A painter wouldn’t paint your house without priming it first. A car owner wouldn’t wax their car before washing it. A farmer wouldn’t try to harvest crops before planting. Some things just have to go in a certain order for them to make sense. And doing things out of order can result in either a waste of time or worse—a big mess.
We are a denomination that’s enthusiastic about evangelism! In fact, we often get so excited that we like to skip to the end. Sure, Ellen White wrote that “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with men as one who desired their good. He showed his sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’” But that sounds like a whole process, and who has time for all that? Taking an interest in people, genuinely caring about their needs and wants, and developing relationships all take investment. Wouldn’t it be easier to just have an evangelistic meeting or send some literature?
I’m not saying that there isn’t a time and place for giving people reading material or inviting them to church events, but typically the ideal moment is after they have expressed an interest in these things. Instead of foisting theologically dense material on unsuspecting (and often uninterested) strangers, a better method—Christ’s method—is actually fostering real connections so people can tell you if they are open to hearing more about the message you are so eager to share.
Recently, a Vermont news broadcast highlighted the befuddlement of residents who had received unsolicited copies of The Great Controversy in the mail. Residents wondered aloud what the motive was. Was it benign? Nefarious? They had no clue. And no one was willing to talk to them to convey the reason. As it happens, Remnant Publications was responsible for this particular distribution. Yet as we know, there have been past and there will be future planned mass mailings of The Great Controversy to various zip codes, organized by a variety of entities. But to what end? With no prework and no planning for follow-up, efforts like this frequently result in either a waste of time and resources or worse—a big mess. There have been stories of churches having to do damage control after people received The Great Controversy copies. It’s not an easy read. And if it’s your first exposure to Adventism, it can be jarring. However, when people ignore or even outright reject what they find, we blame them for their “hardness of heart.”
The Vermonters on the newscast were genuinely confused. Even with the fumble of no preparation, an even larger bungle was made by providing no response to inquiries when there was an opportunity for a national platform to explain the rationale for sending the book. Why squander that chance? The other group that was asked certainly took advantage of the moment!
This isn’t evangelism. It’s hit and run by mail. And despite these abysmal results, we repeat the same methods. Why not send a different book: one that isn’t 500 pages long and chocked full of obscure references that are hard to understand? Steps to Christ is easily comprehensible and digestible. Better yet, since we have tons of our literature available on the internet for free, why not advertise and ask people to visit a site to read the book online if they are interested? Or best yet, why not prioritize the importance of fostering true human community that invites trust and conversation about deep subjects like salvation? That way this isn’t just an out-of-the-blue ambush.
I recognize that many people who donate to these efforts frequently are unable to do the face-to-face work themselves. Many are elderly or shut-in. So, this is how they contribute. And there are others who actually could participate in personal evangelism but see this as an adequate substitute. I would implore both groups to spend their resources on other efforts. The churches in these areas would love to receive these funds to invest in outreach initiatives that employ Christ’s method. It’s a tried-and-true order to meaningfully fulfill the Great Commission. Because in some cases, you’ve just got to put first things first.
Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD, is an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and President of the Society for Black Neuropsychology.
Previous Spectrum columns by Courtney Ray can be found by clicking here.
Photo by Paul Sableman, CC BY 2.0.
We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.