In this article I would like to share my greatest frustration about Adventist churches. I am not speaking simply as a pastor, but as a lifelong Adventist. And while there are lots of areas in which our churches could improve, here is my personal Number One.
Adventist Churches are "All Talk"
OK, definitely not all of them. But many of them. And here is what I mean:
Adventists talk a lot about spreading the gospel and reaching our communities. But for the most part it’s all talk. When it comes down to it, we don't really want to reach our communities. We only want to reach the kinds of people who will respond to our narrow methods of evangelism. We don't spend time studying the culture. We don't invest in getting to know their worldviews, their art, their language, or their value systems. We don't take time to build bridges with them and to familiarize ourselves with their world. We don't adapt our outreach and ministry efforts to connect with them and we don't recalibrate our own personal lives in order to more effectively reach them. Instead, we draw a cultural box in our own heads and unconsciously (or maybe not?) choose to reach only those people who fit into our box.
Don't believe me? Let me ask you, what would your church do if a bunch of druggies showed up next weekend? Or a couple of gangsters? How about a group of curious students from the local university who identify as LGBT+, or one of your youth brought their postmodern, skeptic friend to church? Now of course, the chances of these people turning up are slim to none to begin with. But for a moment, let’s assume they did turn up. What would we do? Would we know how to speak to them, communicate with them, and journey with them if they decided to keep attending? In my experience, most Adventists I have seen are so out of touch with the culture around them that they have almost no capacity to engage with anyone who doesn't fit into their box in some way, shape, or form.
Some would respond by saying, "I would just love them." A great start. But just loving them is meaningless if it is not accompanied by action that communicates that love. And such action is culturally defined. For example, a friend of mine who was baptized a few years ago recently confided that he has been struggling big time in his walk with God and is beginning to backslide. He comes from a gang culture, and even though he wants to follow God he has never been able to replace his gang friends because the church offers him no alternative. The people there are nice, yes. They love him and support him. But they don't understand him. And because they don't understand him, they have no idea how to show him love in the way he needs.
And why don't they understand him? Because none of them have taken the time to do so. Not one has even picked up a book on how to understand gang culture, let alone engaged him or others like him in conversation. They just assume he fits the box and must be OK. Multiply this anecdote by several thousand and you will get a glimpse of what happens in our churches all across the world.
Let's face it. Our way of doing church, evangelism, and outreach is designed to reach middle-class people who don't have too many vices and who are comfortable in a sort of old-school European kind of setting. We talk about outreach. We talk about evangelism. We talk about the great commission. But it’s all talk. The inconvenience of love — which calls us to adapt, learn, grow, think, devise, and become students of the culture — is missing in our Adventist churches. And this is the number one thing that drives me crazy about Adventist churches.
So what is the solution? I believe acceptance is number one. But this acceptance must be followed by repentance. And then, at least begin with the simple and easy step of picking up a book, watching a YouTube video, or reading a few articles on how the culture around you thinks, speaks, and relates to the world around them. But don't stop there. Step out of the box you have manufactured — the one where you can exist comfortably with all the people who think and see the world the same way you do — and begin to build relationships with the people outside that box. If all of us did this we would change the culture of our local Adventist churches and finally be ready to minister to our communities.
Here are three resources to get you started:
The book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons
The World Religions Podcast by JR Forasteros
The book How to Get Along with Others by Ellen G. White
Pastor Marcos Torres is a millennial Adventist pastor with a passion for Jesus, the narrative of Adventism, and the relevancy of the local Adventist church. He pastors in Western Australia where he lives with his wife and children. You can follow him on Facebook and Instagram. This essay originally appeared on his blog, Pomopastor, and is reprinted here with permission.
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