Mission drift is the natural course for industries and organizations. Having a clear founding identity and purpose, having zeal for the cause, and even having prophetic writings at your disposal are insufficient safeguards to prevent mission drift. It takes focused attention to sustain your mission.
Mission will naturally inform an organization’s message. So if the mission has drifted, so has the message.
Given the reality of spiritual warfare (see Ephesians 6:10-17), we know that the devil and his minions are doing everything possible to thwart the spiritual success of God’s people, so we can expect our mission and message to be challenged. In fact, keeping them intact is downright difficult.
We no longer live in the modern society in which our Church was founded. We’re now in a postmodern one. Propositional truth—the fact that there is a truth that can be discovered—is at the foundation of our Church’s existence and its outreach methods. This idea is being questioned, and often outright dismissed, by postmodernists in an eclectically religious age. Several years ago, when I worked closely with a hospital chaplain, I inquired about her beliefs. She answered that she was technically Methodist, but practiced some Native American faith, some Catholicism, and a little Eastern faith, and she also liked some of what our Mormon head-chaplain was saying about his religion. Increasingly, the search for Truth has been supplanted by “the truth that works for me.”
Because of the de-emphasis on objective truth, a number of our Church’s successful outreach methods no longer work. A number of outreach methods used 50-100 years ago that found great success, like literature evangelism and the six-month evangelistic campaign, are increasingly feeling like an Amish family in the New York fashion district—quaint and out of touch. Before the age of internet, door-to-door salesmen were a staple of the American economy. Now we groan when a salesman is at our door. And who can attend religious meetings five nights a week?
Although the Bible Belt still exists in some parts of the South, other parts of the United States have morphed into a post-Christian environment—something that our European brothers and sisters have been facing for years. In some mid-American towns, the community pastors take turns speaking for the local high school graduation, and nobody thinks much about it. But this would be absolutely unthinkable in the post-Christian Bay Area, where I live. In my community there is occasional hostility to Christians, but it’s usually worse than that—it’s apathy.
In some quarters of our Church, the response to this complexity has been to double down. “We just need to put more effort and money into our methods.” Faithfulness to Adventist lifestyle and behavioralism gets emphasized. Another response recognizes that times have changed and that traditional evangelism methods are not working, so they have shifted to a more social-oriented evangelism where Adventist distinctiveness is minimized—“the Sunday church that meets on Saturday.” For another group of church members, the response has been resignation and finding contentment in declining numbers as a sign of God winnowing down to the remnant.
Illustrative of mission drift has been the rise of GYC (Generation of Youth for Christ) and The One Project. While one might argue that they are approaching the same problem from different angles, their divergent approaches suggest that there is no clear agreement in our Church about our Church’s mission and message. If you paid any attention to the lead-up to the recent General Conference Session, you could reasonably believe that not ordaining women is a core doctrinal position of our Church—especially now that our Church is polarized over it—wonderfully illustrative of a Church in mission drift.
We would do well to remember that differences in approach and message are not new. Paul and Barnabas “...had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company…” (Acts 15:39). And at the first “General Conference” in Jerusalem, there was an important argument over fundamentals: “…Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). How can we apply these examples to the Church of today?
So What Is Our Mission and Message?
In the hour-long span of a Sabbath school class, it is impossible to digest, discuss, and resolve this issue. But if we can agree that at least certain parts of our Church have drifted in mission, we can focus on the questions: What is our mission as a Church? What message do we want to send to the world?
Here are some key phrases for thought:
“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
“But we preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23a).
“ Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim. 6:16).
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17).
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19).
What was key for the apostles? What was key for the early Adventist Church? What is core and what is accommodation to the times? How do you define principles in our mission and message?
Some Things to grapple with:
Church leaders often encourage people with the idea that the message never changes, but methods do. To this end, how do we approach Ellen White’s writings about methods? Because here again, there are widely divergent approaches: on one side, “whatever Ellen White said is set in stone,” and on the other, “Ellen White has no relevancy to our day.”
For years, literature evangelism programs have been on life support, but stalwarts point to Ellen White’s statements on literature evangelism as being key to the end-time work; therefore we cannot change course here. Or did Ellen White mean for her words to be more principled-based? Would she have gladly welcomed something like the eBook revolution as a modern adaption of her words—something that, unlike colporteurs, can get into gated communities?
If you respond to this article, please:
Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7081