"So, what’s new in the church?”
The question is so common that it seems like the beige wallpaper in a hundred hotel rooms. On every continent, in any climate, at potlucks and at prayer meetings, someone leans across a table and asks conspiratorially, “So, what’s new in the church?”
I always smile, even when what’s newest is not cheering. My questioner usually wants inside information—a story about someone in leadership; a prediction about how some church initiative will unfold; a sense of what’s trending among decision-makers. I smile because I know that my answers will likely disappoint those seeking juicy gossip or political tidbits.
Here’s some of what I tell them:
Believers are praying more. The evidence is unmistakable. The explosion of prayer ministry teams in congregations and conferences, and the increasing focus on intercessory prayer in pulpits, articles, and seminars point to a surging emphasis on both shared and personal prayer across the face of Adventism. This can be only good news for a remnant people seeking revival, and to a movement poised for a pivotal role in the end-time just ahead. Where only a decade ago, invitations to pray with others were frequently met with stony silence or embarrassed awkwardness, today there is almost always an eager response and a light in the eye that eloquently assure, “I’m so glad you asked me to pray with you.”
Believers are listening to the Spirit more. We Adventists have always quietly prided ourselves on practicing a rational faith, in which we assume that the ways of God and the way of logic are indubitably the same. We wince, however, at many Bible stories in which the Holy Spirit breaks into expected ways with new information, new directions, and new expectations of what it means to be obedient. But I am heartened by a hundred stories told me in recent months that all share a common claim: “I heard the Spirit speaking to my heart, and for the first time in a long time, Bill, I listened and obeyed.” What follows next is always the same—a deep and prayerful gratitude for the joy that Spirit-led obedience brings, and a delight in discovering that the Holy Spirit’s promptings lead to new witness, new relationships, and the abundant life Jesus pledged to give us.
Believers are serving more. Though few North American Adventist congregations still tabulate the pieces of clothing distributed or the tracts discreetly tucked in screen doors, the evidence is mounting that more Adventists are living out their faith in ways the kingdom surely counts. Blood drives, fund-raising for charitable groups, working in soup kitchens and community pantries—all these are joining a renewed emphasis on short-term mission experiences and lay-led evangelistic efforts to point to a more active Adventism rising in this generation. The goal is not—and never was—that we all do the same things, but that we each do something for the kingdom day by day. The growing commitment to “the least of these”—to feed them, shelter them, educate them, share Jesus with them—is one of the most admirable new developments in God’s church.
Whatever these “new things” lack in gossip value and titillation, they more than make up for as impressive evidences of the Spirit’s stirring in the church. With all our failures, with all our slowness to believe, His church has not ceased to be the apple of His eye, “the one object upon which God bestows in a special sense His supreme regard. It is the theater of His grace, in which He delights to reveal His power to transform hearts.”*
Go spread that news—and watch the world be changed.
* Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 12.