Perspective: Noble Progressivism or Dangerous Apostasy? A firsthand account of “Surge Church,” a Seventh-day Adventist Sunday Service


(Spectrumbot) #1

Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of discussion regarding the announcement by the First Seventh-day Adventist Church in Huntsville, Alabama that the congregation would begin offering worship services on Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m.

Not being one for speculation, I drove three hours up to North Alabama on the weekend of February 6-8 to learn and observe for myself what First Church was attempting to do.

In Huntsville, I stayed with a family that were members of First Church. Although they had heard about the Sunday service, they were initially unaware of the notoriety that the initiative had garnered. However, they believed that having the worship service on Sunday morning would be a good evangelistic tool for non-believers (the "unchurched").

On Sabbath morning I rose early to go to Sabbath School at First Church. I arrived to a large parking lot that was full by 10:00 a.m. (the church seats around 1,200). I walked into the building and went into one of the Sabbath School rooms, where I was warmly welcomed by the Sabbath School teacher when I arrived. There was no discussion regarding the Sunday Service that was to take place the next day at the exact same time. At the conclusion of the Sabbath School class I left for the sanctuary. Before I walked in I picked up a printed copy of the AL.com article that Senior Pastor Debleaire Snell was interviewed for, and that has been circulating on the Internet. The greeters' table in the lobby had copies available. The sanctuary was standing room only by quarter of 11:00. After general preliminaries, Pastor Snell took the podium to clarify the role and importance of the Sunday service. First, he emphasized that the service was an evangelistic effort and not meant to replace Sabbath Service. He shared a document outlining the effort.

The document provided 4 key points:

1. The service is dedicated to teaching Adventist truths (Fundamental Beliefs, The Sanctuary Message, Prophecy, etc.).

2. The service is to be the first point of contact for those who are not Adventist. The service aims to be an evangelistic tool.

3. It is to be an outlet of spiritual growth for members who would like a spiritual boost to start the new week.

4. This allows new members to have their beliefs reinforced.

Snell then provided both biblical texts and quotes from the Spirit of Prophecy to reinforce his position. Near the conclusion of his remarks, he said to the audience that their congregation would not apologize or ask for permission to do what God had asked for them to do. Later, he built on the same themes during his sermon, noting that sometimes the church must move beyond past traditions to be effective in ministry.

After the service I had dinner with a couple of families from the church. Both families seemed very supportive of their pastor and this initiative. However, no one there could recall an open discussion regarding having Sunday services. To their recollection no business meeting was called to discuss this initiative. They did share that the pastor had told them that he was starting the services the week before, which they did not mind.

The next morning I woke up early to make sure that I could be at the service. One of the marked differences between the Sabbath and Sunday was that I was able to dress down for Sunday's service. When I arrived at the church around 10:00 a.m. the parking lot was relatively full. As I walked to the front door I was greeted by both male and female greeters in coordinating t-shirts and jeans. When I came into the sanctuary, I could feel the energy. A praise team led the church into worship, and there was a strong, celebratory feel to the service.

After the praise team finished, Pastor Snell came up to the podium wearing a plaid shirt and jeans. He welcomed first- and second-time guests to the church. He asked them to raise their hands. Around twenty people acknowledged that they were guests. This was interesting to note as there were some 300 people in attendance. Snell acknowledged several pastors and the South Central Conference president who were in attendance and thanked them for their support.

The focus of his sermon was on the love of God, and he used John 3:16 as the morning's Scripture passage. Pastor Snell concluded by sharing how a person can be saved.

To me, the Sunday service really felt like a modern tent revival in a church! It led me to conclude that there is nothing wrong with having the service on Sunday morning, if the congregation continues to uphold biblical truths and Adventist teachings.

However, I do have some critiques:

1. Messaging—I, along with even some members of the church, felt very uneasy about learning about this "modern revival" from the public press and not from an official church periodical. This led to confusion about it purpose and mission.

2. The use of the term "Worship"—Using the term "worship" before the term "service" automatically had some jump to the conclusion that the Sunday service would mirror the traditional "Divine" worship service. This was even brought up by members.

3. The 10:00 a.m. time slot—Some people were saying that nobody would have said anything if they had the service at 4, 6, or 7 p.m., and I agree! The real issue is that a time was chosen that similarly parallels closely the sacred hour that we worship on Saturday. I believe it is a disingenuous stance to act as if the timing of the service does not influence how the service is perceived.

4. One argument that I heard throughout the weekend was that if you didn't agree with this approach to witnessing you somehow are less supportive of evangelism- I think we go into very dangerous territory when we begin to speak about our fellow brothers and sisters in this way. Although I would be probably viewed in many ways as an open-minded Adventist, I think that it is totally inappropriate to say someone that does not think or agree that Adventist churches should be offering Sunday morning services is not interested in evangelism. There are varying approaches to ministry and I think the final test of the effectiveness of this initiative will be the souls won for Christ.

Dr. Sydney Freeman, Jr. is President and Chief Research Scientist at Preeminent Leadership & Research Solutions, LLC., and a member of the South Central Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6645

(Elaine Nelson) #2

Small minds fear the new. If it’s never been done before, it shouldn’t be. Do they know their own church history? People stepped out from their former religious beliefs and began Christianity as did the Adventist pioneers. What if they had fared “what people might think”?


(Phillip Brantley) #3

I am not an expert on Seventh-day Adventist Church history, but my sense is that our voices of opposition to evangelism have never been louder and more strident than they are today. Traditional methods of evangelism are routinely regarded as money-wasting and ineffective endeavors. Ted Wilson’s initiative of large city evangelism is mocked as soon as it is announced. An orchestrated campaign of opposition forces the GC to not only withdraw support for The Record Keeper, which yielded about 30 baptisms in its first use as an evangelism tool, but to also compel BRI to issue what we now know is an untruthful and unfair critique of the film series. Loud and strident are the cries of angst directed toward women pastors ordained by God who have organized hundreds of churches and baptized thousands of people. Young people are warned not to attend the annual GYC conference. Any ministry directed toward bringing LGBTI individuals into the Church is sure to elicit wails of bitterness. And now we see criticisms raised against Sunday services evangelism.

Evangelism is hard work. The paltry rate of growth in terms of membership gains and increases in gross revenues in the NAD informs us that we are not doing enough evangelism. I find it strange that so many scolds in the Church feel comfortable making the work of evangelism much harder than it should be. We all have a choice: we can either function as wheat and bear fruit or we can function as tares and frustrate and obstruct what the wheat are trying to do.


(Sinisa ) #4

“The use of the term “Worship”—Using the term “worship” before the term “service” automatically had some jump to the conclusion that the Sunday service would mirror the traditional “Divine” worship service. This was even brought up by members.”

Perhaps, this is a good time to remind ourselves that ancient Judaism (as opposed to modern, post temple destruction, rabbinic Judaism) was mainly preoccupied with Sabbath RESTING. WORSHIPING, on the other hand, was a daily temple activity not exclusively reserved for the Sabbath day.
…Moments like these make me wonder how on earth has 'history’ ended up in “historic Adventism”.


(k_Lutz) #5

Ah, the Mystery of the Missing ION, as in “historIONic Adventism”" :wink:

Trust the Process.


(Steve Mga) #6

This is a comment I made over on “The Ungathered Church”.

“It is not easy being an innovative Preacher. People complain. At times people complain to the Conference Office. The Pastor gets called to “the Office”. Maybe the Preacher gets blackballed for being too welcoming, for being too involved in the local community, for hanging around undesireables. The Pastor’s wings are clipped, and they never grow back again. It isnt easy to bring change to the Local Congregation.”

I do notice some tension portrayed in this article regarding what happened and how it happened and why it happened.
[1]. The time of day — Normal times for most other Sunday Church services in the world of Christian Community.
[2]. The word “Worship” attached to the Time Of Day that most other Sunday Church services in the world of Christian Community attach to their Services.
Comment-- Why is 10 AM on Sunday Morning not appropriate, but a 4pm. 6pm. or 7pm an OK time? The author stated [in what sounded like disagreement with 10 AM] "I believe it is a disingenuous stance to act as if the timing of the service does not influence how the service is perceived."
I believe that THIS IS EXACTLY Why the 10AM time slot WAS chosen. It was chosen to get those who came to be in the Mental AND Emotional Mood to Worship God. NOT to be entertained. [And I have stated my views on church just being an “entertainment mode” sometimes on other places.]
WORSHIP attached to “Service”. Strange that anyone would take offense to THAT!!! That IS WHY people came! To WORSHIP God and to HEAR the Word Of The Lord. Not only that but to give Love and Praise BACK to God. Love and praise BACK to God IS Worship!!! Get over it people and Dr. Freeman.

[3] Some did not hear about the new service. It is precisely because some would complain [note some of Dr Freeman’s complaints and “fears” that he expresses.] and the event would never have evolved. There were a lot of people who DID hear about it, or a huge crowd would not have shown up. It also takes a lot of people for the size of the building to open the doors on Sunday, to man the mics, to put on the music, and greet the people and give the message. There had to be SOME communication in order to have the program go off without a glitch!
[4] “One argument that I heard throughout the weekend was that if you didnt agree with this approach to witnessing you somehow are less supportive of evangelism.” There are ALWAYS going to be nay-sayers about any type of evangelism approaches that doesnt meet one’s personal view of HOW evangelism should be done. These “nay-sayers” already set themselves up to be criticized for their criticism or their questioning. So anything said to a “nay-sayer” is going to be perceived wrongly by them and will take offense.
[5] “There are varying approaches to ministry and I think the final test of the effectiveness of this initiative will be the souls won for Christ.” I am interested as to what Dr Freeman considers “How to count the number of souls won for Christ”? Is he looking for the number of Baptisms to count? If so, this is a delusion on his part, plain and clear. Is he looking for ways to count numbers in other way? This again is going to be delusional on his part.
Where the souls won for Christ is in the Individual Person’s own mind. The text says, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. This is a Mind activity, not a check box on a piece of paper. It might be that the person WILL join a Sunday Church in response to this call, first. They might join the Sunday church that other members of their family attend.
THIS is the problem with persons like Dr Freeman and others who Want to See Numbers Baptized in order to be able to say, This is Effective Evangelism.
Sorry, for being so negative about this article’s response to such a grand description that was presented in the first half of it by Dr Freeman.
WE NEED more SDA churches OPEN on Sunday mornings at 10AM. And to invite ALL, to be ALL Welcoming at least on THAT day.


#7

With just this to go on I have to suspend judgment. It is too easy to criticise something new(well, new from our own perspective!). After all, my mother—a somewhat nominal Methodist—greeted my first venture into an SDA church with the following words: "What?? Not one of those American churches??"
There is also a parallel with our attitude to Christmas and Easter. Yes, at those times of year there is a nominal interest shown by Joe Public in what these are ostensibly all about. But from an evangelistic point of view the verdict has to be “What does it do in the long term—that is, do the new converts stay?”


(Steve Mga) #8

Barry
Again, Are we just looking at numbers “baptized” in to the SDA church?
Or, are we going to be much more concerned that persons “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”?

When i was a nursing student at Madison College, we were requested to pray with all our patients in the evening. TO ME it became “just a routine”. This one patient I prayed with in “my routine” early in the week. He got well. Went home. The next week I was called on the phone at the Dorm to come to the hospital, someone wanted to see me. I quickly went over, wondering what it was all about.
There was this gentleman with his wife. His wife was so excited. She said that my prayer had encouraged her husband to attend church for the 1st time that SUNDAY. And he gave his heart to the Lord at the Baptist church she attended.
This IS a Number. It just was not a number posted in the SDA Union Paper! And we all 3 rejoiced together!

PS: Yes, Barry, SDAs do miss a lot by not doing Advent, Christmas till Jan 6, not doing Lent and Easter, Ash Wednesday, the birthday of the church on Pentecost Weekend. Having Eucharist each Sabbath, foot washing still every Quarter. And inviting the public and church neighbors to join in the celebrations.


(Kim Green) #9

Time will tell- but my personal observations in churches in NAD is that they lose about a half in a few years after baptism anyway.


(Steve Mga) #10

Kim
THE WHY these persons leave should offend us as SDAs. It should be a call to look at WHAT these converts were looking for, and WHY it is that we are not providing the Spiritual resources that brought them to the SDA church in the first place.
WHAT is it that we promised them? WHAT is it that we are NOT living up to our promises?
But we are content to just say, Oh well, half of these new faces will be leaving.


(Allen Shepherd) #11

This has been tried before, and I have no problem with it.


(Steve Mga) #12

Allen
What were the motives for doing it?
What were the motives and reasons for the Stop doing it?
Did they Stop because there was no personal glory that didnt come to the leaders?


(Thomas J Zwemer) #13

this appears to be a winner. The typical evangelistic series is a fear and ego pony show. It has very limited staying power. Tom Z


(Steve Mga) #14

Tom:
If this church group made the decision to begin Sunday services the decision to continue should remain open ended.
That is, the decision to remain open on Sunday “for ever”. There should be no “STOP” sign in their planning. All lights should remain set on “Green” for “GO”. And the program should NOT be based just on a leader. It should not be based on “Baptisms”. Not be based on how many column inches they get in the Southern Tidings, or on Spectrum. If there is a NEW Pastor for some reason, the NEW Pastor’s Contract should ensure the continued Sunday service at 10 AM. NOT a different time.


(Pagophilus) #15

Energy? Celebratory?

Was there a drum set? Was there more than one? Was it loud? Very loud? Was there reverence displayed? Were there lights (as in spotlights, coloured). Was the auditorium darkened overall?

So today we no longer feel we have to dress our best when we come before the Creator of the universe? But if Obama was to visit it would be a different story…

Agree totally. And, how many of those “won to Christ” will actually know anything, especially Christ Himself, and what Christ expects of them, and be prepared to follow Christ, not just turn up to the “praise team” and the informal worship service.


(Kim Green) #16

I believe that usually it isn’t doctrinal issues it is more social issues, Steve…which is according to one adventist study. Don’t think that it is much of a mystery but the issue doesn’t get addressed in most churches.


(k_Lutz) #17

It is truly amazing that those which decried a worship service on Sunday are now upset that it wasn’t a worship service. I guess there are those that choose to be miserable.

Trust God.


(Charles Possenriede) #18

The article said that the Sunday service was to:

  1. The service is dedicated to teaching Adventist truths (Fundamental Beliefs, The Sanctuary Message, Prophecy, etc.).
  2. The service is to be the first point of contact for those who are not Adventist. The service aims to be an evangelistic tool.
  3. It is to be an outlet of spiritual growth for members who would like a spiritual boost to start the new week.
  4. This allows new members to have their beliefs reinforced.

Shouldn’t this be the thrust of our Sabbath services too?


(Att) #19

While reading this I was almost sure it was a parody!
Read that again slowly, line by line…


(Frankmer7) #20

Why not go with a decibel meter and measure the sound levels? Oh… and spy on people to see if anyone is tapping their feet. We all know how profane that is too. A report to the GC watchdog committee would then be the next step.

But, in all seriousness, just read the psalms. Worship and singing in the temple must have gotten quite loud and lively at times. Read about the celebration that Miriam led after the Red Sea deliverance. They were beating tambourines and dancing! Celebrating salvation! And it didn’t matter that it wasn’t in a temple or sacred space. It was still worship! And God accepted it! A form that you and many of us would probably have found quite alien.

Open up your mind for once! Or at least stop criticizing others whose views and practices sincerely differ from yours. This type of critical spirit is far worse a problem than a different time for, or musical style incorporated into, a worship service. No one is forcing anyone to participate.

Frank