Does God Call Us to Minister to the Rich and Powerful?

Does God Call Us to Minister to the Rich and Powerful?

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Published:
July 22, 2021

God’s Surprising Mission Strategy

When giving a devotional at a nursing home, you have to expect the unexpected. People who are up in years often find themselves shouting at each other in order to be heard. One day I was giving a sermonette to a large room crammed with nursing home residents in wheelchairs. In my talk, I compared senior citizens to fine furniture that grows more valuable with age. At that point, one white haired lady in the back row turned to the person next to her and blurted out loudly, “Is he trying to say we’re a bunch of antiques?”

My congregation’s forays into the community quite often centered on nursing homes. Our “singing bands” went from room to room warbling out requests for favorite hymns. 

Other methods of outreach involved collecting used clothing and letting poor people come in once or twice a week to pick out what they liked. We brought snacks, warm socks, and toiletries to the homeless. At Thanksgiving we went house to house collecting cans of food for those less fortunate. Add to that an occasional cooking school or Revelation seminar.

There’s no question that we were focused primarily on the lower classes in society. Their need was so obvious and they were so receptive and grateful.

Years later I was studying the book of Daniel once again, and something new jumped out at me. I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it before. I labeled it, “The Nebuchadnezzar Mission Strategy.”

If my church and I had tried to reach the city of Babylon in the time of Daniel, we probably would have done what we always did: sing at the nearest Babylonian nursing home; give out used togas, barley loaves, figs, and toiletries to the street dwellers; plus hold an occasional Stop Smoking Whatever seminar or two. Those would all be worthwhile things to do, as Jesus later indicated in Matthew 25:31-46.

My new insight was that God’s strategic plan for reaching Babylon included a radically different type of mission strategy. Unlike us, he targeted the leaders, the upper levels of society, especially the man at the top, King Nebuchadnezzar himself. God knew that if people in this group could be converted, they could exert tremendous influence for his cause.

God’s plan encountered ups and downs, but in the end the humbled king declared, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down” (Daniel 4:37 NKJV).

Sadly, things went south when Belshazzar later took over, but converting his dad was a great victory for the Holy Spirit. The Spirit worked through people, but he was also obviously taking charge and intervening in startling ways—a forgotten dream here, a vision there, and a few years of grass eating did the trick. 

The good news about the God of heaven spread like wildfire into every nook and cranny of the Babylonian kingdom. It made headlines in all the newspapers—“KING ACCEPTS ISRAELITE GOD!” Citizens followed the stunning developments with rapt attention. Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion was the talk on everyone’s lips in every barbershop and Hummus House throughout the realm.

This “Nebuchadnezzar Mission Strategy” had never been part of my community outreach before. If I did think about trying to reach the upper class, it was only a brief dalliance with the idea that I quickly dismissed as unworkable, too difficult, with minimal chance of success.

Looking back, I actually harbored a rather obnoxious brand of hidden prejudice against those higher up in society. I didn’t hate them; I just wrote them off. I quashed any prompting of the Spirit by concluding, “By and large, all they care about are their mansions, BMWs, and yachts.” I never saw them contribute much to any community fundraisers we conducted. It was the poor who were actually quite generous with the little that they had. Certainly, they must be the ones who are most open to the Spirit.

Then I read an article where the author contended that it was actually the well-to-do who were more likely to have an interest in spiritual things than poor people. I was puzzled and read on. He argued that poor people can think, “Well, if I only had more money I’d be happy.” But the rich know that more money doesn’t cut it as far as happiness is concerned. Because of that they can be open to other options.

Between articles like that one and my new view of the book of Daniel, my old prejudices suffered quite a jolt and began to change rather dramatically. I now saw that the problem was most likely not in the hearts of the upper echelon of society but in my own attitude and our narrowly focused approach to mission.

I saw that we were neglecting pretty much all of the successful leaders in our community, including corporations, educational institutions, the health industry, local government, non-profits, etc. Why hadn’t our church put the mayor and his/her cabinet at the top of our outreach energies? Why not the owner of a large auto dealership? Why not the CEO of the local hospital and his VPs? Why not the music director of the local symphony? Why not the person who owned a chain of hotels?

I had never attended or even heard of a seminar on how to reach these people with the Gospel. Somehow, I knew they wouldn’t be all that interested in used clothes or warm socks and toiletries.  

Despite outward appearances, the emotional and spiritual needs of societal leaders are very real.

Forbes magazine reveals, “From psychologists who have treated the very high-functioning C-suite [Executive] types over the years, the consensus seems to be that this group is indeed more prone to major depression—for a variety of reasons—than people of other socioeconomic strata.”

Psychiatrist Madeleine Levine adds that the problem extends to their offspring:

America’s (most) at-risk group is preteens and teens from affluent, well-educated families. In spite of their economic and social advantages, 'children of affluence' experience among the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints, and unhappiness of any group of children. . . . Twenty- two percent of adolescent girls from financially comfortable families suffer from clinical depression. This is three times the national rate of depression for adolescent girls.

The Bible never says that being rich is wrong. It is craving and serving money that’s the problem. According to the apostle Paul, it is the love of money that is the root of a lot of evil (1Tim 6:10).   

In the New Testament, people with substantial financial means were instrumental in funding everything from the ministry of Christ to the missionary exploits of the apostle Paul. Luke, a successful physician, had a special burden for rich people. Kevin DeYoung writes,

We make a profound mistake to see Luke as an evangelist against the rich. He is, more accurately, an evangelist to the rich . . . Luke was not a poor man writing to poor people that together they might denounce the rich. It’s much closer to the truth to say Luke was writing in order to show how the rich could truly follow Jesus.

Ellen White really stretched my little brain by making this remarkable statement: “Men in business life, in high positions of trust, men with large inventive faculties and scientific insight, men of genius—those should be the first to hear the call.”1

Not only should leaders be on our list of the needy, but from a strategic point of view they should be on top, given the highest priority. That is the essence of the “Nebuchadnezzar Mission Strategy.” Ellen White realized that such men and women could do immense good if they gave their hearts to Christ.

Jesus understood this perspective. Regarding the Rich Young Ruler, The Desire of Ages states, “Jesus saw in this ruler just the help He needed . . . If he would place himself under Christ’s guidance, he would be a power for good . . . Christ, seeing into his character, loved him. Jesus longed to see him a coworker with Him.”2

In my second year of pastoring, in the late 1970’s, I told my head elder that I thought the church would benefit greatly from hiring a Bible worker since I was so lousy at it. The combined budget barely had enough cash to purchase grape juice for communion. “Why don’t you talk to the owner of the calendar company where I work,” he suggested. “He has a missionary heart.”

Full of trepidation, I made an appointment. The owner and his wife were very welcoming and gracious. I shared my dream. “So, what’s the bottom-line son? How much do you need?”

I hesitated, gulped, and blurted out, “I’m thinking maybe . . . uh . . . well . . .  $40,000 a year [in today’s dollars]?”         

He and his wife looked at each other, smiled, and said, “That sounds reasonable. Who do we make the check out to?”     

We hired one of the best Bible workers on God’s green earth from the Mark Finley evangelistic team, who soon brought a steady stream of young couples into the church.

One year later, the Bible worker and I dreamed about hiring a health professional. “We could reach so many more people,” I mused.

I made another appointment with the owner of the calendar company and shared our updated dream.

“How much?”

“I’m thinking another $40,000 [in today’s dollars]?”

“Sounds exciting. My wife and I love what you’re doing. Make the check out the same way as before?”

“That’ll work.”

God opened the door for us to hire a graduate from the Loma Linda School of Health.

We had many amazing experiences together. After three years they married each other and are pastoring today in the Northwest—all made possible by a generous industry leader and his wife.    

Bringing the picture more up to date, I recently learned of a pastor who, not long after his arrival in a new district, made an appointment to see the city mayor. The pastor asked if the mayor knew of any opportunities for the church members to serve. Over the next year the two struck up a personal friendship and the mayor used his influence to open previously inaccessible connections to community leaders and made introductions to numerous non-profits that needed help.

We give prominence to ADRA, the Adventist Disaster and Relief Agency, and rightly so. But it is past time for us to create something like “Adventist Ministry to Leaders and Influencers." Ellen White herself advocates for such an initiative when she writes, “A fund should be raised to educate men and women to labor for these higher classes, both here and in other countries.”3

David Kim writes about how to reach what he calls the three W’s (W3): the Wealthy, Worldly, and Well-educated. “If mass media programs, door-to-door literature distribution, and prophecy seminars rarely succeed in reaching the three W’s, what method will work? It’s quite simple: personal effort by people who have a connection with them.”

God was able to pull off his ingenious strategy for reaching Babylon because the Israeli homes and school systems produced young people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and others who were incredibly effective functioning at the highest echelons of Babylonian society.

The Lord can work in marvelous ways again today if we also instill in young people’s hearts and minds the vision that, if they wish, God can prepare them to become great leaders and influencers in society, forming friendships with powerful people, and becoming God’s agents to touch the hearts of those who can make life so much better for the multitudes.

Rather than denigrating the rich, we must instead create a church culture that sees them as, potentially, a precious gift to a world in need. God could use our churches in exciting ways if they simply believed that the Lord cares deeply about the wealthy and those in authority, and that they are just as needy as the homeless and the aged, if not more so.

 

Notes & References:


[1] Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1941) 230.

[2] Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1940) 519.

[3] Ellen G. White, Christian Service (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2002) 203.

 

Kim Allan Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The GiftThe Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at www.transformyourchurch.com (this website is run by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.

Kim has recently started an exciting new ministry to teachers at www.hi54teachers.com, which is currently accepting donations. Read an interview about this organization here.

 

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