“God’s people are to be powerful, but we are distracted.” Dwain Esmond, associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate, took the stage on October 11th to introduce a new and revolutionizing Church initiative during the 2022 Annual Council.
The Back to the Altar initiative seeks to revitalize and revive the Church by returning to its foundation - the home and the family. As expressed by Ellen G. White in Ministry of Healing, pg. 349, “The restoration and uplifting of humanity begins in the home... The well-being of society, the success of the church, the prosperity of the nation, depend upon home influences.” Undoubtedly, as we gather our families to spend time together with God, we form an unbreakable bond between one another and our loving Savior leading us to become more effective disciples in proclaiming the Three Angels’ Messages to “every nation, tongue, tribe, and people” (Revelation 14:6).
While many Adventists may agree with the importance of being connected as a family, recent studies illustrate our unfortunate reality. According to a 2018 Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research study, only 52% of Adventists have consistent personal devotions, while only 37% of Adventist families engage in regular morning and evening worship. “Can a church that worships at 52%, alone, or 37% as a family, effectively proclaim a worship-centered message to the world?”
Esmond posed this question as he faced World Church leaders at Annual Council, challenging them to return to their family altars and encourage their members to do the same. But what exactly pulls us away from spending time with God?
By Beholding We Are Being…Rewired?
“Technology is sapping our [lives]!” A recent study shows the average social media user spends 2 hours and 27 minutes on social media, and, based on self-reported data, the average person taps, clicks, or swipes their phone 2,617 times per day. Though there may be other things pulling us away from spending time with God, Esmond zoned in on technology as a major distraction and primary platform that takes us away from things that matter most–specifically, our time with God. He shared the following eye-opening statistics as he challenged attendees to examine their use of technology:
- In the United States, children aged 8-12 spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens; teenagers spend up to 9 hours a day using screens.
- Screentime leads to the potential exposure to things such as:
- Violence and risk-taking behaviors
- Sexual content
- Negative stereotypes
- Substance use, cyber bullies, and predators
- Misleading or inaccurate information
- Unhealthy and Unbalanced Digital/Social Media:
- Damages our ability to concentrate and focus
- Makes us feel lonely
- Leads to sleeping problems
- Raises our stress levels
- Increases depression and anxiety
- Leads to addiction
- Causes memory deficits
Undoubtedly, increased technology and unbalanced social media use are major contributors to a reduction in our time with God as well as our capacity to think and connect with Him and His word. As seen above, our concentration, attention, and memory are hindered by unhealthy and unbalanced use of technology, and studies have even shown our minds are being rewired. They are becoming increasingly incapable of thinking deeply and efficiently to process information. Without question, the depth of thought necessary to spend quality time in God’s Word is impacted.
While, as Esmond pointed out, technology and media can be used for good, to witness to others and provide access to ministry resources, he also stated that sometimes media “can become a medium in between God and us and…we need to be careful so that we can reclaim our space and time for God.”
Rekindling the Flame…It Starts at Home
“The power of our church to do God’s will in the world is directly proportional to the time spent at the altar with God. As a Church, we have never faced a more formidable challenge to personal worship than the one posed by digital media, and it is not something we can overlook anymore; we need to do something about it.” Esmond didn’t mince words when describing why Back to the Altar was born–and why it is necessary.
This “inside-out revolution” is calling God’s remnant people all around the world to “consecrate [themselves and their families] to God in the morning and make this [their] very first work,” Steps to Christ, pg. 70. Back to the Altar aims to encourage and equip individuals and families to have an unmediated and uninterrupted connection with God as they spend more time away from technology and instead spend seasons of refreshing at the altar of God and in scenes of nature. In doing so, they will form deeper connections with Christ. In turn, the Church will manifest God’s power as they proclaim His end-time message to the world.
Esmond strongly believes the family is the base unit of spiritual instruction. It is where love is caught and taught, where devotional life is birthed, ministry blooms, and God’s prophetic mission is fulfilled. He states, “It is critical for the family of God to exemplify a connection with Him and to have His power. We need spiritual power, and there’s only one place to get it–at the altar with God.” This connection will translate to revival, reformation, and power to do God’s will in the world.
Setting the Right Foundation
Personal devotion is foundational to all other ministries, including the Comprehensive Health Ministry and the Three Angels’ Messages. According to Gospel Workers, pg. 510, “There is nothing more needed in the work than the practical results of communion with God.” Yet, Esmond adds, “the greatest casualty of our time with technology is our loss of time with God.”
Now is the time to join the movement and reclaim our time with God, individually and as a family. Ramon Canals, ministerial secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association, says, “[The Seventh-day Adventist Church] is all about mission and the Back to the Altar initiative is about mission. It’s about Jesus. The closer we get to the end, the closer we need to get to Jesus. This initiative is about Jesus and His mission to save the world.”
The Back to the Altar initiative aims for 70% of Adventist individuals and families to regularly engage in morning and evening worship by 2027. This goal is achievable by collaborating with local churches to encourage members to take control of their and their families’ spiritual walk and return to the altar.
As such, the Church is currently developing several resources to assist families and individuals in rekindling the flame and spending quality time consistently and routinely with one another and God.
A few examples of the resources in the works are:
- Video presentations on practical applications of counsel found in Child Guidance and The Adventist Home by Ellen G. White.
- Family Worship Guides, categorized by family dynamics to include single-parent homes, blended families, young families, families with older children, individuals, etc.
- World Family Worship Day in collaboration with Family Ministries
- Digital Mental Health Hygiene Guidelines
- Family Revival Conferences (Campmeeting style)
- Family Worship Curriculum, divided into age-appropriate content
World Church leaders unanimously voted to approve the Back to the Altar initiative following the presentation.
“You will hear much more about this initiative in the days ahead, but we can all start right now. If we go back to the altar with God, we will be transformed into His image and empowered to finish His work!”