Self-supporting Ministries

Weaving together the foundations of faith and Adventist mission

Philip Baptiste, D.Min.
Self-supporting Ministries
Photo by Harshit Mahabale on Unsplash

In the tapestry of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, self-supporting ministries emerge as vibrant threads, adding depth and diversity to the church’s mission. These self-governing entities, while completely independent  of the church’s administrative and ecclesiastical structure, share the core beliefs and values of Adventism, working in harmony to further the gospel commission. Their roots, missions, and purposes are as varied as the needs they meet, yet they all share a common goal: to exemplify the love of Christ and proclaim the three angels’ messages of Revelation 14:6-12.

Mission and Purpose

The mission of self-supporting ministries is vast and varies from one institution to another. Yet the overarching objective remains to complement and supplement the work of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in reaching communities and individuals, often beyond the reach of traditional methods. These ministries, in their own supporting style, address education, health, publishing, media, evangelism, and humanitarian aid. They are bound by a common purpose: to advance the gospel and prepare people for the second coming of Jesus.

Their role within Adventism is to act as innovative laboratories for mission. They experiment with new evangelistic methods, respond quickly to emerging needs, and often reach into areas or demographics where the official church has a limited presence. They also serve as training grounds for laypeople, empowering them to take active roles in ministry and evangelism.

The relationship between the Seventh-day Adventist Church and self-supporting ministries is cooperative. Self-supporting ministries provide a dynamic and agile complement to the official church’s strategic plan. They often pioneer efforts in unentered territories or among unreached people groups. That said, the church provides the theological foundation, a global network, and a shared identity that lends credibility and support to these ministries.

For the health of this relationship, there must be a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect. Church leaders are encouraged to recognize the contributions of self-supporting ministries as part of the body of Christ, facilitating rather than regulating their efforts. Open communication and collaboration can lead to more effective mission outcomes.

Madison College’s Legacy

Self-supporting ministries can be traced back to the early twentieth century. Among the most notable pioneers in this realm was Madison College, established in 1904 in Tennessee. Founders E. A. Sutherland and Percy Magan, inspired by Ellen G. White’s counsels on education and evangelism, sought to create a self-sustaining institution. Madison became a beacon of innovation, operating without denominational funding, focused on practical Christianity, health, agricultural training, and evangelism.

Madison’s model sparked a movement. Students and staff, upon leaving Madison, often established similar self-supporting institutions or ministries, which thrived on the principles of Christian self-reliance and service. This wave was not a rebellion against church structure, but a response to a growing need for diverse methods of outreach and evangelism.

Madison College’s approach to education and mission became a blueprint for many self-supporting ministries. It embodied the principle that every member is a minister, intertwining secular work with spiritual service. The spirit of Madison is carried forward today through the work of Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries (ASi), which is officially recognized by the North American Division (NAD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

ASi operates as a department of the NAD, serving as an umbrella organization for self-supporting ministries and Adventist entrepreneurs. It plays a crucial role in fostering unity and collaboration among various independent ministries. ASi’s membership is a network of businesses, professionals, and ministry leaders who share a common commitment to Christ and the Adventist message.

Through ASi, members find opportunities for networking, fellowship, and collaboration. ASi conventions and conferences are hubs where ideas are exchanged and partnerships are formed. By offering these networking opportunities, ASi helps like-minded entities unite their efforts to achieve a greater impact in mission work.

In the shared journey of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s global mission, international Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries chapters stand as vital partners. These chapters are not mere organizations; they are vibrant communities of believers dedicated to spreading God’s love across nations. Collaborating closely with church entities, they weave a story of faith and commitment that spans the globe.

Each ASi chapter across the world mirrors the rich diversity of our church. They understand the unique cultures they serve in, crafting ways to share our Adventist message that resonate with local hearts while faithfully upholding our shared beliefs.

These international chapters are more than support structures; they are active participants in a united mission. By bringing together self-supporting ministries, they create a network of shared purpose, strengthening our global outreach. These partnerships go beyond strategic planning; they are heartfelt collaborations driven by a common goal to share the gospel. While respecting the individuality of each ministry, ASis help weave their efforts into the broader tapestry of the church’s mission.

In their advisory role, international ASis offer more than counsel; they share the voices and stories of grassroots ministries, ensuring that our worldwide mission strategies are responsive to local needs and inspirations. ASis do more than mobilize material resources; they cultivate a spirit of sharing and collective faith, encouraging ministries to learn from each other and grow together in Christ.

The collaborative effort of international ASis is a crucial component of our church’s mission narrative. It demonstrates our collective commitment to spreading God’s Word in diverse and meaningful ways, reaching every corner of the earth with His message of hope.

Engaging With Self-Supporting Ministries

Leaders and members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church can engage with self-supporting ministries in several ways:

Partnership in Projects: Local churches can collaborate with self-supporting ministries on specific projects or initiatives that align with the church’s mission and goals. These efforts can bring additional resources and expertise to community outreach, health programs, and evangelistic campaigns.

Shared Training: Church members can benefit from the training programs offered by self-supporting ministries, enhancing their skills in various areas of service and ministry.

Strategic Planning: When church entities engage in strategic planning, including self-supporting ministries in the discussion can lead to inclusive strategies for outreach and evangelism. These ministries may have a grassroots understanding of the needs within communities and can provide valuable insights.

Prayer and Spiritual Support: Prayer cannot be underestimated as a vital means of support. Praying for the success of these ministries and recognizing their challenges and contributions within the church encourages a supportive environment.

The intersection of self-supporting ministries with the broader church body must maintain a delicate balance between autonomy and unity. These ministries enjoy the freedom to innovate and adapt to specific contexts while aligning with the beliefs, mission, and ethical standards of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

To maintain this balance, clear channels for dialogue and accountability are essential. Self-supporting ministries can benefit from the counsel and support of church leaders, and likewise, church leaders can gain new perspectives and ideas from these entrepreneurial ministries. This mutual exchange fosters an environment of growth and respect, furthering the collective mission of the church.

In shaping a collaborative effort that honors both self-supporting ministries and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it is essential to follow a path of strategic clarity and mutual respect, deeply rooted in biblical principles:

Covenant of Distinction and Mutual Support: In the vein of Paul’s metaphor of the body with many parts, each with its own function (1 Cor. 12), ensure that communication platforms—from official documents to digital media—articulate the ministry’s role as a separate entity that operates in harmony with, but is not legally part of, the Seventh-day Adventist denominational structure. This commitment to clarity supports the church’s mission and upholds the integrity of the ministry as a distinct participant in the body of Christ.

Doctrine and Integrity in Partnership: Align closely with the apostolic commitment to sound doctrine (Acts 2:42), regularly consulting with church leaders to ensure theological unity. Embrace financial transparency, reflecting biblical stewardship, and clear delineation of resources, underscoring the shared commitment to furthering the gospel.

Strategic and Cooperative Ministry Efforts: Seek strategic opportunities for ministry that echo Nehemiah’s collaborative rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls—working side by side, yet on distinctly appointed sections. Engage actively within the Adventist community, enhancing the ministry’s impact through complementary efforts.

Constructive Collaboration With Church Leadership: Following Christ’s example of recognizing diverse roles within His ministry (John 13:14-17), interact with church leadership in a spirit that acknowledges both the supportive role of the ministry and its individual operational identity.

Celebration of Shared Commitment and Collective Achievements: Share and celebrate the ministry’s successes as reflections of the unity for which Christ prayed (John 17:21-23). Let these stories of collaboration showcase the combined dedication to the mission, emphasizing unity in service rather than organizational affiliation.

By embodying these strategies, self-supporting ministries can effectively articulate their autonomous yet supportive role in relation to the Adventist Church, strengthening their shared mission through a collaborative but clearly defined collaboration.

A Vision for the Future

The legacy of such entities as Madison College and ASi underscores the church’s commitment to active, inclusive participation in the mission field. Through continued cooperation and a celebration of shared values, the Adventist Church can harness the diverse strengths of these independent yet fully supportive ministries.

By actively supporting and strategically partnering with self-supporting ministries, the church recognizes these entities as vital allies in spreading the message of hope and wholeness. Such a relationship, founded on prayer, respect, and collaboration, will ensure that the church moves forward in unity to share the everlasting gospel with a world in need.

Philip Baptiste, D.Min.