God has called the Seventh-day Adventist Church for this time of unprecedented changes, challenges, and opportunities, General Conference secretary Erton Köhler said in his Secretary’s Report during the 2023 Annual Council on October 8.
“Changes are not new to us,” Köhler said in his message to the hundreds of members of the GC Executive Committee (EXCOM) gathered in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States. “But today’s changes are different: they are rapid, they are impactful, and they are profound.” He added, “We can’t be afraid of changes, but they can compel us to leave our comfort zone, be awake, and use all our resources, and the best initiatives to share our biblical message of hope to this world.”
Against this new reality, Köhler celebrated the ongoing mission refocus of the 22-million-strong denomination. At the same time, he called the church to continue tackling challenges with the power of the Holy Spirit and bold, mission-driven actions.
The Role of Mission Refocus
“Mission Refocus is one of our priorities to face this changing time,” he emphasized, referencing an initiative of the world church that seeks to redirect planning efforts and funds to reach others for Jesus, particularly in challenging areas of the world. Mission Refocus is not only about sending missionaries and integration, Köhler explained, but also to “adjusting how we accomplish the mission to efficiently reach a world facing profound changes.”
Results are trickling in, Köhler reported. “After a few months of prayer, discussion, and evaluation, many of our organizations and institutions have established plans to adopt and send missionaries to some challenging places worldwide,” he said. “It is impressive to see how different organizations and institutions thought beyond their geographical borders and made sacrifices to be part of this worldwide initiative. Some of our attached fields that need extra support to accomplish their mission are now also contributing to help others.”
Köhler spent considerable time listing some of the pressing challenges the Adventist Church is facing as it tries to accomplish its mission. He mentioned the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic that has impacted church life and the ongoing wars that have disrupted the supply chain even in developed countries, increased global political instability, and skyrocketed the number of refugees.
Concurrently, we are living through an unprecedented ecological crisis, Köhler said, which has affected every church territory. Connected to this are challenges to the world economy, he reminded church leaders.
Social challenges include the rise of the “Me Me Me generation,” also called the “Selfie generation.” It’s made up of digital natives who are “emotionally weak but, at the same time, eager to defend justice and constantly seeking to live a meaningful life,” Köhler said. “In terms of morality, 60 percent of Millennials live by defining what is right for them — their own rules of conduct.”
Another challenge is related to society’s understanding of human sexuality, Köhler said, and social polarization and cynicism toward all authority, including church leaders. He also mentioned challenges brought by technology, including the impact of social media and, more recently, artificial intelligence.
Finally, mission changes are impacting the world, Köhler said, as countries that have sent missionaries for at least a hundred years have diminished their global mission impact, and new countries — Brazil, South Korea, Philippines, and others — have stepped up by becoming senders of missionaries.
Opportunities for Mission
The challenge, Köhler emphasized, is to see these global changes and challenges as opportunities for mission. As the foundation for any change or new initiative, Adventists leaders and members need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. “The more complicated the global scenario is, the more needed the Holy Spirit is,” he said. “We need wisdom from the Lord more than ever.”
Regarding the church’s financial investment in mission, “if God sends more, let’s invest more, especially in well-planned mission initiatives,” Köhler said. “The worst that can happen for God’s church is that when the Lord comes, He will find all the extra money He sent us to accomplish the mission, earning interest in the banks and not being used in the field.”
Köhler also emphasized the importance of keeping our identity alive. “Churches that lose their identity and authenticity also lose their relevance,” he reminded church leaders. “Identity is non-negotiable.”
Against that context, the best way to approach today’s generation is by highlighting our biblical message of hope, Köhler said. “A hopeless world is looking for a hopeful church … which offers people a better life in Jesus and a new life according to His Word.”
At the same time, another opportunity for mission implies focusing on disciple-making, as it’s not only the heart of the great commission but is the best way to reach the hearts of people living in the world today, Köhler said.
Technology is also a game-changer for mission because it can reach everybody, everywhere, at any time. “We have everything we need to move forward with a sense of urgency,” Köhler said.
Against present realities, “everybody can do something to keep the focus on the mission and to help us face our vast worldwide challenges. This is why Mission Refocus is not just a priority but an increasingly urgent priority,” he said. “Let us promote God-led changes. Let us promote Bible-based changes. This is what we call Mission Refocus in a time of change.”