin to restore a sense of relevance, purpose, and fire to our local church. It's certainly not easy but nothing of value in life ever is.

Note: This article was originally published at www.livingstonsda.church/livo-blog

12 Ideas for Reviving Your Local Adventist Church
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One of the most common complaints I run into from Adventists who want to see their local church do amazing things is this: "No one cares."

In other words, optimizing the local church is exhausting because they are the only ones who are pursuing this goal. Everyone else is content to just sit there and do nothing (best case scenario) or constantly get in the way of progress (worst case scenario). Over time, these passionate Adventists burn out and give up. It's just way too hard.

But allow me to give you a bit of perspective. Before I do I have a question. If you lived to be 80 years old, how many weeks of life do you think you have left? Think about it. Say the number out loud. Or write it down.

According to Facebook Analytics, the vast majority of Adventists engaging the conversation on church optimization are millennials. So lets go with someone 28 years old. If they lived to 80, that's another 52 years of life (even if they lived beyond 80, a persons influence usually starts to drop significantly by then). Now multiply those 52 years by 52 (the amount of weeks in a year) and you will arrive at 2,704. 

In other words, if you are 28 years old today, you only have 2,704 weeks of life left. Half of it is spent sleeping. 

Go back to your original answer. Was it anywhere near close? Maybe, maybe not. But here is the point. You don't have a lot of time. If you are older than 28, your have less weeks. And if you are younger, you don't have significantly more. In fact, a baby born today will only have about 4,000 weeks before they turn 80. Our life is, as the Bible says, "a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14).

The question is, what will you do with that time? How will you invest your vapor of a life? Will you make a difference in God's kingdom? Or will you allow the negative attitudes of others to stop you from doing what you have been called to do?

I hope you choose the first option. However, here is where I need to introduce a challenge. When I joined the Army at 18 years of age, I quickly learned the following phrase: "Work smarter, not harder." Solomon the wise put it this way:

If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.
— Ecclesiastes 10:10

Sadly, many church members and leaders I know who want to optimize their churches do not know how to work smart. They have a passion to see God's church grow into a relevant and world-changing movement and they go in, full steam, only to be met by opposition. So they tackle and blitzkrieg their way through. Sometimes they succeed. Most of the time they fail. All of the time, they burn out.

As church optimizers we need to learn how to work smart, not hard. We have to sharpen our axes so that cutting the tree down requires less strength. Below are 12 tips I have picked up along the way that have enabled me to make a difference in the churches I serve without burning out.

1. Find the Pain-Point

Here's the thing. Everyone has a pain point. Its human psychology. All of us have one. And the number one way to find support in a local church is to find the pain point of that local church. What is it that hurts so bad they are willing to do anything to fix or prevent it? You can tell a church "change or your youth will leave!" or "change or the church will die!" and they wont even bat an eye. So you assume these people just don't care. Not necessarily true. The problem is that "youth leaving" and "church dying" are your pain-points not theirs. Those are the things that motivate you to act. But they don't motivate them. So if you want support, you have to start with their pain-point, not yours.

How do you do this? You have to sit down with people and ask them the right questions. Listen to their stories. Ask them how they became Christians. Ask them how God has led them. And ask them what they fear the most for our church. That final question will give you an insight into their pain point. Then, after you have heard a few stories, craft your invitation to church optimization as a solution to their fears and pain-points. Not yours. 

2. Get an influencer on board

As you work to discover the pain-point in the church, identify who the main influencers are in that church as well. You don't need everyone on board. You just need the main influencers. If they buy into the church op. process, everyone else will follow. So make sure you get close to them and build strong relationships with them. Once they are on your side, the rest of the journey is super easy.

3. Become a sniper

Snipers are some of the deadliest and most feared combatants in the modern battlefield. They can take out an enemy a mile away without ever being spotted. The job of a sniper is simple, to take out one target at a time. They are never focused on more than one. They focus, shoot and then move on.

If you want to optimize your church you need to become as focused as a sniper. Dont try and do too many things at once. Develop a road map. Put your end-of-the-year goals down under December and then work your way backward. How will you achieve those goals? Every month of the year should have no more than 3 goals that will lead you toward your main goals at the end. Focus on those 3 goals month by month. Sort them out, and then move onto the next. Do not try and do too much at once. At times you will feel like progress is slow. But trust me, slow is good.

4. Ask them why

This one is easy. Try and have a conversation with everyone at your church. If it is a large church, aim for those most central to the movement of the church. If it is a small church, aim for everyone. Ask them this simple question, "Why does this church exist?" And write down their answers. Once you have visited everyone you will realize that 1) no one agrees on why, 2) if they do say the same answers they tend to be cliche and 3) most people will sit there for a while and think before answering which means they are basically making it up as they go. Make sure you record those answers. 

Once you have all the answers, present them to the church or leadership team. Show them how no one knows why the church is there. Create charts from them if you like (10% say this, 20 % say that) and stress that if we don't know why we exist, there is no way the lost people around us will know either. This will motivate the church to develop a clear and simple mission focus they can all unite on.

5. Ask them to grade themselves

Present the following quote to your church:

Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, “Follow Me.”
— Ellen G White

Every Adventist loves this quote. Next, break the quote down into its verbs:

Reach (Evangelism) > Mingled (Fellowship) > Showed (Worship) > Ministered (Ministry) > Bade (Discipleship)

Ask the church to grade how they, as a local church, do in each of these areas using a scale of A to F. If they are honest you may end up with a pretty shocking grading scale. Ask them if this is OK. Once you are done, invite them to enter a season of prayer repenting before God for the way in which they have failed to fulfill his will for their church.

This step is not to be taken lightly and it is not to be treated as some gimmick. This is real, heart-wrenching stuff and only through the agency of the Holy Spirit can it be accomplished. So pray. A lot.

6. Get your ducks in a row

One of the worst things I have witnessed in church is when young people passionate about moving the church forward come up with an idea and present it to the board without having their ducks in a row. Church boards have a lot of stuff to handle, so if you are going to pitch an idea to them, it needs to be well thought through and ironed out.

Start by telling them how this idea will benefit God's kingdom. In other words, "What is in it for the Kingdom?" and make sure you get your main benefit across from the get go. Then, add a personal story that highlights why its important to you followed by a brief description of your project. The #1 thing you want to do when you describe your project is address their fears. For example, if your church is really scared of new trends that they fear will lead the youth astray, stress your commitment to the Bible and the values of your local church. Alleviate their fears and answer their questions before they ask. Finally, transition by addressing finances. How much will this cost? And how will the money be managed? This needs to be well thought through. End by confirming the value of your project and highlighting how it will positively benefit the local church.

Most board pitches I have seen start with a personal pain-point the board doesn't feel, and then proceeds to offer some solution that raises more questions than answers and ends by asking for money. This might work in some churches where the joy of seeing youth involved outweighs everything else, but it wont work in all of them. The sad part is people walk away feeling that the church doesn't support them, when in reality they simply made a proposal that caused more fear than hope. Whenever you pitch to the board, pitch hope.

7. Go with the flow

Remember that the SDA church has a structure for governance. The most powerful meeting at the church is the business meeting. So if you want to make a massive difference, make sure you have followed at least steps 1-5 above and then present your ideas at the business meeting. If you have gained the confidence of your church, you wont have any problems. Recall also that officers are elected via the selection committee which appoints the nominating committee which in turn nominates the new leaders. If you posture yourself as a leader, chances are you will be nominated for a leadership position. So go with the flow. 

8. Light a fire

The best way to light a fire in a local church is to start a small group. Find those passionate about church op. and gather together. Start a Friday night program or mid-week meeting and use it as an opportunity to read through a book or do some training on how to revive your local church. Be careful not to allow a negative spirit to dominate the group. Some complaining may be healthy as people get their disappointments off their chest, but quickly turn to solutions and the hope that we have in Jesus.

As you do this, the members of the group will light up and the fire will spread.

9. Create Memories

The key to intimacy in a church is the same as everywhere else: memories. You have to create memories. That's how people grow close together. So organize events, camps, leadership retreats etc. Have birth day parties for your older members, baby showers for the new moms etc. Making memories is the key to crafting an intimate church family.

10. Preach deep

If you have the opportunity to preach, go deep. Seriously, Adventists are a people of the book. It is in our DNA. Our tribe will never be compatible with the "motivation speech" or "positive thinking" approach to preaching. That stuff can be in your sermons. But make sure they are not the center. Adventism is about pursuing God's heart. And if you go deep, people will respect you.

11. Add, don't subtract

Never see your work as subtracting from what previous generations have done. See it as adding to their legacy. They have gotten us this far and its time we built on their foundation. You are not there to subtract. You are there to add.

12. Plant

All of the above tips will only work in a church that is relatively healthy. They may be dead or dying, but the people are still courteous and reasonable. This stuff wont work in a church hijacked by fanatical leadership and ideologies. If that is your case, check out episode two of the podcast here for some tips. If that doesn't help, you may want to consider moving on. If you have gathered a support group then explore the possibility of planting another church.

Whatever you do, don't give up. You only have about 2,000 weeks to work with. Make them count.

3 Must Have Elements for a Thriving Adventist Church
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In my last few years in full time ministry, first as a youth pastor and now as a senior, I have discovered that there are three must have elements to having a thriving church. The first two, I am sure you have all heard of at some point but the final one I honestly have never seen anyone address before. So, I would like to take some time to do so today. 

So here you go. The 3 must have elements for a thriving Adventist church:

1. Inter-Generational Worship. 

Inter-generational worship aims to foster intimacy and unity between all the members in the church regardless of age/ generation. Its about allowing the gospel to knock down those "baby-boomer VS millennial" walls by bringing us all together to nurture and empower one another.

Growing up, my church always felt like it lived in a perpetual state of "youth VS adults". Any church that has this kind of culture simply cannot thrive. However, there is hope! Research has shown that "warm intergenerational relationships... involving young people in every ministry has allowed... churches to thrive."[1] So how do you achieve this? Kaleb Eisele, founder of Humans of Adventism and social media manager for the Orangeburg SDA church, shares how his church worked to foster this inter-generational connection:

We started out by addressing the age gap first. We dedicated several sabbaths to exploring each living generation and what formed them, then had a Q&A where we got to talk with the members that belonged with each about things we didn’t understand. It was all about understanding each other better, not about who was morally superior. That opened up a ton of dialogue and relationships.

[We had five gatherings], each dedicated to a different generation: Silent, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z. We used available statistics from Pew Research and the Barna Group, and a few books like James Emery White’s “Meet Generation Z.” There was a section for each on historical events that happened as they aged, a second section on trends and tendencies (political views, income trends, employment trends, religious affiliation, etc.). The last section was an open discussion...

The real key here was that it was intentionally open to the value of each generation and their skill sets. We went into this with the mindset that we wanted to work together as a church, but didn’t know how to do that effectively. In the end, a majority senior citizen church decided to support a lot of newer methods, even though they didn’t themselves want to carry them out. That support changed a lot for us.
— Kaleb Eisle

2. Multi-Cultural Community

Multi-culturalism in the church is also about allowing the gospel to break down the cultural walls that divide us. It's about people from all over the world being able to gather together and love one another unreservedly regardless of their diversity. Africans can worship with Asians, and Asians with Middle Easterns, and they in turn can worship with Europeans, Australians, Latinos and so on and so forth. While all of these cultures are diverse multi-culturalism in the church means that we can celebrate our diversity and honor the flavors we each bring to the family of God.

Before I move on allow me to say something I believe is important. A Multi-Cultural church is NOT the same as a Multi-Colored[2] church. Multi-Colored churches happen when a bunch of different cultures exist in one church and tolerate one another. In these kinds of churches, the diversity is not celebrated it is simply endured. Most of the time, the dominant culture ends up setting the tone for everyone else and you are considered a good member if you comply with that dominant tone. This is cultural negation at best, and the residue of colonialism at worst. Multi-Culturalism is about celebrating one anothers diversity, not tolerating it. Churches that are mono-cultural or Multi-Colored will never thrive because they are driven by a sense of cultural supremacy that has no place in the family of God.

Ashlee Holmes wrapped up the value of a multi-cultural church best when she wrote,

Though uncomfortable at times, the pursuit of multiculturalism in the Church isn’t just nice—it’s necessary. We ultimately develop richer, more wonderfully complex views of God and a deeper love and appreciation for one another when we choose to actively participate in one another’s stories that are different from our own, that originate from different places.[3]
— Ashlee Holmes

3. Poly-Expressional Culture

Remember what I said above about the one element that often gets ignored? Yeah, this is the one. So what exactly is it?

Every culture has subcultures. For example, in the USA where I am from there are a myriad of sub-cultures. There is the preppi, upper class culture, street culture, country culture, back woods culture, beach culture and on and on. Here in Australia there are the bogans, the bikies, the surfies and on and on. The point is that each of these subcultures express themselves in diverse ways. They may be from the same overarching culture, but they express themselves differently according to their sub culture. Those subcultures are what I refer to as "expressions".

Why does this matter? Because I have been to churches that have amazing inter-generational worship and are as multi-cultural as they come. It's amazing. The youth groups are strong. The worship service is inspiring. Everyone loves it! Unless...

Unless you are the young emo girl with black lipstick and piercings and people at church keep their distance because you are weird. At that point your multi-cultural and inter-generational gathering becomes exclusive. "You are welcome here, so long as you aren't too odd". Is the message that this girl receives.

Last week, I sat down in McDonalds with a bikie. He wants to follow God and loves the Adventist message but has stopped coming to church. When I asked him why his answer was clear, "I don't fit in". People at church were nice to him, but he was a bearded, tattooed guy with piercings all over his face and hair as long as Rapunzel (OK, I'm totally exaggerating but you get the point). But the real issue is that he came from a totally different world unfamiliar to most Adventists. He came from a world of drugs, women and violence and when he left church in the morning he was looking at another six days of that kind of environment. He eventually concluded that, while church was nice, he just didn't fit in with all those nice people.

Sometimes I feel like our churches are designed to assimilate anyone who is middle class and belongs to a sub-culture that is not too left of center. But the moment someone is, they no longer fit in.

A poly-expressional church is a church that is intentional about embracing and loving on anyone, regardless of their subculture. The preppies don't sit in one corner with the other preppies while the geeks sit in the other side of the room and the hipsters in the sound booth. The bogans don't hang out in the back row while the seasoned Adventists sit at the front. A poly-expressional church breaks down the dividing walls of sub-cultural expressions and makes everyone feel valued, welcome and loved not just "allowed".

So how do you foster this kind of culture in your church? I believe its the same way you foster all the other ones - intentional conversation. You have to name the elephant in the room and have healthy discussion on it. Host a series of afternoon talks on how to build truth seeking relationships with a diversity of subcultures and even highlight some of them and explain what their value structures are. That way people are informed and its no longer the unspoken thing floating around.

These 3 elements I believe are must-haves for any Adventist church that wants to thrive. I pray we can all have the conversations necessary in our local churches to foster this kind of space.

Questions for the Comments

  1. Which of the above is your church doing the best in? And which one needs more work?
  2. If your church has succeeded in one of the above elements (or more) tell us how!
  3. What do you think about the Poly-Expressional element? Do you agree that it is important? Or disagree?

[1] Embree, Christina. "Why Intergenerational Worship? And Why Now?", [Web: https://refocusministry.org/2015/08/17/why-intergenerational-worship-and-why-now/]

[2] Holmes, Ashlee. "Why Multiculturalism Is a Must for the Church" [Web: https://relevantmagazine.com/god/church/why-multiculturalism-must-church]

[3] ibid.

Quote by Kaleb Eisle: Posted as a comment in the Facebook Group "Adventist Evangelism & Church Optimizers Group" [Web: facebook.com/groups/pomopastor]

The One 'Success-Packed' Truth Every Adventist Church Needs

Did you know that there is one secret to building the kingdom of God? This one secret is the only thing that Christian's need to know to build God's kingdom. What is this one secret? First I want to give you an illustration.

One of the military's best land weapons was the infamous tank. Everyone is afraid of the tank. The combination of powerful weapons and thick armor makes it impossible to stop with traditional weapons. So when a tank shows up on the battlefield you run. And you run really, really fast.

The only way that you can effectively stop a tank and make it semi-useless in combat is if you somehow destroy the tracks/road wheels underneath. If you destroy those the tank will still be functional up top, but it will be unable to move and that in many ways renders the tank useless.



Now let's get back to the one's secret to building the kingdom of God. The Seventh-day Adventist Church has a really effective worldwide ministry. We have a General Conference that's made up of divisions all around the world. Divisions are made up of regional conferences which are in turn made up of local churches. This system has enabled Adventism to move into the world with a worldwide mission and narrative that many other denominations can't even dream of. So in a sense, its an amazing and powerful system designed to be a universal voice and it has worked really well. (see video below)



However, when you think about this system it's kind of like a tank. The conferences and divisions are like the big bulky weapons and armor at the top. This is where most of the administrations takes place. This is where most of the legal issues are resolved. This is where a large percentage of our resources are financed and developed. And this is where personnel, finances, real estate and ministry departments are managed. The big bulky conferences and divisions are extremely useful and have served the church well. However, (and here is the clincher) everything the divisions and the conferences do is missionally useless if the local church is not functioning properly.

In other words if Satan wants to put a stop to the Seventh-day Adventist tank the only thing he needs to do is destroy the tracks/road wheels (local churches). If he can get the local churches to stop functioning, if he can prevent them from being successful and from optimizing their ministry to their local setting he succeeds in making the entire tank practically useless in the battle between good and evil.

Sure we can still produce resources like Sabbath school lessons and media of all kinds. We can still hire pastors and administrators, have a very strong legal support system and fantastic human resources running the background business of the church, but if the tracks are not spinning - if the local church is not moving -  then the mission of the church comes to a stand still.

In Ephesians 1:9-12 Paul reveals this: From the beginning of time God has had a secret weapon he would use to defeat evil. That secret weapon is the church. Not the institution we call church (top heavy stuff), but the gathering of broken God-lovers. This secret weapon is made up of messed up people who have tasted the grace of God and are in a transformation journey of love. And it is through them that God seeks to build his kingdom. An institution could never replicate such a thing. The beauty of this secret weapon can only be experienced in the local church. This is why the local church is the most important part of any denomination, especially the Adventist Church. As a worldwide movement we have the temptation to underplay the importance of the local church. Some may depend on the conferences, unions, and divisions to do the work of evangelism. Others sit back and expect the conference evangelist or some other "bulky initiative" to do the work of Kingdom building. Many more depend entirely on the local pastor. And while local churches are certainly expected to take advantage of all of these resources at their disposal, if we are not optimizing our ministries and aiming to be successful then we become stagnant and irrelevant. And its not just our local church that suffers. Once Satan has succeeded in neutralizing the local church then the whole Adventist tank becomes less effective. And the research-data that is coming to us shows that Satan has so far done a very good job.
The one "success-packed" truth every Adventist church needs to know is this: Your church matters infinitely both in its local work and in our global work. It's time we lived like it. The main avenue to build his kingdom is not through the avenue of the top heavy stuff. When it comes to movement and growth it's all about the local church. And while there is some bad news, the good news is this: If we revive our local Adventist churches, it's not just us who will benefit. The entire, worldwide Adventist tank will become more effective at demolishing the empire of Satan and building the kingdom of God.

How cool is that?

___

Quote: As quoted in: Zahid, Adrian. "Beyond the One project: The War Over the Local Church (5a)":https://thecompassmagazine.com/blog/beyond-the-one-project-the-war-over-the-local-church-5a
     ...

Pastor Marcos is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. He also blogs weekly at pomopastor.com