August 27, 2015

A Conspiracy in North America Part 2

, associate ministerial director, North American Division

I envision the day when our church will be known for our compassion and love for humanity rather than for the things we oppose.

We will be in great historic company the day when this happens. We’ll be in the company of Jesus.

Jesus was known for loving people of all walks of life and backgrounds as He walked this Earth. Once while talking to His disciples Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

This is not just a call for church unity among believers. This pronouncement extends His love way beyond that and explains why people felt drawn to Him. People gravitated toward Jesus because they felt safe and loved in His presence.

I have a deep conviction that a conspiracy of compassion is perhaps one of the biggest needs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America.

For the conspiracy to become a reality, it will take all of us collaborating consistently in all our churches, institutions, and organizations. Can you imagine what would happen if Adventism in North America became a synonym of compassion? What if people saw open doors and beautiful visible signs outlining our services to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the community as they walked and drove by our churches? What if people could see us, Adventists, outside our church buildings on a regular basis doing good like Jesus did?

Here are a few concepts to keep in mind as your church becomes the eyes, heart, hands, and feet of Jesus in your community:

1. Relevance: After my article “Conspiracy in North America” last month, someone asked, “What is your definition of relevance?” Relevance is being there when you are needed. A church that is there for its members and its community when they are in need is a relevant church.

  • When there is a storm in your area, how can your church be relevant?
  • When a house burns down on your street, how can your church be relevant?
  • When there is a death in a community family (see the Obituary section in newspaper), how can your church be relevant?
  • When there is hunger in your community, how can your church be relevant?
  • When civil unrest is taking place in your town, how can your church be relevant?
  • When obesity is prevalent in the neighborhood, how can your church be relevant?
  • When there is a marathon, a street market, and a parade happening in your city, how can your church be relevant?
  • When there are thousands of people playing basketball, soccer, and softball across city parks and playgrounds, how can your church be relevant?
  • When there is a need for new leadership in your city or state, how can your church be relevant? Could a church member run for office and help make a change?
  • When thousands of people walk right past your church building on a regular basis, how can your church be relevant to them?

2. Consistency: Blessing the community with acts of love and compassion once in a while is not enough. Just last Sabbath, as I was talking to John, a homeless man, in downtown Troy, New York, he told me: “People don’t trust some churches because they come out and help us and then disappear and we don’t hear from them again.”

Does this sound familiar? A one-time compassion event may help, but it is not enough. People will not trust someone they only see once in a while. Churches that care keep coming back; they stick with it; they just don’t come once a year right before the public evangelistic meetings begin. People see right through that.

It is time that our Adventist churches become a permanent and active fixture in the public spaces of our communities where they are needed. Compassion was not an event in the life of Jesus. It was a lifestyle. The same applies to His church.

3. Identity: It is vital that people know who we are as we minister to them in our communities. If they don’t know who we are, how will they ever come back to us when they have a need? How will they contact us when they need a prayer or feel the Holy Spirit leading them to worship, or to inquire more about spiritual things?

When ministering, keep in hand a stack of business cards that include your church’s name, address, telephone number, and e-mail. This way people know whom to contact when they have a physical or spiritual need.

4. Objective: People will ask why you are doing this. Many will be suspicious that your activities are linked to an ulterior motive. It must be clear that our ultimate desire is the salvation of every individual with whom we come in contact. We want to make them disciples so they can join us in sharing God’s love in this dying world.

However, we must learn from Jesus, who showed His love in practical ways with no strings attached. Jesus did not enlist everyone He fed, healed, and blessed to be a disciple or a member of his early church plant. But He fed, healed, and blessed them anyway.

When people ask why, we must be able to tell them, “We are showing God’s love in practical ways” and then be willing to continue to be Jesus to them. Like during Jesus’ earthly ministry, we will not baptize all. But at least we will take their hunger away and give them hope.

5. Partnership: As a church, we must remember that we are not an island. Governmental, private, and faith-based organizations and institutions are already making a difference in the community. They have access to plenty of resources but at times lack the most important resource: not funding, but people. Partnering with the entities can be a blessing for the community, for the organization, and for our church.

Do not be afraid to partner. You do not have to reinvent the wheel. Our church loses nothing when we team up with others to help.

Wealthy individuals and families are also looking for partners. They may not want to come to your church, but they want to invest some of their money benefitting people and communities. The “poverty" of the wealthy is the need to use their expertise and finances in the improving of lives and communities. They may be willing to join forces with your church in an after-school mentoring program, food distribution, health clinics, counseling clinics, single mothers outreach, community fitness programs, and home makeovers. And this may be the only way for them to ever get to know Jesus and our church.

Let’s join together in the conspiracy of compassion across North America!

Jose Cortes Jr. leads evangelism for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. A version of this article appeared on the NAD Ministerial Department website.