Posts tagged adventistyouth
The Future of Adventist Evangelism (with Lisa Clark Diller)
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The most amazing thing happened last week!

On Friday, I got to spend a whole hour with professor of church history at Southern Adventist Universtity, Lisa Clark Diller! We chatted about nerdy things, CS Lewis (more nerdy things) and the past, present and future opportunities and challenges for Adventist evangelism.

If you love Adventist evangelism but have wondered why it doesn’t seem to connect with emerging generations, you don’t want to miss this episode!

Listen below and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast, leave a review (sooooo helpful!) and share it with your church leaders (also super helpful!)

CONNECT WITH LISA

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To contact Lisa Clark Diller visit her SAU page here: https://www.southern.edu/people/ldiller


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3 Reasons Why "Jesus Loves Me" Is Not Enough
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The title of this weeks blog might surprise you.

Since when is the love of Jesus “not enough”?

Haven’t I consistently written that the love of God is the theme and song of all of scripture? Have I suddenly changed my mind?

The answer is no. I have not changed my mind. I wholeheartedly believe the foundational point of all of scripture is to bring us face to face with the unending and life-transforming love of God. Jesus is the centre and aim of every theme, prophecy and doctrine. It’s all about him, plain and simple.

I wholeheartedly believe the foundational point of all of scripture is to bring us face to face with the unending and life-transforming love of God.

However, here is my point. In an increasingly secular and post-Christian society where emerging generations are exposed to worldviews, philosophies and ideologies that impact the way they understand the nature of being, the meaning of life and the destiny of the human story you and I had better be able to say something more than, “Jesus loves me.”

Allow me to explain. Just a few months ago I read an article (can’t remember what it was called) about a conversation between an atheist and a Christian. The atheist was well schooled and a student of minds such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Friedrich Nietzsche. The Christian was a member of a church where it appeared the only thing anyone ever really talked about was “Jesus loves you.” As she sat face to face with profound existential questions related to suffering, injustice and ethics she found herself unable to say anything beyond, “Jesus loves me.” The atheist walked away underwhelmed by the exchange. The girl walked away flustered by the plethora of questions she was incapable of answering. It was an interactional train wreck.

With that foundation in place, let me now explain the 3 reasons why I believe that “Jesus loves me” is not enough.

1. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology is Weak.

I can’t stand churches obsessed with doctrine. Particularly when doctrine is elevated above Jesus and relationships. However, I have an equal aversion for churches who reject doctrine in the name of “all that matters is Jesus.” Both of these camps are fuelled by people who clearly have no intimate contact with contemporary society.

If you are obsessed with doctrine, with rules and regulations and with unbending theological formulas then I invite you to hang out with some real people outside of your echo chamber. I guarantee, the stuff you think is so clear and important will start to fall apart rather quickly.

And if you are one of these, “just focus on Jesus’ love” people, I invite you to do the same. Explain to an atheist the dichotomy between the love of God and the injustice of the historical and modern church without resorting to cheesy one liners. Explore the nature of being with a postmodern, questions of origin, destiny and identity with an agnostic. See how far a shallow, “all that matters is Jesus love” theology gets you when you look into the eye of a self-proclaimed meta-modernist who wants to understand the logic of your faith but rejects the popular Christian tag lines of the day as reductionist and idealist foundations that function more as escapism than robust ideas capable of speaking life into societies crushing problems. I guarantee you, your “forget doctrine, Jesus love is all that matters” formula wont be able to handle the pressure.

So reason number one is that a “Jesus loves me” theology is simply too weak to interact with the complexity and agony of the human experience.

2. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology Misses the Love of God

The love of God is the central theme of all of scripture. But that theme isn’t revealed in romanticised poetry. It’s revealed through profound metaphors, archetypes, and narratives arc’s known as doctrine. Thus, while the central theme remains the love of God, the doctrines enable us to explore that love in technicolor. A doctrinal system that overlooks God’s love totally misses this. But a focus on God’s love that rejects doctrine is doomed to forever remain shallow and consequently, it misses the very thing it claims to celebrate.

3. A “Jesus Loves Me” Theology is Corny

Doctrinal systems that ignore the love of God tend to be self-focused. Churches in this mindset are all about “right teaching” but often ignore “right action”. The end result is churches that will rush to condemn someone who steps out of their theological box, but that remain silent in the face of issues like discrimination against women, racism and the systemic suffering of the poor and marginalised in their communities.

However, a reductionist “Jesus loves me and that’s all that matters” worldview is just as incapable of fuelling individual and social transformation. As a result, we end up with churches filled with young people whose theology doesn’t go much further than the latest “Jesus loves me” worship song. This is not only a denial of discipleship in which Jesus instructs us to teach “everything” (as in, you know, ‘everything’) but a recipe for a corny faith that is incapable of sustaining our youth as they grow and encounter challenges, disappointments and attacks against their faith. In light of this, I am not surprised when Barna Research reports one of the reasons why young people leave church is that “[t]eens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.”[1]

Barna Research reports one of the reasons why young people leave church is that “[t]eens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.”

So then, what solution is there? I propose two things. First, we need to develop a simpler, more relevant understanding of our own faith that is likewise profound. This can only be accomplished by revisiting our theological narrative with the goal of re-experiencing it and contextualising its depth and beauty to the questions and needs to modern generations. Second, our churches need to develop discipleship strategies where our members, youth and guests can grow deeper in their experience with God in a step by step fashion that includes theology, service and missional living.

To help with this journey, I have written three books for church leaders and members. The first one, “How to Study the Bible with Postmoderns” is free and will give you insight into living missionally in our secular society. The second is “Weirdvolution: Adventism for a Post-Church Generation”. This book explores Adventist theology in depth but also in simple language. The objective of this book is to help you redesign your personal faith and also your church’s culture from either doctrine or non-doctrine focused to a truly Jesus centred expression of faith that has explanatory and applicatory power in post-church culture. The third is titled “The Hole in Adventism: Making Total Sense of the Old & New Covenant”. This book also explores Adventist theology in depth with a focus on Jesus and how the tension between the Old and New Covenant can bring our churches a renewed passion for the story we have been called to tell the world.

Regardless of whether any of the above resources work for you or not, here is my invitation - don’t settle for a cheesy expression of faith when there is so much beauty we can rediscover and offer to our broken culture. Search for that beauty. Equip your young people to search for it as well. And lets work together to bring Christ to a culture increasingly isolated from the profound story of his love.

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[1] Barna Group. “Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow,” [Web: https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/]


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Should Adventist Churches be Involved in Social Justice? with Nathan Brown
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Should Adventist churches be involved in social justice?

If we do get involved, how do we avoid getting sucked into politics?

Isn’t social justice an ideology driven by the political left? How can I serve the needs around me without getting swept into supporting ideas the Bible doesn’t gel with?

These and many more questions are answered in the long awaited podcast interview on social justice and the local Adventist church. I am joined by Signs book editor Nathan Brown to discuss one of the most important topics of our day.

Check it out below and don’t forget to subscribe and share! (Also on iTunes and Spotify)

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Connect with Nathan:

  • Get his latest book at: falafelsandfollowingjesus.com/

  • Facebook: bit.ly/2ueQDlq 

  • Email: nathanbrown@signspublishing.com.au


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How to Do Evangelism in a Post-Christian, Secular Society with Shelley Poole
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I am so incredibly excited I can’t contain myself!

This week, I am releasing an interview with artist and missional enthusiast Shelley Poole where we talk about evangelism in a post-Christian, secular society. This is one of the most fun interviews I have ever done! Not only is Shelley super engaging and knowledgeable but she also brings her experience as an artist in touch with the culture and its contemporary conversations.

Here are some of the things we talk about:

  • How far behind is the SDA church in the cultural conversation? And how can we catch up?

  • What are some things we commonly do as a church that turns the culture off? Let’s name them so we can learn from them!

  • What are some things we can do to adapt our evangelism to the current cultural milieu? Plus a whole lot more :D

If you are an Adventist member, pastor, administrator, president, evangelist, youth leader, or just about anyone remotely interested in reaching post-Christian society, you don’t want to miss this interview. Listen and subscribe below! (Also on iTunes and Spotify)

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Connect with Shelley

design@shelleypoole.com

twitter @shelley_poole


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5 Things I Love About Adventism
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One thing I do often (and by often I mean very often) is challenge the Seventh-day Adventist church - particularly in the West - to… well, to do better.

Whether I am calling our local church structures to be redesigned for mission, provoking our cultural quirks and questioning their utility, or disputing unhealthy theological frameworks that exist among us the message is fundamentally the same: we have to be better.

But this week, I decided I would pause the revolutionary broadcast to share 5 things I love about Adventism. So here goes:

  1. I love our theological trajectory. I could go on and on about this, but in short Adventism is a theological narrative that is not about Adventism and I love that. Instead, Adventism is a story about God, his heart and his love, centred and strung together in Jesus. But the best part about it is that our theological narrative is not set in stone but constantly unfolding and developing. Yes, there are those among us who would prefer a more stringent, creedal kind of Adventism but its just not in our DNA. As a result, we remain committed to scripture rather than a statement of beliefs. And that commitment, I believe, has enabled us to develop an understanding of the love of God no other theological system around can match. No, that’s not a very politically correct thing to say. But hey, I wouldn’t be an Adventist if I didn’t believe there was something eccentric about what we have to say.

  2. I love that we are Historicists. Historicism has been challenged for forever by people outside and inside of our church. Today, there is a whole new gang of voices repeating the century old attacks (with some new developments I must concur). And that’s fine, I mean, everyone is entitled to their own thing right? But for Adventism, Historicism is an apocalyptic interpretive method that has transcendent efficacy. Now, I don’t pretend that it’s a perfect method, that we have it all figured out, or that it can’t be misused (because it can and is). But Historicism provides us with a kind of sociological significance unmatched by alternative methods. For example, Historicism gives us a narrative that manifests the injustice of religio-political empire in a way that is not immediately self evident. This gives us a foundation to diverge from the collective pursuit of utopianism and the ever trending move toward social reform via church-state legislation. Instead, Historicism calls us to a kind of theological and ideological remonstrance on the one hand, and social preparation (as opposed to reformation) on the other. This approach is rooted in our view of human empire, which even when united with God’s kingdom ultimately self destructs as Daniel and Revelation so aptly reveal. It is also rooted in the denial of a coming golden age for humanity. Instead, Adventists see a coming catastrophe that cannot be averted by political manoeuvres. Our mission is therefore, to prepare the world for this climactic zero-hour in which the only righteous Kingdom will abdicate the throne of humanities global res publica. Sadly, other common interpretive methods of Daniel and Revelation point in the opposite direction by envisioning a coming era of righteous human dominion which in turn leads to political power grabbing in the name of righteousness. This, Adventists believe, is the precursor to a manifestation of religious intolerance and injustice of apocalyptic proportions.

    In addition, Historicism is the only prophetic interpretive method that unveils God in action throughout the entirety of human time. Even during the Dark Ages where it appears God took a vacation (as Morgan Freeman put it in the movie “Bruce Almighty”), Adventisms apocalyptic consciousness helps us understand his presence and movement even in the darkest pages of the church’s sordid story, including the chapters yet to unfold. It’s also cool that we are the only Historicist denomination left. Some people see that as a sign that we are the only idiots left in Christendom. I see it as a sign that we are the only anti-conformists left. Of course, at the end of the day my love for Historicism is rooted in the text and not in whether I think its neat or not, but explaining that will take more space than I allotted for this short post, so I’ll move on.

  3. I love our global structure. Despite all the challenges created by having an intercontinental and cross-cultural institution I honestly can’t think of anything better. Now some of my more post-modern, anti-institutionalist friends find this appalling. They wonder how someone as forward thinking as me can be so fond of our global structure. After all, all those super cool non-denom churches are as neat as they are because they keep all the tithe in house. Why can’t we do the same? My answer revolves around the pragmatic idea that while cynical anti-institutionalism has some value it falls flat when it comes to the practical needs of a global mission. The fact is, Adventism has a message that must go to the entire world. If you believe that, then you need an institution to facilitate that mission. Those who reject the institution are often only interested in reaching their immediate, local region. But Adventism doesn’t have a regional message, it has a global one - for every person on earth. So the bottom line is, we need a global structure. Now of course, I applaud the voices that say the institution needs reform. It definitely does! But that doesn’t mean we should abandon it. The fact remains that if we have a global message, we need a global presence and the level of organisation needed for that sort of thing demands an institution. And because I accept the premise that we have a global message, then I embrace our global structure as a needed tool to that end.

  4. I love our health message. Yeah, there’s always the annoying people who are like super gung-ho and fanatical and no one likes them. I get that. Even non-Christian vegan hippies have their weirdos who will chop your head off for daring to eat your sweet potato quinoa salad in a plastic container (HOW DARE YOU??). But despite this wacko-reality, the health message is one of the coolest things about Adventism. It’s rooted in the idea that human beings are holistic creatures whose spiritual, emotional and physical nature is intertwined like the rhythm, melody and harmony of a musical composition. When they flow well together, something beautiful happens both at the individual and collective level. Even other denominations have started to pick up on the value of a holistic approach to the human as opposed to the dualist approach that has governed classical theology and given birth not only to generations of Christians with little care for physical well being, but also to doctrines like eternal torment that have driven scepticism to the heights of influence it enjoys today.

  5. I love our potentiality. Because of Adventisms theological trajectory, its apocalyptic consciousness, global structure and holistic view of man I believe its future potential is beyond anything we have yet imagined. While our beliefs exist outside our church, they do so sporadically - here, there and everywhere. But in Adventism, each of these elements coalesce to form a movement and a story unheard of in the world. And the moment that we lock into that, get excited about it and refuse to allow tradition, fundamentalism and narcissism to get in the way of it that is the moment that we will sweep the world with something grand. Our potential is overwhelmingly exciting and I pray and hope for the day it is unveiled for the world to see.

What are some things you love about Adventism? Share your thoughts below!

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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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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

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[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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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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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!

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

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


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!

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.

The 1 Thing Adventists Don't Care About (And It's Killing Us)
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Why is the local SDA Church dead?

I hear this question a lot. In fact, this entire site is dedicated to dissecting this question in search of solutions. And while I am no guru and would never pretend to have “the” answer, there is one thing that I believe lays at the foundation of it all.

But there’s a problem.

The one thing that seems to lay at the foundation of it all happens to be the one thing no one really seems to care about.

At this point you must be thinking - bro, what in the world are you talking about?

I’m happy to answer that question, but first I need you to decide whether or not you want to keep reading. This article has nothing to do with SDA church structure, strategy, logistics, culture, administration, leadership or evangelistic/disciple making pathways. It has nothing to do with outreach, innovation, creativity, methods or adaptation. It also has nothing to do with pastoral skills, the challenges of secularisation, post-modernism or emerging generations. Those are the things I have found most Adventists care to talk about. But this article is about the one thing many don’t care about. And this one thing is the fuel to all our other issues. This one thing we keep ignoring is killing us.

Well, since you are still reading I’ll take that as a sign that you have decided to stick around. I’m going to introduce a basic overview of the problem and then below I am going to offer a book that I have written which digs way deeper than I can in this short blog. For the time being though, let me paint a picture for you of the one thing Adventist’s don’t care about that also happens to be killing our missional intensity.

I want you to picture a bookcase. It’s one of those old ones, made entirely of wood, and it’s really tall and wide covering the entire wall. The case is stacked with books. Every book happens to be a story about the meaning of life. And every story is different. Some are thick, 800 page volumes. Others are short, 100 page novels. But again, they all answer the same question (the meaning of life) but tell entirely different stories with entirely different answers to that same question.

As you picture that bookcase, I want you to imagine people coming to the bookcase. Everyone who comes is searching for answers to the meaning of life. Some are old, some are young. Some rich, some poor. When they get to the bookcase they are confronted with hundreds of stories - all of them offering their own narrative - and they choose one, sometimes two or three and read the books hoping to find meaning.

Now I want you to walk right up to the book case and begin reading the book titles. One book is titled “The Path of Buddhism”. Another book is titled “The Way of Islam”. Still another is titled, “In the Footsteps of Abraham” and another, “The Wisdom of the Vedas”. As you scan the book titles you discover that all of them are religions, philosophies and ideologies. Every book on the book case is essentially a story attempting to answer the same question but all telling different stories with their own unique contribution to the search for meaning.

Next, you arrive at the Christian section but instead of finding one book, you find a whole ton of them. “The Puritan Path”, “The Baptist Confession”, “The Methodist Quest”, and on and on. Each of these books represent different perspectives on the search for meaning - for God. They each tell a different story and offer different insights into that adventure.

Finally, you arrive at a book titled “The Narrative of Adventism”.

It’s there among all the others. But here is my question to you - is there anything in that book that merits it being there? Does that book have anything to offer, anything remotely important to say that no other book is saying? Does that one book deserve to be its own book? Does it have anything meaningful, compelling or beautiful that no other book on that bookshelf has? If the answer is no, then why was the book even written? Why add to the confusion of those who already have to sort through so much by adding an unnecessary story to the shelf? But if the answer is “yes, it does have something unique to say”, then my question is - what is it about this book then that is so unique? What does it say that no one else is saying?

This I have found is the one thing many Adventist’s today don’t seem to care about. When it comes to the question of Adventism’s uniqueness - what it is we have to say that is so eccentric and needed - very few people seem to really, truly care. On the one hand, I find people who think they already know. They think its the Sabbath, or the truth about hell, or prophecy. On the other hand, there are people who find the question offensive. They want Adventism to be like everyone else and the very suggestion that it may have something unique to say is interpreted as arrogant. Both groups are dead wrong.

Now don’t get mad at me. After all, I gave you the option of opting out of this article 8 paragraphs ago. So if you are still here, it’s your fault (wink, wink). But here is my point. The 1 thing Adventists today don’t seem to care about is why we have a book on that shelf. Seriously, if we are saying the same thing everyone else is saying with a few slightly nuanced doctrines (which by the way, every SDA doctrine exists outside of the SDA church in some shape or form), then that means we are nothing more than an unnecessary distraction for those on the search for meaning, for God or for truth. And if that’s all we are, then missional intensity makes no sense. We have nothing to say to the sojourner. Nothing to add to the conversation. Nothing to offer the wanderer.

The Adventist story is a story that is not about Adventism.

That’s some pretty serious stuff. And that’s why our churches are dead. It’s not simply lack of strategies, innovation or creativity. It’s not simply traditionalism or closed-mindedness. That’s the stuff we like to talk about. But if we really want to revive our churches, we need to dig deep into the thing we don’t like to talk about. The thing that makes us uncomfortable. The thing many of us don’t want to admit and its this: Adventism has something eccentric to say that no one else is saying and it is oh, so compelling, so overwhelmingly beautiful and so profound that if someone pulls this book off the shelf they will find what their heart is searching for. And it has nothing to do with us, our history, our culture or institutions. The Adventist story is a story that is not about Adventism. It’s a story about the heart of God that no one else in all of religion, philosophy or ideology is telling and it is exactly what our culture desperately needs to hear.

Now maybe the reason why some of us don’t like to talk about this is because there is a long history of people in our church who use the uniqueness of Adventism in a narcissistic and arrogant sort of way and that’s totally not what I am advocating here. But at the same time we have to recognise that there is something about that book on the shelf - there’s a story that’s being told there about the heart of God that you simply wont find in any other book. And you have to believe that if you want your church to have passion for mission. We have to discover our story - a story that’s not really about us.

OK. I have made some pretty bold claims but have not defended any of them. Well, that’s because I wrote a book that does just that. In this book I go in depth and explore the weird, crazy story that Adventism tells and why its so unique and needed in our world, especially today. I’m so passionate about what this book says that I am donating 10% of every sale to ADRA as a way of supporting the work our church does by telling the story we have been called to tell and making a meaningful difference in peoples lives. If you would like your own copy, you can get it below and read it on your phone right away. I promise you, after you read this book you will never again wonder why our story is on that shelf and why what we have to say is the foundation of our missional success.

So here is my conclusion. You will never revive your local SDA church by simply focusing on small groups, missional strategies and leadership skills. If you want your church to be on fire, you have to go to the core of why we exist and what story God has called us to tell. If we rediscover that story - a story no one else is telling, then everything else will flow naturally.


Why I Don't Want to be a Historic Adventist
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"I miss the good ol' days of the church."

"I wish we could go back to the way things were."

"I want my church back!"

Chances are, if you are an Adventist, you have run into phrases like this. In fact, you may even have said them. In my early twenties I went through this "the church is lost" phase where I looked at anything new, different or innovative with suspicion. In my mind, all the churches were going down the path to perdition. If only we could shape up and go back to the way things were - the days when the church was solid, committed and righteous.

In my head, I thought these feelings were evidence of my faithfulness to God. I interpreted my commitment to the church's past era as a sign of my allegiance to all that is holy and good. Those who disagreed were - well - deceived. But little did I know that I was actually caught up in the sin of idolatry.

In the book of Numbers, we encounter Israel travelling through the desert. But there are no Instagram stories for this journey. Instead, there is a whole lot of moaning, protesting and criticising of God and Moses. As a result of their whining, the story says, "So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died." (Numbers 21:6)

As the people were dying, God sent the following instructions to Moses: "Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” (8)

The story is simple. The people are dying from the snake bites. God provides a solution for them. That solution is a bronze snake (verse 9) attached to a pole. Whoever looks at it will live. The serpent was not magical. It healed only through the miraculous power of God. Thus, in a broad sense the serpent represented God's continued blessing and presence with his rebellious people.

Fast forward about 700 years and the Israelite King Hezekiah goes on a campaign to purge the land of idols. As he sweeps across on his righteous crusade, something interesting takes place. 2 Kings 18:4 has the story:

 

He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made...

 

Pause. Let that sink in. Hezekiah destroyed "the bronze serpent Moses had made." This invites the question, How dare he? Didn't Hezekiah know that this bronze serpent represented God's continued blessing and presence with his people? Hadn't he read his Bible? That through this serpent God had healed rebellious Israelites and given them a second chance? Did Hezekiah have no respect for the history of his people? No regard for God's past dealings with his chosen nation? Why would Hezekiah desecrate such a valuable piece of history? Why would he dishonour such a rich icon, over 700 years old, that stood as a testament of God's past acts? 

The answer is very simple. Just keep reading the text:

 

...because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.

 

In other words, that which once stood as a symbol of God's continued blessing and presence with his people had become an idol - an object of pagan idolatry and false worship. The implication is a clear one: Even the good things God has done in our past history can be perverted into objects of idolatry. Even a blessing can be twisted into a curse.

I am not the kind of guy who thinks the church should just blindly accept every new thing just for the sake of it. Neither am I an anti-traditionalist. I think traditions are good, meaningful and necessary. However, I don't venerate them as though they were God himself. And to be honest, I do think some of us do. While some try and defend their allegiance to tradition with a cloak of faithfulness to God, I fear that often times our refusal to evolve and adapt is rooted in our idolatry of a past era. We worship the church of yesteryear as though it is our saviour. We idolise the ways of our forefathers as though they are our standard. We venerate, adulate and exalt the former ways as though God is not here today, right now, in this new generation doing a new thing. Like the Israelites we take that which was once a blessing of God and turn it into a curse.

About four years ago my wife and I were scolded because we dared to suggest that, due to the patterns of life in our current generation, a church that gathered in the afternoon instead of the morning might actually be a neat thing to try. The person who scolded us used all the same arguments. "This is how we have always done it." "The church doesn't need to change." "You guys are going to lead the church astray." And so on and so forth. We gently challenged the idea by appealing to two facts. First, the morning gathering is not mandated in scripture. Its just a thing we have always done. Second, we are not changing anything other than the hour we gather. There is nothing holier about 11 AM as opposed to 3 PM and a later service may open doors to reach people who could never attend a morning service. For example, there are more people working night shift today than ever before which means there are millions who are not even awake at 11 AM on Sabbath because they only got to bed at 6 or 7 AM that very morning. A huge part of our population is therefore missed by our refusal to adapt. The morning service may have been a blessing in the past but, if clung to religiously, it can become an idol and a missional curse in the present).[1]

Ed Stetzer said it best, "If your church loves a past era more than its current mission it loves the wrong thing." 

If your church loves a past era more than its current mission it loves the wrong thing.
— Ed Stetzer

I couldn't agree more. And while this might be a bit rough allow me to speak freely and humbly. I often run into this idea of "Historic Adventism" being some sort of pure Adventism that can be found by going back to a certain era (pioneers for some, 1950's for others). The idea is that the way the church was then represents the best of who we have ever been and if we want to be pure again we have to go back there. But to be honest, I am always confused by people who say they are "Historic Adventists"[2] as though adhering to a past era is a test of faithfulness. I'm not interested in being a "historic" Adventist. I'm not even interested in being a contemporary Adventist. I want to be a Biblical Adventist. 

Being Biblical means I can be in the here and now, interact with the world I live in and speak life to contemporary reality while still being one with Jesus. I can keep my eyes focused on the mission he has called me to be a part of instead of day dreaming about the past or having nostalgic fantasies of a bygone generation. To such who feel this way, may I remind us that the church is a living organism, not a museum.

So here is my challenge today. Don't idolise bygone generations. God has led us in the past, yes. He has blessed our efforts in the past, yes. He has done awesome things through us in the past, yes. And we can learn tons from our past. But we must not revere it. God is here today, in the here and now and he is doing a new thing. Let's be a part of that. Let's add to the legacy our fathers started. Let's honour them by building on what they left rather than trying to mimic them. Our God is a living God. A here God. A now God. And if we have been idolising the past, then like Hezekiah did to that bronze serpent, its time we break those idols no matter how beautiful they might once have been.

 

FURTHER READING: WAS ELLEN WHITE AGAINST ANYTHING NEW?

 


[1] Research in the UK has "has found that between 2007 and 2017, the number of retail workers working nights as their main shift pattern has gone up 50%" See https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44938829 for more.

[2] The term historic Adventist means different things to different people and is often used pejoratively. For my purposes, I am defining the term culturally to refer to the idea that there was a golden era in Adventism in which the church was purer and holier than it is now. I am also using the term in a non-pejorative sense. For more on this definition of Historic Adventism see: https://www.ministrymagazine.org/archive/1993/10/essential-adventism-or-historic-adventism

 

How to Change Church with Daniel Holder

This week I interview Daniel Holder, author of newly released "I am Church: Converting Passion into Praise". We discuss a controversial but big topic for this generation - How to change church.

The question of changing church is a controversial one at best, and an insulting one at worst. Depending on who you ask you may get a "Yes! That's what I was thinking!" response. A confused look followed by, "church doesn't need change!" Or a "how dare you suggest such a thing?" reaction followed by a "heresy!" cry. 

OK, maybe I am painting a caricature here, but you get my point. The church needs change. How to do it? Tune in to this months podcast interview to find out.

To grab your own copy of "I Am Church" head over to holderministries.com or click here for Amazon.

Why I "Criticise" Adventism (Even Though I Love It)
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A few months ago, I received an anonymous text message that went something like this: "stop criticising our church. If you don't like our church then just leave."

While I don't receive messages like this often, they do come from time to time and they are always the same. First, they are always anonymous (I cant figure out why because despite that line in my resume that says "former Army Sergeant" I am like the least scary person you will ever meet), second they are always hostile and third, they are always awfully wrong. Wrong because it is my love for the Adventist church that fuels everything I say. Wrong because to say nothing about the failure of our local churches and pretend everything was cool would be as far away from loving our church as you can get. And wrong because criticism is necessary if we are to grow. Not the toxic arrogant kind but the constructive redemptive kind. It is the latter that I always aim for.

But there is one other reason why this kind of thinking is wrong. And here it is:

It Assumes our Church Has Never Been Amazing.

Contrary to what most might think, these anonymous messages are not coming from people who think our church is amazing. Which is weird because if they are mad when someone says "we need to fix this, change that etc" then you would think that maybe in their heads they are like, "Our church is killing it! Stop dragging it down." But nothing can be further from the truth. Instead, this mindset thinks very little of our church and its mission. 

How do I know? It's really very simple. Our church, the Seventh-day Adventist church, is an amazing church. Not perfect, of course. But definitely amazing. Born out of the Millerite Disappointment, composed of a bunch of embarrassed folk who were kicked out of their home churches, with little resources, structure, financial backing or even a doctrinal system it grew to 20 million members in just a short 155 years and established a global presence with schools, churches, hospitals, publishing houses, mission stations and aged care. The level of innovation, courage and divine power it took to become such a movement astounds me. And now, as we navigate a new epoch filled with new challenges and obstacles to missional success it is time we add to our legacy by adding to the story of innovation, courage and God-dependence our pioneers have left for us. 

If you truly believe our church is amazing, then use your voice to add to our legacy. The mindset that claims there is nothing for us to change is not a mindset of appreciation for our church. It is a selfish mindset focused on keeping things comfortable for us. But our pioneers didn't reach the world by being comfortable. They reached it by innovating (adapting, changing, creating, pushing the boundaries and limits of human ingenuity), stepping out in courage knowing God was with them and depending on his spirit and not traditions, customs, administrative bubbles and familiar methods (which Ellen White repeatedly opposed).

So when people say to me "stop criticising the church. We are fine" to me that sounds like "I don't really love our church or its mission but I am comfortable with how things are so don't stir the pot." So here is my response to that mindset:

I love our church. I love the innovation that fuelled it. I love the courage that defined it. I love the God that has led it. So I want to add to that legacy by calling for more innovation, more courage and more God-dependence. Join me!

 

The Story Church Project is Here!
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Hey there story-tellers!

After a few weeks of editing, redesigning, simplifying and re-branding pomopastor.com has officially been laid to rest and in its place I present to you, thestorychurchproject.com!

Yes, that was an uber dramatic intro but hey, I'm American and Latin - drama is in my blood. ;)

So what can you expect out of this new project? 

First, the focus of pomopastor.com hasn't changed. The Story Church Project is still very much about the optimisation of the local Adventist church. So, the premise of telling Adventisms beautiful story and redesigning our local churches to tell that story loud remains.

Second, the website has been simplified and cleaned up. This makes it easier for visitors to know what this project is all about. There is only one book in the book store now along with a blog and podcast. That's it!

Third, there is a new book currently being finalised. The current book in the store, "Why is Adventism so Weird?" is all about the story. The new soon-to-be-published book is titled "Story-Church" and its main focus will be how to redesign the local church to tell its story loud. It will include, practical step-by-step processes and strategies for local churches to implement as they seek to impact the world around them.

Other than that, keep your eyes out for new blog/ podcast content every Monday, subscribe to the mailing list (you can do that below) to be the first to know when cool stuff happens (plus I have a neat thank you gift all subscribers will get!) and follow me on any one of my social media spaces (below) so we can keep the conversation going!

Here's to telling the story,

Pastor Marcos

 

 

What is Church? with Pr. Kessia Reyne Bennett
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One of the first conversations I ever had related to the "church-sphere" was on the definition of church. It seems that this is the ground zero for everything else a person thinks about church. If you believe church is a sacred building, then everything else you do will flow from that including your definition of reverence, your picture of community and your priorities during the time that you occupy that space. If your definition of church is "a community or group of people" (the more biblical definition) then, likewise, your theological posture as it relates to church life will be influenced by that starting point.

For many years, I held to the second definition because it can actually be derived from scripture (unlike the first). However, just last week I sat down with pastor Kessia Reyne Bennett of the Collegeview Church (Union College) to discuss, "What is church?" and walked away from the conversation completely and totally amazed. It seems many of us have gotten it right in seeing church as community, but at least in my experience I also got it totally wrong. There is something profound that was missing from my definition of church. Something radical and redefining that Pr. Kessia unearthed. Needless to say, I walked away from our Skype chat with a richer and fuller picture of church and the beauty of God's heart.

Below is our conversation for this months Pomopastor Podcast Interview.