Volume 5 Number 4; October 1998
Editor: Gary Russell
Managing Editor: Curtis Rittenour
Designer: Matthew McVane
Type Placement: Ginger Calkins
Content Consultant: Paul Richardson, Monte Sahlin, and Ralph Martin
Published by the Center for Creative Ministry for the Reclaiming Committee of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. If you would like to contact us with questions, want to be on the mailing list, or would like to share your ideas, please contact us
Let's Clean Up Our Books
What do we do about Sinful Sam?
Before we talk about all the bad things that Sinful Sam and Gertie Gossip have done, we need to have a person appointed who will be in charge of loving them back. Yes, let's clean up our church books. Let's deal with members who aren't really members anymore.
I'm in favor of dropping people from church membership and other forms of church discipline! However, there are appropriate steps to take as we get ready to administer church discipline, either censuring or dropping someone. Let's make sure we do it correctly.
When we first start talking about administering discipline to a member, let's turn to the head of the "Love 'Em Back" committee. You do have one in your church, don't you? If not, this is the place to start. Before we talk about all the bad things Sinful Sam and Gertie Gossip have done, we need to have a person appointed who will be in charge of loving them back. Anyone in the church can be appointed to this office hopefully several will volunteer, even vie for the position. Actually, there should be a number of committee chiefs one for every candidate for discipline.
The chairman will beg God to give him a burden for Sinful Sam the kind of burden Moses had when he told God, "If you can't forgive these people, then blot my name out of the Book, too." Once the chairman feels that he would give his life for Sinful Sam if that's what it would take to reclaim him (a precedent has been established here), he can begin to function.
The next step is to get a group of folks praying for Sinful Sam. No, no! I didn't say criticizing him ...not even constructively criticizing him, whatever that misnomer may mean. The group will come together to pray, and they will pray separately throughout the day. In fact, someone will be praying for Sam all day long.
Committee Number Two is formed next. This group needs to be made up of seven individuals, one for each day of the week. Sinful Sam often sins BIG on Sunday, so Right-Living Rob makes contact with him on Sunday. They pray together, the families go out to eat together, the guys go fishing together, or work on cars together. On Monday Committed Carl goes by Sinful Sam's place of work just to encourage him. Dedicated Dan has been praying since the previous Tuesday about what kind of contact he will make with Sinful Sam this Tuesday.
Sabbaths have not been good at all for Sinful Sam. He hates to go to church because some of the members (who haven't sinned all week) gripe at him or whisper when he passes. The whole prayer-band team will have to help guard him from those who think they will be translated at any moment. Every Sabbath, Sam and his family will have a dinner invitation. In fact, they will need to be booked several weeks in advance. One really risky thing that Jesus tried was taking church visitors to sinner's houses to eat. This could be bad for your reputation. They talked about Jesus for doing it. It is a great way to make friends, though.
Sam's "Love 'Em Back" chairman will help find places where Sinful Sam could be involved in the church. Sinful Sam can do most things around the church like offer prayer, provide music, give testimonies, give mission stories, call for offerings, cut grass, paint the church doors almost anything that needs to be done. Usually it is best to keep Sinful Sam away from church board meetings and nominating committee meetings. The saints who attend these meetings have been known to get quite specific when discussing why Sinful Sam needs church discipline.
We need to help Sinful Sam's wife, too. She's so loaded with guilt because of the way Sam's been acting, that she's likely to come down pretty hard on him. Get the same two committees working for her that are working for Sam.
Sam's kids need help, too. They act a lot like Sam. (Don't remind them of that, though).
If, after a year or so of the committee's operating, Sam just keeps on publicly embarrassing the church, then his "Love "Em Back" chairman needs to visit him to explain that he will need to recommend that the church censure Sinful Sam. By this time, he and Sam will have become really good friends. If the church does take the action, the committee will work harder than ever. If the "Love 'Em Back" committees have not followed through, Sam's "Love 'Em Back" committee will beg for mercy for himself and his committee, asking for more time to work for Sinful Sam.
My advice to you... don't be too disappointed if you can't find a good reason to drop Sam by the end of the year. He may repent! Jonah had that problem the whole city of Nineveh came back to God.
This sure is a lot of work to put into dropping someone like Sinful Sam. It might not be worth it either, but Sam is such an important fellow. In fact, Sam is loved so much that one Man I know gave His life for him.
I'm in favor of cleaning up our church books. I hope all of our churches in the Lake Union get at it right away.
by Don Schneider, president, Lake Union Conference Reprinted from the Lake Union Herald, May, 1998.
Back Home Again
Because of a church and pastor that passionately love Christ
Ed and Dottie Hytinen's story began a year before NET '96. "We were living on the freeway of life, without bumps. Airplanes, boats, cars -- we enjoyed the material pleasures of life," said Ed.
He was raised an Adventist and attended Cedar Lake Academy for four years. Those were anchor years, he points out. Yet Ed had not made Christ a personal friend. Running a demanding business, Dottie and Ed lost interest in the church, and Ed spent Sabbaths with business friends on his $150,000 sport fishing boat.
Through a series of moves the Lord brought them to a church and a pastor who passionately presented Christ. The Holy Spirit began drawing Ed and Dottie home.
Although he owned many Bibles, most unopened and unread, Ed didn't have a study Bible. As he left an Adventist Book Center, study Bible in hand, the clerk handed him a flyer on an upcoming Prayer Summit at La Sierra University. Ed forgot about the flyer until one evening he opened the van's door and it blew down on the floor at his feet. Perhaps he should attend, he thought. That night Ed heard Randy Maxwell speak about prayer.
The next morning (Friday) as Ed began his usual trek to work in Orange County, he made a wrong turn on the freeway that turned him back toward La Sierra University. Perhaps he should attend the rest of the classes about prayer, he thought, and he grabbed the car phone to cancel his appointments. "I discovered incredible people who had born-again experiences," he says. That Sabbath Dottie joined him, and together they made a commitment to God.
"I had new interests other than my sport fishing boat. The Holy Spirit just filled my life with the satisfaction I'd been seeking," Ed said.
Ed and Dottie found NET '96 to be the foundation they hadn't had since academy days, but they also found much more a passionate love for Jesus Christ. For the Hytinens that passion motivates them to nurture others who come "home" for a new look as well as those who come for a first-time look at the Savior.
by Edna Maye Gallington, Communication Department, Southeastern California Conference. Reprinted from the Adventist Review, July, 1998.
Steps to Christ
by Ellen G. White
Normally in this column we share new resources available to those involved in reclaiming ministry, but this issue I want to encourage you to take another look at a classic.
So many of our former and inactive members leave because they've never made Jesus their personal friend and Savior. It's possible that many of us who stay haven't either. Yet, without Jesus, Christianity is just another religion of works righteousness lived in fear of an angry God.
You probably have a copy of this classic.* I encourage you to take it down off the shelf. Read it again. Read it to rejuvenate or restore your own relationship with Jesus. Read it keeping in mind that Jesus loves the prodigal and longs for his/her return. Read it while praying for those you want to see restored to a relationship with Jesus and His church.
Someone once said that sharing the gospel is just one beggar telling another beggar where he's found bread. I believe it's more like one beggar introducing another beggar to the Baker.
Read again Steps to Christ and then go and introduce former and inactive Seventh-day Adventists to the Baker of the Bread of Life.
*You can get a copy of this book by calling your local Adventist Book Center at 1-800-765-6955.
First Things First
My dad is a pastor, and in his ministry he has made it a point to focus on reclaiming former members as one of the first things he does when he enters a new church. He has many success stories, but one that dramatically describes his technique is this one
Jason had been back-slidden for many years, but somehow his name had never been taken off of the church books. When my dad visited him, he was a drinker and a smoker who made it very plain that he didn't see his life-style changing anytime soon. My dad said to him, "That's fine... I just came to talk to you about Jesus."
In everything that he did with Jason, he made the cross and the gospel the focus. Now Jason is an elder and one of the most active members this church has. He knew all the doctrines, but had never been really introduced to Jesus.
Jesus has to be the center of everything we as a church get involved in. I don't think any of our members would leave if they saw Jesus and the cross.
Thanks for listening. I hope this will be useful to you.
*All the names in this story have been changed.
A Pastor Bared His Soul
An open letter to friends who have left church
For a long time I've been burdened in my heart for former classmates, students and friends who are disillusioned, disheartened, disappointed by the Adventist church
Join the club! Many of us have been disappointed by some part of our denominational witness. Recent developments in my own life have intensified my burden.
I recently conducted the funeral of a former Adventist. Her children are grown. While she was dying of cancer, she expressed a strong desire for re-baptism and church membership. Her health wouldn't allow baptism. When I speak at funerals I always emphasize the Second Coming. One can hardly watch the news without a profound sense of its nearness. Even if Jesus doesn't come during our lifetime, it is important for us to be ready.
Recently, 60 Minutes focused on the LDS church, emphasizing their family orientation, their position against smoking and drinking
and their conviction that their prophet was inspired of God! Would that CBS would spotlight Adventists reflecting enthusiasm for our "distinctives"!
Personal illness reminds me of my own vulnerability. After nearly 50 years of almost perfect health, I've had a by-pass operation, radiation for prostate cancer and now leukemia--all in the last six-years!
I have been called to Macedonia. I spend my ministry with non-Adventists. They respect and admire our distinctives. Lucille never looks out of place because she does not wear jewelry or make-up. We've never been looked down on because we are vegetarians. In fact, people apologize for eating meat! And our Sabbath-keeping has been a medium for witnessing.
These and other things have intensified my convictions and commitment as a Seventh-day Adventist. Sure, we have some fanatics. Yes, we have triumphalists. And we have legalists and literalists and simplists. But we can be proud of our Bible-based beliefs. In 34 years of ministry to non-Adventists I have never been ashamed of our life-style or our doctrines.
As a minister I challenge people to take God seriously, yet I am not responsible for their decisions. That's the Holy Spirit's work. Still, I feel the impact of their decisions and do all I can to influence them to accept Jesus and His Kingdom principles. And I must admit I feel even more acutely the status of former/inactive Seventh-day Adventists.
For whatever reason you gave up on the church, please consider this note as an invitation to come back. Don't wait until you are dying. Jesus never rejects those who come to Him!
by Felix A. Lorenz, Jr., edited from a post to the CompuServe Adventist Forum, May 3, 1997
A Workshop for Friends Reaching Friends Who Quit Church
Most missing members are looking for a safe place to come back to church. This eight-part workshop helps churches and members build safe places through relational bridges. Materials in the kit include: Leader's Guide, Participant's Guide, Overhead Transparency Masters, Training Videos.
Learn more here
TogetherAgain Video Seminar on Reclaiming Missing Members
Quarterly TogetherAgain broadcasts are made on reaching former members. These two-hour videos can be used in training events for your congregation or missing members ministry. Ask for the "TogetherAgain Uplink/Reclaiming Roundtable" video tape by event date.
Learn more here
Welcome Home Kit
Mailing materials and Guidebook for a Reclaiming Ministry
A 24-page Guide Book to help you set up a Reclaiming Ministry in your church. Also included is a Homecoming Kit of artwork on a CD-ROM disc to be customized for use on a reclaiming Sabbath of your choice (including letters, response cards, refrigerator notes, posters, bulletin inserts, etc.).
Learn more here
It's About Time!
Why can't God move as fast as we want Him to?
Eight months ago I received word that the pilot project I was directing for the conference where I was employed was being terminated due to budget constraints. That meant I needed to find a new position. Obviously, I hoped to remain in that conference so I wouldn't have to go through the pain of moving (some pastors enjoy the challenges of moving, others of us prefer to spread out some roots and never quite get to where we enjoy being the visible symbols of the "Great Advent Movement").
Since that time, I have sent out scores of résumés, had several interviews, followed up innumerable leads. Some appeared promising and vaporized. Others were DOA. I've heard all the clichés "God has a plan for you, just wait and see", "It must be a big one because of all the waiting He's making you do", "Don't worry, God has a place for you", "Don't give up", "Keep your courage", etc. I know they mean well, but clichés don't help. In fact, one friend said he wouldn't offer a cliché, but wanted me to know he was thinking about me.
I wonder if it feels like this to no longer have a church home. To no longer have the security of a spiritual family, a place of belonging, a certainty of belief. I wonder if it feels hollow to the person who leaves church life when s/he is inundated with meaningless clichés that sound so spiritual but are of no practical benefit. Or, worse, to experience the silence of former church colleagues who don't call or visit; who pretend they don't see you to avoid a conversation. I wonder how many of them experience the joy of a friend calling just to tell them that they're thought of. I wonder how many of them experience a loving friend who will not let them go without fighting to keep them.
I haven't had to worry about full-time employment for over 26 years. It's scary! How many former/inactive members have spent decades in our church fellowship and now find themselves on the outside, wondering if they'll ever have another. That can even be more frightening, even though a façade of bravado covers it up.
I still don't have a full-time job. I wish God would hurry up and find me one, or at least let me know what His plan is. Hundreds of thousands of former and inactive members still don't have a church home. And we know what His plan is here. He wants them back. Will we help Him love them back?
Gary E. Russell