The word “vision” has several meanings. “Vision comes from faith and allows a church to be or do something beyond its current abilities to impact the Kingdom. . . . Though these things cannot be seen physically, they must be seen mentally and spiritually if people are to commit themselves to the task.”a
In a research study conducted by the Billy Graham School of Mission, hundreds of lay people were asked to define the purpose of the church. Less than 25 percent answered “evangelism,” but 90 percent mentioned “relationship” as the key purpose of the church. This shows that most believers consider the church more of a meeting place than an outreach agency.
DISCOVERING GOD'S PURPOSE
In a brief statement, Ellen G. White reveals her comprehension of God’s purpose for the church: “God demands that every soul who knows the truth shall seek to win others to the love of the truth.”b
In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus makes clear that the church’s main purpose is to preach the gospel. His explanation to the disciples can be summarized in three words: Go, teach, baptize. The fulfillment of this mission occurs when disciples are added to the body of Christ and are responsibly involved in evangelistic projects.
Thom Rainer says, “The vision comes from God and it should be the result of a leader’s life of prayer.”c According to Rainer, for leaders to understand God’s immediate purpose for His church, prayer is indispensible. Through prayer, God makes leaders aware that they are at war “against principalities, against powers” (Eph. 6:12, 18) and that their mission is to be ambassadors for Christ and to work to free those enslaved by Satan (verses 19-20).
The elder needs to understand the difference between mission and vision:
1. Mission is the primary purpose of the gospel, in which all Christian churches should be involved. It includes worship, evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and fellowship.
2. Vision is God’s specific plan for a specific church in a specific time. “The vision God gives to a church is not the same as He gives to another church.”d
For a church to fulfill its mission, the elder needs to assist the church in recognizing the needs of the non-Adventist community in which the church is located. Working together with the congregation, elders can develop an efficient program to meet those community needs. “In His wisdom the Lord brings those who are seeking for truth into touch with fellow beings who know the truth. It is the plan of Heaven that those who have received light shall impart it to those in darkness.”e That operation may be a combined effort of community service and evangelism. It is important that the vision not only reveal something that “needs to be done,” but that something “needs to be done to help others.” This vision that comes from God revives the heart of the church for the community’s needs through events, tasks, and specific programs.
ESTABLISHING OBJECTIVES FOR GROWTH
Lyle Schaller said, “Producing a congregation above 40 members is like pumping water up a hill. It can be done, but it means to go against powers of nature, and it requires persistent and continuous effort.” This principle can be applied to any church that wants to grow.
One of a leader’s major challenges is to mobilize people to reach outside their comfort zone. One method that works is to present the church with a numeric comparison chart showing church growth in recent years. The leader might explain that a church grows in three ways: (1) biologically (baptism of members; children); (2) by transfer; or (3) by the conversion of outside people. Make a comparison separate from each of these topics and then discuss the subject openly with the church.
The church expresses interest in growing as it establishes its mission objectives and plans an efficient evangelistic program. It is the leader’s responsibility to assist the church in defining its objectives and focusing on the evangelistic program so that it is an entirely biblical activity. It should be clear to the members that the primary task is to bring unbelievers to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and to assist them in becoming active and responsible members in the church.
To be successful, elders should: (1) learn to humble themselves before the Lord so that the Lord can fill them with His Spirit (that means to study the Word of God and dedicate themselves to intercessory prayer); and (2) formulate with the pastor and congregation a church-growth strategy based on principles (guided by the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy) which brings life and encourages growth.
In this process of removing obstacles to encourage church growth, members are usually enthusiastic about evangelism, and everyone wants to participate with their own vision, which means each member will have an idea of what the church should be or do. The local pastor and leaders can help the church decide on a course of action. Choosing a course of action may seem easy, but it is not because it requires a change in style, location, system, leadership, and plans. It will certainly involve a lot of work.
LEADING WITH CREDIBILITY
The church leadership cannot change a church without the church’s permission. We elders need to motivate the church in the correct way. In Acts 6:1-5, we see how the apostles worked. First, they met with the church members and identified the challenge. A team was selected to deal with the challenge, and people were empowered for ministry. The challenge was a catalyst for growth, not a cause for division. Thus, the members were united instead of divided.
A church leader needs to have credibility before presenting a new task. Credibility is reached by progressively casting the vision. Initially, we should celebrate small victories with our members and rejoice in what God has done through them. Once the vision is successful, it will be easier to progress to the next level of ministry and service. It doesn’t matter if your church is new or old, large or small: it can also have this experience. The first step is to pray for vision.
a Ed Stetzer, Comeback Churches, 46.
b Ellen G. White, Christian Service, 8.
c Thom Rainer, The Book of Church Growth, 177.
d Ibid., 178.
e Ellen G. White, Christian Service, 8.
Paulo Pinheiro is editor of the Portuguese edition of Elder’s Digest.
THE 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF ELDER’S DIGEST
Congratulations, not only for 15 years of ministry to our elders through Elder’s Digest, but also for the excellent and practical resource that it is. We are delighted that church leaders at all levels in the South Pacific have worked together to make Elder’s Digest available to elders across the Division.
The role of elders is critical to the growth of the church, and your magazine is playing a vital role in keeping elders informed, relevant, and up-to-date in their work. An elder’s role covers a variety of areas, and we appreciate how the magazine seeks to address the various aspects of the elder’s responsibilities.
Elder’s Digest is undoubtedly one of the most important resources for our elders in the South Pacific Division. Keep up the good work your team is doing in helping elders maintain a “discipleship” mission focus, which includes showing God’s love through word and deed, bringing people into God’s love through witness and evangelism, and growing these new members into the full stature of Jesus Christ.—Gary Webster, Ministerial Secretary, South Pacific Division.
THE 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF ELDER’S DIGEST
Some time ago I visited a firefighter who had been injured in a fire. He was in intensive care; the situation was delicate, but not drastic. After an introductory greeting and an attempt to cheer him, we congratulated him for his courageous action and spirit of service. Barely opening his eyes, he thanked us with a weak but convincing voice but added, “That’s what we’re here for.”
I thought many times about his five-word sermon: “That’s what we’re here for.” In reality, a firefighter exists not to be harmed but to protect life and property. In doing this, it is necessary to risk one’s life, and that is why firefighters exist.
So for Elder’s Digest’s 15 years of existence, I congratulate and thank you. For 15 years this journal has been asking questions: Are we as pastors, elders, leaders, and children of God, who are called by the Lord, doing what He requires of us? Do we guard, protect, search, rescue, and restore lives?
“By faith we can be on the threshold of the eternal city, and hear the kind welcome given to those in this life together with Christ” (Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles, 479-480). On this earth, we must be in communion with God and know our mission, so that we may soon be where we want to be—with Jesus, forever.—Bruno Raso, Ministerial Secretary, South American Division.