Focus on Revival-driven Outreach Opens Business of Annual Council
Spiritual renewal motivation for mission, leaders say; One strategy: ‘Pray, then plan.’
BY ELIZABETH LECHLEITNER
Always a forum for outreach ideas and a source of funding for evangelism, the Council on Evangelism and Witness, meeting on October 10, 2010 during the Annual Council of General Conference leaders, added a focus on spiritual renewal to its repertoire.
To that end, council members voted to endorse 12 ideas, each to be adapted for use among the church’s 13 world regions. Among them are initiatives to encourage prayer, Bible study and the use of technology to link a global community of Seventh-day Adventist church members whose leaders are seeking revival.
Mark Finley, assistant to the president for evangelism, at Annual Council on October 10, 2010. [photo: Ansel Oliver]
The council, which began a decade ago under then world church President Jan Paulsen, has just seen an influx of new members. It now includes all members of the church’s 300-member Executive Committee, gathered at church headquarters for Annual Council.
As the CEW body matures, “So many good things are happening that we want the entire Annual Council to be a part of it,” General Conference president Pastor Ted N.C. Wilson said of the group’s recent expansion.
While the ideas voted today are specific -- one asks members to participate in regular days of prayer and fasting -- leaders stressed flexibility. “These are not mandates,” said Mark Finley, assistant to the president for evangelism. Instead, local church leaders should tailor the concepts to best fit needs in their respective regions, he said. Wilson called it “fixing a general direction” for the church.
Finely told delegates the goal is not to complete a series of tasks, but to inspire a lifestyle of spiritual renewal among Adventists -- an impossible mission without the right motivation. As the terms “revival” and “reformation” punctuated discussion, Finley urged delegates to consider their true meaning.
“Revival is a renewal of spiritual life … [and] reformation comes as the result of [God’s] spirit making changes in our lives,” Finley said, adding that the two “logically flow” into outreach.
“Revival without mission is simply sentimentalism. Reformation without mission is simply self-righteousness,” Finley said.
As church officials accepted the call, Wilson reminded them that spiritual renewal is the “work of [God’s] spirit. “You can’t manufacture revival,” he said, adding that the job of leaders is to create an environment where revival is encouraged.
Many of the ideas voted today focus on readying Adventists for revival through increased prayer and time spent studying the Bible and the writings of church co-founder Ellen G. White. Currently, statistics indicate that just over 50 percent of members consistently pray and read the Bible. By 2012, church leaders hope to see 80 percent of Adventists regularly reading their Bibles, said Michael Ryan, a world church vice president.
Alberto Gulfan, president of the church's Southern Asia-Pacific Division, shares with Annual Council delegates how the denomination's Tell The World has progressed in his region. [October 10 photo by Ansel Oliver]
One leader compared reading the Bible and White’s writings to checking the weather. Without knowledge of the future God has in store, it’s difficult to make appropriate plans, said Bertil Wiklander, president for the church’s Trans-European Division.
While leaders agreed considerable work remains in sharing the Adventist message in the community and reviving it among members, they also applauded reports featuring several church regions’ accomplishments in mission over the past several years.
In the church’s Southern Asia-Pacific Division, a group of young accountants and other support staff at the regional church headquarters held outreach meetings and established a new congregation. Not one of the young people is an ordained pastor. The meetings were part of the region’s efforts to financially support any member who feels called to public outreach, said division president Alberto Gulfan.
Gilbert Wari, West-Central Africa Division president, shared his region’s strategy: “Pray, then plan. Then pray again.” The division will focus on upcoming national elections in the Ivory Coast, using the opportunity not to parade political affiliations, but to pray for the country’s future, Wari said.
In the South American Division, church leaders are urging each member to participate in simple yet relevant and personal evangelism, said Erton Kohler, division president. Mass book distributions are popular in the region, where members are fusing the church’s name with its mission -- to spread hope, Kohler told delegates.
As similar projects accelerate under the guidance of prayer and Bible study over the next several years, church leaders plan to track progress using technology, said Dan Houghton, CEO of Three Angels Global Networking, a supporting ministry of the Adventist Church. A text message can remind subscribers to pray and a revival-themed blog can connect members to a likeminded community, he said. Church technology leaders also hope to launch a map that pinpoints the location of those praying simultaneously.
Finley said he hoped such a sense of “togetherness for one purpose” through technology would electrify the world church.