There’s an old adage that says, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” While we know that it’s impossible to judge a person’s character without getting to know them or understand a situation with no background knowledge, how many times do we succumb to our human tendencies to judge? Even as followers of Jesus, it is easy to look through our “Christian eyeglasses” and make assumptions before we truly have an understanding of a situation.
The same is true for those outside the Seventh-day Adventist church looking in; many times they – without stepping inside the doors, getting to know any Adventists, or seeking to understand church doctrines – make assumptions about the Church as a whole, as well as it’s members.
In a recent global study (ICM, 2013) commissioned by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church and conducted by Roger Dudley and Petr Činčala, 4,260 Adventist pastors around the world were asked how they believe their local communities view the Seventh-day Adventist church as a whole. A majority (58%) of pastors indicated that they believe their communities view the Church as an important Christian denomination. However, the news isn’t all good; 26% of pastors indicated that they believe their communities view the Church as some kind of cult and 14% indicated that their communities know nothing about the Church. The remaining 1% of pastors believe that their communities have never even heard of the Church.
How is this possible, you might ask yourself? Seventh-day Adventists have a strong history of evangelism and outreach. Our blog “The Glass Door” covered the positive ways in which local churches are serving their local communities. And the research shows that 83% of the pastors are personally involved in some form of community service. However, it seems as if in many places – even if local churches and pastors are participating in outreach activities – there is little understanding in the wider community of who we are as an Adventist church.
How can we change the general perception of the Seventh-day Adventist church? How can we encourage people to look past the “covers of the book” and dive into the message and meaning inside?
- Reach out. While the idea of “reaching out” may seem simplistic, it is possible that your church’s focus has not been as outwardly focused as it could be. Perhaps it’s time to create an outreach ministry or reconfigure a ministry that is already in place. By caring for and supporting those in your community, your church can then share its beliefs and love for Jesus with those you come in contact with.
- Step outside of your own comfort zone. Sometimes stepping out into the community can be nerve-wracking – especially if you aren’t sure how the community feels about Seventh-day Adventists. However, being a follower of Christ isn’t about taking the easy way or being timid; it is about being bold for Jesus and sharing His love with the world. Think outside the box, and brainstorm ideas to reach those in your community that are outside of what you would normally do. Be sure to follow through!
- Love the “unlovable.” During His time on earth, Jesus interacted with those who were the most undesirable to society – the prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and sinners at large. Think about your own community. What group of people is “unlovable? Is there a people group who is unreached by the love of Jesus and the good news of the Church? Perhaps you have a large population of single mothers or addicts. Maybe you live in a community of elderly. Find a group that needs you more than any other and start reaching out to them.
Ellen G. White reminds us in her book The Ministry of Healing of the method in which Christ reached out to those around him. She writes, “There is need of coming close to the people by personal effort. If less time were given to sermonizing, and more time were spent in personal ministry, greater results would be seen. The poor are to be relieved, the sick cared for, the sorrowing and the bereaved comforted, the ignorant instructed, the inexperienced counseled. We are to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice. Accompanied by the power of persuasion, the power of prayer, the power of the love of God, this work will not, cannot, be without fruit.” (The Ministry of Healing, pg. 143-144)
As Seventh-day Adventists, we possess great news – exciting news! If we keep it to ourselves, then we are doing the opposite of what Jesus told us to do in His last words, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19, 20a).
Without our reaching out, its likely the our local communities may never experience the good news shared by our church, and ultimately miss out on the love of Jesus and the gift of salvation which He offers.
Will you help them “open the book?”
To learn more, you can find the full report here.
Created in collaboration with the Institute of Church Ministry.