An urgent appeal was made to the Adventist international delegates attending Annual Council in October. It is not only a call to leadership, but also a call to members to embrace mission in a new way. This is an edited version of the presentation. Elements of the oral presentation have been retained.1 —Editors.
When one thinks of mission, the first image that may come to mind is reaching the world. But Mission Refocus should be understood as adjusting how we accomplish our mission to efficiently reach a world facing profound changes. Let me highlight some of these changes with four different scenarios that impact our church today.
1. Global Factors
Pandemic. The recent pandemic is still threatening us because it has changed our world to the point of creating what we now call the “new normal.” According to the World Health Organization, this tragedy killed 14.9 million people in 2020 and 2021 alone. Compared to the 15-plus million people killed in World War I, it means that in terms of fatalities, we’ve lived through the equivalent of another world war.
War. Recently a very complex situation affected the Middle East. But there is also the war in Europe that calls the world’s attention. That war is disrupting the food, energy, and fertilizer supply for developing and undeveloped countries. Many experts evaluate that we are facing catastrophic scenarios that would have been unthinkable a few months ago, including the possibility of using nuclear weapons. We can see growing political instability, preparing the way for more coups, violence, revolution, and other chaotic methods.
Ecology. Average temperatures are rising worldwide, and the earth is affected by one natural disaster after another. The global forest coverage has been reduced by more than 50 percent since the 1960s. Each hour forests the size of 300 football fields are cut down. By the year 2030 the planet may have only 10 percent of its forests left. Because of increasing temperatures of the earth, sea levels are rising more than twice as fast as before. The United Nations said that by 2025 nearly 1.8 billion people will live in areas with absolute water scarcity, and two thirds of the world population could face water stress conditions.
2. The Social Scene
The “Me Generation.” Baby boomers are the generation born after World War II. They lived through challenging times of significant change, both social and political. According to Time magazine, the “Me Generation” prepared the way for their children—the “Me Me Me Generation,” also known as Millennials. They are the selfie generation born beginning in the early 1980s through to the beginning of the 2000s. The first generation to grow up with the Internet, Millennials have been described as the first digital natives and global generation. The Me Me Me Generation is emotionally weak but, at the same time, eager to defend justice and constantly seeking to live a meaningful life. This generation lives by defining what is right for them. It’s a challenge for them to worship a sovereign God, to interact with people in worship services, and to obey rules of conduct. It makes their ties to religious organizations a significant challenge.
Human Sexuality. We live in a time when everyone can claim their right to be any gender they want. Facebook currently lists 58 different genders available for its users, but others list as many as 67, 81, or 107 different genders to choose from. But human sexuality is much more than this. The Bible’s perspective and God’s plan are much broader than current trends and must be approached in a kind but biblically clear manner.
Social Polarization. We face social polarization daily in social media, politics, families, and unfortunately, also in the life of the church. It is the rise of an “us versus them” mindset affecting all human relationships. Acute cynicism toward all authorities, including the church, has led to a systematic deconstruction of the truth and common sense.
Social Media. Almost 60 percent of the world’s population is on social media. There are 410,000 new social media users added each day. Each user spends an average of two hours and 24 minutes daily on social media. If we multiply that by the number of social media users, the result is an unbelievable 11.5 billion hours spent on social media per day, equal to approximately 1.3 million years on social media every day! One of the most damaging effects of social media can be seen in the spiritual life. It changes how our brain functions, reduces the ability to make decisions, attention, focus, impulse control, and short-term memory. The results are evident in the ability to concentrate, to attend services, to study the Bible, and to pray.
Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is a recent and intense change in the technological landscape. Its impact on society is both exciting and challenging, but what does the future hold, and how will it impact religion? In June, in Germany, more than 300 Protestants attended the first church service generated almost entirely by artificial intelligence. A ChatGPT chatbot led the worshippers through 40 minutes of prayer, music, sermons, and blessings.
Missionary-sending patterns are impacting the Christian world today. Missiologists explain there is a shift from “old sending countries” to “new sending countries.” Old sending countries are those that have sent missionaries for more than 100 years, such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. New sending countries are those countries that have recently begun to send missionaries in significant numbers—Brazil, Costa Rica, Ghana, India, South Korea, Nigeria, Philippines, Singapore, and China. These now contribute 47 percent of the total of missionaries being sent. Comprehensive data is now available to help us to involve every organization and every level of the church in sending missionaries to reach the world.
Seeing Things Differently
We could spend hours discussing the changes and challenges our world is facing. We all understand the use of binoculars, but imagine turning them around, to change how we use them. If binoculars are used normally, they magnify what you see. But if you hold them in reverse, they diminish what we can see. All things remain as they always were. But the difference is how we see and perceive. The challenge today is to see the changes in the world as opportunities for mission.
Mission Refocus is a change in how we use our binoculars. New methods must be introduced. God’s people must awake to the necessities of the time in which they are living. Let us evaluate how the changes of this world can give us unique opportunities for mission.
Holy Spirit. The guidance of the Holy Spirit needs to be first. The more complicated the global scenario, the more the Holy Spirit is needed. Only the work accomplished with much prayer and sanctified by the merits of Christ will prove to have been efficient for good. Do you remember what happened with the disciples after the day of Pentecost? Before Pentecost, they found it difficult to do easy things. After Pentecost, they found it easy to do difficult things. This is the result of the Holy Spirit in challenging times.
Financial Investment. Thom Rainer, an American writer and church consultant, reports that the median church attendance in North America in 2023 is 60 people, down from 65 in 2020. But while the attendance is going down, finances are going up. The realignment of our finances is an integral part of Mission Refocus. The worst that can happen for God’s church is that when Jesus returns, He finds all the extra money He sent to accomplish the mission earning interest in banks and not used in the field.
Presenting the Message. Amid polarization, war, and other tensions, people are looking for an anchor, a solid base, a stability, something different from what they see every day. People are looking for authenticity, for balance, for hope. Churches that lose their identity and their authenticity also lose their relevance. Identity is nonnegotiable. Ellen White wrote: “Conformity to the worldly customs converts the church to the world; it never converts the world to Christ.”2 Our problem is not that the boat is in the water, but that water is getting into the boat.
Disciple-making. Disciple-making is the best way to reach the hearts of people in the world. People today are centered on themselves. Their focus has shifted from the spiritual to the personal, from the group to the individual, from the soul to the self, from salvation to self-fulfillment. They are eager for real people, real relationships, real love, and real hope. This is the perfect environment for disciple-making. People taking care of people. People transforming people. People multiplying people.
Technology. Technology is overcoming all borders and barriers. Today we have more connectivity, faster speed, and different platforms, many viewers, and tools. We have ways as never before to reach the 8 billion people in a world without borders. Technology can reach everybody, everywhere, at any time. We can be more aggressive using technology and social media for the mission. The Seventh-day Adventist Church pioneered print literature, radio, and television. But are we open and attentive to the new opportunities that lie before us? Social media, AI, ChatGPT, new systems, apps, and other technological resources can make a positive difference in the care of our members as well as accomplish the mission God entrusted to us.
Sending Missionaries. One of the biggest challenges for our mission is Asia. Do you know that when we talk about Asia, we’re talking about a continent bigger than the surface of the moon? The moon has 14.6 million square miles of surface area, while Asia has a surface area of 17.2 million square miles! Asia is the world’s most populated continent, with almost 60 percent of the global population. Of the 48 countries in Asia, 45 are part of the 10/40 window. More than half of the world’s population is found in India and China. India, currently the most populated country in the world, is in Asia. Uttar Pradesh, the most populated state in the world, with more than 200 million inhabitants, is in Asia. Tokyo, the most populated city in the world, with 37 million population in the metro area, is in Asia. Java in Indonesia is the most populated island in the world, with a population of more than 140 million, and in Asia too.
We are facing the most complex crisis and changes in recent history, but at the same time, the most exciting mission opportunities are before us. Let us send missionaries from everywhere to everywhere! In 1882 Ellen White wrote: “Where are the missionaries who should be raised up at the heart of the work? From twenty to fifty should be sent out from Battle Creek every year to carry the truth to those who sit in darkness.”3 Do you know how many Adventists were in North America when she wrote this? Seventeen thousand. Ellen White’s request represented sending three missionaries per 1,000 church members at that time. We have 22-plus million members. If we were to send three new missionaries for every 1,000 members worldwide, as Ellen White wrote, we would need to send 67,667 missionary per year. Friends, we are far, very far, from this reality. This is why Mission Refocus is an increasingly urgent priority. In 1911 Ellen White sent a special call for this church. She said, “When the members of the church of God do their appointed work in the needy fields at home and abroad, in fulfillment of the gospel commission, the whole world will soon be warned and the Lord Jesus will return to this earth with power and great glory.”4 Only when we understand our global needs and commit ourselves to this mission will the Lord return to this earth with power and great glory.
1 To watch the full presentation, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahJlay7XXwM, beginning at 1:55:22.
2 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 509.
3 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 5, p. 187.
4 Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), p. 111.