Should the Seventh-day Adventist Church buy a satellite to ensure that it can proclaim the gospel in the last days?
Are Zoom video-conferencing calls the future of mission amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
Should Adventists be more intentional about uploading videos to YouTube, knowing that their voices can be heard around the world while they are sleeping at night and even after they die?
Those were among the issues raised by world church leaders at a two-day leadership conference focusing on how to implement the church’s “I Will Go” strategic plan amid the pandemic. The First World Church Leadership Council, which met on Zoom on Feb. 9-10, concluded that innovation and creativity, with the Holy Spirit’s power, are essential to fulfill the church’s mission of preparing people for Jesus’ return.
“We are facing unbelievable challenges for the future,” Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, told the gathering of about 70 leaders representing the General Conference, world divisions, educational institutions, and other church organizations. “This is an opportunity to be creative and allow the Holy Spirit to provide that creativity.”
While reaffirming the church’s commitment to proclaiming the three angels’ message that Jesus is coming soon, Wilson said new methods are needed to convey it.
“The message has not changed, but the methods have changed,” he said.
Evangelist Mark Finley, an assistant to the General Conference president, emphasized that the Adventist Church has a prophetic calling to share the three angels’ message in Revelation 14:6-12.
“Adventists believe that God has entrusted them with a last-day message that must be shared with a world in need,” he said.
The message, he said, is as important as those preached by Noah before the Flood and John the Baptist before Jesus’ earthly ministry.
“John the Baptist was raised up to prepare the world for the first coming of Christ,” he said. “We were raised up to prepare the world for the second coming of Christ.”
Zoom Goes Big
Conference speakers spoke about new opportunities for reaching children, young people, and adults that have emerged in a world drastically altered by the pandemic. One of the new opportunities was on full display at the conference: Zoom.
“With COVID, look at what has happened with Zoom,” said Geoffrey Mbwana, a general vice president for the world church, who gave a presentation over Zoom about the vital role of the Holy Spirit in spreading the gospel. “We used to travel a lot. We have been made aware that there is a lot that we can accomplish through Zoom as well.”
Artur Stele, another general vice president, expressed amazement at the number of people who are able to attend Bible conferences through Zoom. While several hundred people might have traveled to a Bible conference before the pandemic, online attendance at recent gatherings in the Euro-Asia Division and the Southern Asia-Pacific Division numbered in the thousands, he said.
“This never would have happened in person,” he said.
Getting Creative Online
Stele, who gave a presentation about using the Internet and social media to implement the “I Will Go” plan, suggested that online gospel outreach has a biblical foundation even though the word “Internet” never appears in Scripture. He noted that the Bible portrays Christ through many genres, including prophecy, poetry, and wisdom literature. David, he added, wrote psalms in which each line began with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
“These give us a hint that we need to be creative in presenting our message,” he said.
Cautioning about online limitations, he said the Internet might be a better place to proclaim the gospel than to nurture people. But, in an example of its enormous potential, he said a church member halfway around the world had recently thanked him for an online sermon that had proved a blessing during a time of deep discouragement. He marveled that he had been sound asleep when the church member had watched the video.
“When we are sleeping, we are still working. When we die, we will still be working,” he said.
The theme of innovation and mission also topped the agenda at a pre-pandemic leadership summit last year in Cape Town, South Africa. The 13th Global Leadership Summit — which like this year’s conference was organized by Guillermo Biaggi, a general vice president of the world church — enthusiastically endorsed a General Conference proposal to establish an institute focused on leadership, innovation, and mission at the church’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. The institute would provide hands-on, practical training to leaders from around the world.
Wilson said at the First World Church Leadership Council, whose participants included many from the summit, that the plans for the institute had been sidelined by the pandemic but that the General Conference would “share an expanded version about the innovation plans in the months going forward.”
Thinking Outside the Box
In a presentation about innovation at this week’s conference, Ray Wahlen, undertreasurer of the world church, urged leaders to be creative and move beyond familiar ideas.
The call was echoed by others, including GT Ng, executive secretary of the world church.
“The Adventist Church seems to be in the recycling business. We recycle the same ideas again and again,” Ng said in a breakout session.
He offered several creative ideas, including a suggestion that perhaps the church could consider owning a satellite.
“Can we buy a satellite so we can continue to communicate at the end of time?” he said. “We need to think outside the box.”
Church leaders and members can be flexible and creative with the “I Will Go” plan, said presenter Hensley Moorooven, undersecretary of the world church. Likening “I Will Go” to a road map, he showed attendees the image of GPS navigation-style map with an orange destination tag, representing the mission, and a red car, representing the method used to achieve the mission.
While the map featured a red car, the destination also could be reached by van, bus, bicycle, airplane, helicopter, or foot, Moorooven said.
“It’s no problem because we have all agreed on the final destination,” he said.
Adventist Church president Wilson encouraged church leaders so humbly advance in mission with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Reading from Ellen White’s book Principles for Christian Leaders, page 218, he said, “Will we carry forward the work in the Lord’s way? Are we willing to be taught of God? Will we wrestle with God in prayer? Will we receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? This is what we need and may have at this time. Then we shall go forth with a message from the Lord, and the light of truth will shine forth as a lamp that burneth, reaching to all parts of the world. If we will walk humbly with God, God will walk with us. Let us humble our souls before Him, and we shall see of His salvation.”
Who Will Go? Me!
Guillermo Biaggi, general vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist world church and organizer of the World Church Leadership Council, reflects on the council’s first two-day online meeting, titled, “Leaders Committed to ‘I Will Go – To Reach the World’ With the Enabling Power of the Holy Spirit”:
We had five presentations each day, including a keynote address from Elder Ted N.C. Wilson on the first day and his closing message on the second day. Each day we also had six breakout groups in separate Zoom rooms so each attendee could analyze the presentations, and identify lessons learned, values shared, and important innovative issues to pass on at leadership training programs in each world division and institution. Then all the groups returned to the main Zoom room to summarize their discussions.
I believe that the Holy Spirit greatly blessed our meetings. With the foundation of our previous Global Leadership Summits, the First World Church Leadership Council reaffirmed the concept of creativity and innovation within the framework of our church’s “I Will Go” strategic plan to involve leaders and church members — children, youth, adults, and elderly people — in communicating the three angels’ message of the eternal gospel to the earth’s population of 7.8 billion.
What a privilege to be living in this time of our world history and to be called by our Lord to serve Him. “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8). With all our hearts, and with the strength that the Holy Spirit provides, we can happily answer, “I will go!” We as individuals say, “I will go!” We as families, together with our children, say, “I will go.” We as communities of faith say, “I will go!” We as servants in institutions and religious organizations say, “I will go!” The Lord has promised, “And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
I'm encouraged by these Ellen G. White quotations:
“Men in responsible positions should improve continually. They must not anchor upon an old experience, and feel that it is not necessary to become scientific workers. Man, although the most helpless of God’s creatures when he comes into the world, and the most perverse in his nature, is nevertheless capable of constant advancement. He may be enlightened by science, ennobled by virtue, and may progress in mental and moral dignity, until he reaches a perfection of intelligence and a purity of character but little lower than the perfection and purity of angels” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 93).
“Those who would be workers together with God must strive for perfection of every organ of the body and quality of the mind. True education is the preparation of the physical, mental, and moral powers for the performance of every duty; it is the training of body, mind, and soul for divine service. This is the education that will endure unto eternal life” (Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 330).
“Those in the service of God must show animation and determination in the work of winning souls. Remember that there are those who will perish unless we as God’s instrumentalities work with a determination that will not fail nor become discouraged” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 6, p. 418).
“Everyone who accepts Christ as his personal Savior will long for the privilege of serving God. Contemplating what heaven has done for him, his heart is moved with boundless love and adoring gratitude. He is eager to signalize his gratitude by devoting his abilities to God’s service. He longs to show his love for Christ and for His purchased possession. He covets toil, hardship, sacrifice” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 502).