Editorial by Frank Bondurant
First Chronicles 12:32 mentions the tribe of Issachar who “understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (NIV). We need Issacharian pastors today who understand the trends and changes in our culture, and who will reach out to and engage people for Christ in relevant ways. Evangelism isn’t a set of skills you learn once and then are universally and always applicable. Evangelism isn’t static because people aren’t static. Our culture and communities aren’t static. They are constantly changing.
I was powerfully reminded of this as I visited with a pastor at our Columbia Union evangelism conference in late April. He recently pastored a church in Southwest Baltimore, one I had also pastored 33 years ago. As we compared notes, it was fascinating to learn how the community around the church had drastically changed through the years. New families moved into the neighborhood, many of whom represented racial and socio-economic groups vastly different from the congregation. The community’s transformation was reflected in the turnover of the local business scene, restaurants and school district. Everything in the community changed except our church. They attempted to reach the new demographic, using the same methods and programming as always. But the church no longer looked like its neighborhood. Gradually it became a “drive-in church,” since none of its members lived in the neighborhood any longer. The physical and social distance separating the church from the people surrounding its building grew. Eventually the church was sold, and the congregation merged with a church in another community.
STUDENTS OF THE TIMES
The pace of this change is accelerating. The shelf life of evangelistic ideas, assumptions and approaches is shorter than it has ever been. That is why it is critical that our church leaders and members, like these sons of Issachar, be students of the times. The gap between how quickly we change and how quickly society is changing leads to irrelevance.
In reality, many Adventist churches are perfectly poised to reach out and evangelize a world that no longer exists. Neglected satellite dishes, closets full of outdated literature answering questions no one is asking and dusty unused baptistries all bear witness to the irrelevance of our methods. Walking into some of our buildings and experiencing the worship services is like entering a time capsule. And many of our members don’t even have friends outside the church.
The gospel must never change, but we need new methods to communicate its timeless message. We must transform our church culture and also create strong relationships with our community so we can minister to our neighbors in culturally relevant ways.
In this issue of the Visitor, you’ll see a recap of our evangelism conference. While attendees expressed appreciation for the creative ideas, models of excellence and thought-provoking discussions, my prayer is that, as a result of this event, we will see “descendents” from the tribe of Issachar rise up in our church today.
Frank Bondurant serves as Columbia Union Conference’s vice president for Ministries Development.