August 4, 2010

Scope and Scale

According to the General Conference treasurer, there was just $791.31 left in the church’s combined accounts.1
And the delegates to the General Conference session couldn’t have been happier. That was 106 percent better than just one year earlier, when the account totaled $384.25.
At the second annual session of the fledgling Seventh-day Adventist Church in May 1864, representatives from nine state conferences and 3,500 believers heard stirring reports of the progress of the church, and rejoiced in the generosity of Adventists in supporting the church’s mission. Even as the United States—the only nation in which the church was formally active—reeled with the violence and bloodshed of Civil War battles in Virginia and the campaign to take Atlanta, delegates turned their thoughts to a struggle more crucial than the military operations described in the Battle Creek newspaper.
2010 1527 page6At the recently concluded fifty-ninth General Conference session of the church in Atlanta, the General Conference treasurer reported that 16.3 million baptized Adventists around the world contributed nearly $2.5 billion during 2009 to the church’s mission by returning tithe and supporting local ministries in more than 200 countries. In a global economy racked by recession and the failure of multinational corporations, as the newspapers reported the violence and bloodshed of bombings in Karbala and military campaigns in Kandahar, 70,000 Adventists at the Georgia Dome lifted up their voices in a Sabbath morning battle hymn about the greater controversy:
Lead on, O King Eternal, the day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest Thy tents shall be our home.
Dramatic increases have occurred in more than dollars and members since 1864: words have also multiplied exponentially. The entire 1864 General Conference session—reported exclusively in the Review—was captured in 733 words. This year’s 10-day meeting in Atlanta required more than 270,000 English words in the Adventist Review print and online editions, including nearly 46,000 words focused only on revisions to the Church Manual. The total number of words produced in Atlanta by Adventist media—print, online, audio and video—surely numbered in the millions, even before translation into dozens of languages and dialects.
After nearly a century and a half of thinking of ourselves as God’s small and “scattered flock,” we must acknowledge the obvious: we are no longer a small people, a lesser tribe. In His providence, God has seen fit to bless this movement with the human and material assets that now allow it to be a significant presence in the global village. In some regions, Adventists comprise nearly 20 percent of the population: in others, a growing number of Adventists lead national governments, direct international organizations, and lead medical, scientific, and cultural institutions. The global reach of this movement of destiny is now matched by only a very few international organizations. More than 67,000 Adventist congregations around the world—in favelas, barrios, townships, urban high-rises, jungles, and savannahs—shine like cities set upon a hill whose light cannot be hid.
And all of this—all that we can see and count and quantify—is but a fraction of the true growth of the Savior’s kingdom. In a million places unobserved by us, the kingdom’s seed grows secretly, watered by kind words from an Adventist neighbor, enriched by sacrificial gifts that never get recorded by the church’s accountants. Orphans are fed, minds are changed, HIV/AIDS victims are touched and loved with fearless kindness—all seen by Heaven but only rarely by the church. Hundreds of supporting ministries staffed by tens of thousands of Adventists who will never be found on the church’s payroll push out the boundaries of God’s kingdom seven days a week, 24 hours a day—all in the service of that Day when “time shall be no more.”
And you, reader, are part of that movement of destiny, God’s remnant people, whatever you may think of your skills or assets or bank account. Jesus designs that your gifts, your words, and your acts of love will enlarge the boundaries of His kingdom, whatever your vocation, wherever your location. Multiplication has always been His favorite ministry—loaves and fishes, spiritual gifts, and Spirit-filled disciples.
So, in His name, and for His glory, “make no little plans.”2
1 A sum equivalent to approximately $19,550 in 2009 U.S. dollars.
2 Daniel Burnham, architect (1846-1912).
Bill Knott is editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published August 12, 2010.