More than 600 delegates at this year’s Festival of the Laity were reminded to be “the light of the world” battered by disease, uncertainty, wars, and chaos. Lay Bible instructors, preachers, and evangelists who were handpicked by regional leaders for their outstanding contribution to leading hundreds to the gospel were challenged on August 5, 2022, to intensify their evangelism efforts.
“There are intense fires taking place; flooding is more intense; wars are more intense; hunger is more intense; hate is more intense; divorces are more intense; everything is so intense today that the preaching of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ should be more intense—more aggressive than ever before,” said Pastor Ramon Canals, ministerial secretary for the Adventist World Church. It will only happen if there are more members involved in this mission of sharing the gospel, he challenged delegates as he delved into the church’s initiative launched in 2016, coined “Total Member Involvement,” to finish the work of reaching more people with the gospel.
The global initiative has seen more members involved in the life of the church and its various ministries: highlighting the needs of the community, achieving more baptisms, retaining more members through discipleship programs, and more, Canals said. In order to be more involved, one must put aside self and be consecrated to God continually and more intentional about evangelism, he added.
Using Christ’s Method
Total involvement in evangelizing others means each member must follow the method of Christ when reaching and connecting with others, emphasized Pastor James Howard, Sabbath School and Personal Ministries director for the Adventist World Church.
“We cannot wait for people to come to us; we must go to them—take the initiative to seek them first,” said Howard. “Jesus befriended people; He listened to their needs, sympathized with them, found out their needs, helped them, then shared the truths of the gospel and later trained them to be soul winners.” Every disciple or follower of Christ who is trained is to train another until the entire earth is reached, he added.
“Baptism is not a success,” said Howard. “Only when the baptized person shares the truth with others [is when] we have been successful because every member should be a trainer … every disciple is a disciple maker … every church should be a training school for Christian workers.”
It’s not just about preaching but also training, Howard appealed to laypersons and church leaders. It’s about drawing close to people and mentoring and training them.
Discipleship Training in Guatemala
Discipleship training is a big part of the evangelism strategy in Guatemala. Thanks to the nearly 50,000 active laypersons, the church has seen steady growth in membership during recent years, said Pastor Gustavo Menéndez, Personal Ministries director for the Guatemala Union. The Guatemala delegation was the largest at the festival, with 63 delegates. “Each one of them represents thousands more as key pieces to the growth, expansion, and strengthening of the church in Guatemala,” he said. “They are really the pastors of the flock, and they minister to all believers in their churches and communities where they serve.”
It’s a joint partnership among laypersons and the 130 local church pastors in the Central American country who advance the different ministries and impact the community, Menéndez added. “Each layperson works in different professions or jobs to share their love and dedication to God in so many ways.” Some are committed, like Augusto de León, from the western part of the country, who, in the past five years, has led more than 115 people to Jesus, said Menéndez. Others, like Román Mota, from the Altiplano region, led 30 people to Jesus just this year and continues to enroll them in the discipleship program.
“Many others witness to their friends, others give Bible studies, and others are evangelists or small group leaders whose passion is to prepare a people for the second coming of Jesus through ongoing discipleship programs throughout churches and small groups,” added Menéndez.
Hope Beyond Difficult Situations
Ana Rossi, who owns a cable company and lives in Guatemala City, has reached dozens of people with the gospel since she became an active layperson 29 years ago. “It’s so beautiful to see when people share their situation and learn that there is hope beyond their situation,” said Rossi. “We reach many professionals such as business owners, attorneys, medical doctors, and artists who are dealing with a lot of challenges, too.” She and her husband lead devotionals in their cable company, pray with the staff, and conduct Bible studies. “These have been challenging times through the pandemic; many people are facing financial stress and anxiety but have seen more doors open for the gospel among people.”
Rossi is involved in women’s ministries, children’s ministries, and with the youth. She also leads two small groups, gives Bible studies in her home and online, distributes food and literature every week, and has led more than 50 people to baptism. “We are not alone. God is using us, and He bids us trust Him and let Him work through us to reach others and disciple them to advance the mission.”
Discipling others with the methods Christ used in the first century is just as effective today in the 21st, echoed Ricardo Casado, a lay businessman from the Dominican Republic and keynote speaker during the three-day festival.
God’s Plan: His Greatest Gift Series
In the last five years, Casado has led 20 groups through a 26-lesson discipleship program he created called God’s Plan: His Greatest Gift. The program, which is now being published by IADPA,grew during the pandemic and has seen over 250 new church members join the church in the last two years.
Casado is currently leading two groups and will oversee dozens more throughout churches in the Central Dominican Conference in Santo Domingo, where he lives. The initiative with church leaders will focus on discipling church members to prepare them to lead a new small group on their own. “Every church member should have a clear knowledge of the gospel, experience and live the gospel to then train or disciple others,” he added.
The series is not just another Bible study course but rather a specific discipleship program where each member of the group is converted into a discipleship trainer, said Casado. “That’s the point just, like Jesus showed us, and that for sure will multiply believers exponentially.”
Casado added, “It’s important we invest in discipling programs much more so than building church buildings after church buildings. We need to go out there and disciple others around us and propagate the message of salvation before Jesus returns.”
It’s all about what Jesus did when He was on earth, said Jamilia Joseph-Nicolls, Women’s Ministries director for the Tobago Mission, during a devotional message to the lay delegation. “Jesus sought to teach—sought to bring light and hope to a dying world,” she said, adding that Jesus’ style of leadership was always illustrative, culturally relevant, and lived by practical example, stunning listeners and making people’s lives better. “We must be a light in this world.”
The festival included prayer sessions, regional lay evangelism reports during the past two years, music, and more.
To view recordings of the Festival of the Laity, a detailed program, and keynote speakers, visit festival.interamerica.org.