“Now let’s get back to the mission of our church.” This has been one of the most repeated phrases among Seventh-day Adventists following the 2015 General Conference decision regarding women’s ordination. This phrase suggests that because we have been deeply engaged in study and discussion on women’s ordination, that this has caused us to lose focus on our mission of reaching the lost.
While our theologians have been in deep study and our church members engaged in heated debate, our attentions have been misguided from pursing our mission. And although we had tabled this discussion for several years, its reappearance distracted us from our Divine mandate found in Matthew 18:19-20. Or so the theory goes.
We disregard the fact that on any given Sabbath or weekday (whether in the heat of a women’s ordination debate or not), less than half of our church bodies participate in consistent community outreach. The truth is, our decline in being mission-focused has not been a result of the discussion on women’s ordination or because of any other agenda item that has arrested our attention. The decline in fulfilling our mission is a result of us not being totally surrendered and “living with a self of indebtedness to Christ in regard to every unsaved soul” (Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost for His Highest”). The fulfilling of our mission has never been contingent on the items on our church board agenda; neither has it been stopped by laws signed by legislators. The fulfilling of our mission has been and is dependent on our complete surrender to the will of our Savior.
In Romans 12:1, Paul urged his audience to “present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” This is translated in other versions as, “spiritual service of worship.” To present ourselves as sacrifices means surrendering the right to ourselves to God. This means that we no longer hold possession of our will, but God replaces our will with His own.
We know that it is God’s will that we live mature and holy lives (Matt 5:48, Rom 12:1). But beyond His desire for us to live purely, God’s ultimate will is that all men and women be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4, Rom 10:13).
The prevailing questions as stated by Paul (and I paraphrase here) are, “How then can men call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). As Christians, our primary calling is to preach and proclaim the gospel of God. In “My Utmost for His Highest,” Oswald Chambers writes pertaining to Paul, that “he was recklessly abandoned, totally surrendered, and separated by God for one purpose – to proclaim the gospel of God.”
I am convinced based upon the word of God that our congregations are graying, our youth are leaving, and our engagement in mission is declining because we have not surrendered our wills, biases, perspectives, and ideologies to God. The fact remains that the call to surrender precedes the call to revival and reformation. It is only by daily surrendering our wills that our churches can be revived, our communities survive, and our mission thrive.
We are misguided when we think that attending church services is enough; when we think singing in the choir is enough; when we think that taking positions in the church to serve each other is enough; when we think passing out tracks once a month is enough. The call to surrender is the call to take our worship beyond the church walls. It is the appeal to make our hearts God’s home, our minds His mind, and our hands and feet His instruments.
Our intentions – as good as they may be – are not enough when our immediate non-believing families, co-workers and surrounding church communities are dying as a result of being disconnected from their Savior’s love. We cannot take pride in the fact that our church is different and peculiar because, as one pastor said, “If our difference isn’t making a difference then we are just being weird.” Ellen G. White, in “Desire of Ages,” states in reference to the children of Israel, “they hoarded the living manna, and it had turned to corruption. The religion which they tried to shut up to themselves became an offense. They robbed God of His glory, and defrauded the world by a counterfeit of the gospel. They refused to surrender themselves to God for the salvation of the world, and they became agents of Satan for its destruction.”
Is it possible that we are following in the footsteps of Israel? We certainly cannot discount that as a worldwide church we have exerted a lot of effort to feed the poor. We have also created many programs and processes to reach the lost. But, there comes a time when we have to ask ourselves the very daunting question, “am I doing enough?”
It is evident that God uses our programs and ministries as conduits to reach the lost but is it enough? I believe that God is waiting for all of us collectively, but even more so, he is waiting for each one of us individually to recklessly abandon ourselves to Him so that he can do for the world what he has done for us. It is when we surrender ourselves completely to him that he can use our lives and not just our programs to “bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for captives and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:1-2). This is the idea of a church beyond walls, where those that make up the body of Christ are daily surrendered to God and take a piece of heaven with them wherever they go. This is our mission: constant worship through total surrender. Our daily lives bearing testament to a wonderful Savior.
It was this type of reckless abandonment that embodied the life of the disciples and the first century church. There were distractions, yet they fulfilled their mission. There were introductions of false doctrines yet they were still persistent. They studied their bibles daily, they witnessed faithfully, and they baptized thousands consistently. They were truly a church beyond walls and their lives were the epitome of mission. God is calling women and men, boys and girls, preachers and laymen, to consistently fulfill the mission of our church. So today I invite you to join me in answering the call put forth by Chambers of daily surrender; abandoning your will for God’s will, and “living with a self of indebtedness to Christ in regard to every unsaved soul.”
Danielle Pilgrim is a student at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the Campus of Andrews University.