One of my seminary friends used to regularly amuse our homiletics class with folksy wisdom about preaching.
“Adventist congregations,” he opined with full dramatic gestures, “love nothing so much as being whupped up ‘longside the head!”
Once the laughter died away, we found ourselves wincing at the painful reality he uncovered with his odd assertion. It was true, we knew, how easy it is to create guilt and apprehension from the pulpit by reminding worshippers of just how far they fall short of the mark.
References to cheese and chocolate work remarkably well. A passing mention of inadequate devotional time can make a proud heart tremble. The obligation to return a faithful tithe will cause fully half of every congregation to start studying the carpet patterns underneath the pews.
But nothing works so fully as reminding good and faithful Adventists of their responsibility to share the three angels’ messages in every way, in every place, at every time.
“Now that was a good sermon,” church members will say as they stare darkly at their feet. “You really preached to us today. I’ve got to do better at sharing the gospel.”
And in our hasty, unreflective hearts, we preachers take the backward compliment—and miss the real message. We make the quick, unwarranted assumption that the mere proclamation of the message—whether heartfelt or not—will have some saving effect and thus accelerate the kingdom. When a dozen grumbling souls turn out for our next witnessing event, we count as though the witnesses were joyful and the message life-transforming.
If all we know is duty, not desire, then we will make a replica of us.
Was this the movement Jesus set in motion? Is this the passion that made men and women stand in marketplaces and courtrooms, lit by joy and warmed by love? Could what we call our “mission” be the stuff that drove disciples by the thousands to climb mountains, cross oceans, brave emperors, and face protracted, agonizing death?
No—obligation never made a real missionary of anyone. Duty may get us to the door, but only love will make us choose to sacrifice. Unless there is a fire burning in the soul; unless there is a joy in knowing Jesus that has grown unstoppable; unless the heart is changed by grace and charged by love, the work we call our “mission” will stall long before we cross saltwater or even leave the neighborhood.
If you would make a missionary of someone, you must make them fall in love with something—preferably Someone. For every story we tell of those who were themselves converted while “creeping like snail unwillingly to school,”* we know another 10 about the damage done by unconverted, downbeat witnesses. If all we know is duty, not desire, then we will make a replica of us—and thereby make the kingdom less attractive to those who don’t know Jesus.
Mission is the natural, impossible-to-miss next step for those who have spent sweet time with Jesus. Healed people make the best evangelists. Forgiven sinners know just how to sing of grace. One witness who can cry, “My life is different! May God be praised!” will do more good than 50 drudges we’ve recruited with our words of obligation.
Don’t put an unlit candle out against the night and then expect the world to be compelled by what it sees.
And so the church’s first responsibility is always—always—to make disciples. Let them spend their time in close with Jesus; let them see how grace will change their attitudes and characters; let them feel the deep affection of a Lord who promises to never leave them or forsake them (Heb. 13:5).
Then you will have a revolution on your hands.
The church I want to belong to is . . . mission-minded.
* William Shakespeare, “Seven Ages of Man,” As You Like It.