The driving force of the Seventh-day Adventist church is evangelism.

Adventists far and wide realize that the mission of the church is rooted in calling a dying world to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The mission is described in the Great Commission given by Jesus to the disciples to go into the all the world making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Budgets are created, and thousands of dollars are invested in maximizing our evangelistic efforts. A speaker is invited, bible workers are hired and lest I forget about the singing evangelist for appeals.

The pre-work leading up to the effort usually entails designing and printing marketing material, knocking on doors and digging up the phone numbers of individuals who have recently visited the church. We bring out all the bells and whistles in the hope of reaping a bountiful harvest of baptized souls for the glory of God. Anything less than a certain number of baptisms would be frowned upon by some and deemed as a failure. Furthermore, if there are more Adventists than there are non-Adventists (which in many cases is the reality), then that would also count as a disappointment.

Now please note that in no way I am discrediting traditional methods of evangelism because they have been proven to work in the past. Therefore, they represent a definite benefit to the legacy of the church. Nevertheless, we are living in a totally different time and era. Our message must never change, but our methods need to be updated. We are still using eight track methods in a mp3 generation. If we are truly serious about the work of evangelism then we cannot treat it as an event that fits into our calendar. The reaping of souls and evangelism has to be intertwined with social justice advocacy and activism.

I am going to make an assumption that majority of the readers of this blog are African-American pastors, but if you are not, then I am quite sure that you will find some relevant themes that will fit into your context. Most of our black churches are situated in communities that are deeply impoverished. Some would even argue that we have churches that are in areas that resemble third world countries.

Often times our churches only open up for prayer meeting, Friday night rehearsals, and Sabbath morning worship. Throughout the rest of the week, the lights are off and the gates are locked. And this actually makes sense because most of our members do not live near our churches. We are drive in, take up all the parking spaces, then drive out. And this needs to stop immediately. We are in communities that are plagued with violence, drugs and prostitution. It is essential that our churches become safe places for those who are trying to escape.

The Webster’s Dictionary defines social justice as, “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.” When we think about social justice we usually think above and beyond this definition, but what if we simply fought for justice in our communities? What if our advocacy and activism was the pre-work for our evangelistic meetings? That means that we should become a liaison between parents and the local public schools; possibly by hosting parent-teacher conferences in your church. What are some other examples of this?

Here are a few more ways we can advocate and take action in our community.
You church can…

  • Recognize local principals or teachers that are making a difference in your neighborhood during a special education day program.
  • Host a financial literacy seminar.
  • Host a criminal record expungement process seminar.
  • Host a job fair for formerly incarcerated persons who have been victimized by the prison system.
  • Join the neighborhood association.
  • Participate in a voter registration drive.
  • Maybe even choose a Sabbath (or two) to join a local of the community march/protest.

I have noticed that as Seventh-day Adventist’s we tend to think that we cannot learn from others, or work with others for the common good of our people. We cannot afford to minimize the pre-work of engaging and changing our communities. The work for social justice must not only be seen as civil rights, but this is fighting for common human rights. There are people who are hurting in our communities, and it is about time that we stop leaving the neighbor out of the hood. When we engage in the work of social justice we learn how to humanize people, and treat their needs as holy. We begin to see people that are in pain, and not simply a number that will satisfy a goal.

If we are taking our cues from Jesus then you would have to notice that the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19, 20) comes at the latter part of Jesus’ ministry on earth. He only gives these marching orders after he has been offered up as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. But if we are to take into consideration the words that Jesus uses to begin His ministry we might recognize again a valuable model for mission.

It’s in Luke 4:16-19 where Jesus stands up in the temple on the Sabbath day and proclaims that the anointing is upon Him to proclaim the news of victory to the poor, set the captives free, give the blind sight, liberty for the oppressed, and to usher in the year of jubilee. It’s only after investing in the work of social justice healing, teaching, serving and more, that He extends the altar call of membership/discipleship.

Jesus begins his ministry with a prophetic message of justice. We cannot ignore the fact that He chooses to do this in Nazareth, a place that Nathaniel exclaimed “can anything good come from there?!” If we want to see results, real results, in our evangelistic meetings, then we have to be intentional about doing real, lasting, work in our communities. Build relationships, restore families, educate the ignorant, uplift the downtrodden and determine to be the one that brings the ‘neighbor’ back to the ‘hood’.

Jaime Kowlessar

Jaime
Kowlessar

Jaime Kowlessar is a native of Brooklyn, NY. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Andrews University and recently completed requirements for a Doctor of Ministry at United Theological Seminary as a Gardner Taylor Scholar for Political Activism and Social Justice. He also recently published a book entitled Be Made New. Follow him on Twitter @Muchisgiven.

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