Mr. Alec Holden, from Surrey, England, turned one hundred years old on April 24, 2007. When questioned about the secret to his longevity, he testified to the health benefits of eating porridge every morning. But then he added this extremely helpful tip: “I keep breathing. If you stop breathing, you’re in real trouble.”
I smiled when I read Mr. Holden’s story in the Washington Post, but then thought about how his words apply not just to our physical lives, but also to our spiritual lives and to our churches. As elders, we need to help keep our churches breathing spiritually—to make sure we grow in spiritual energy and enthusiasm, and to keep us focused on and involved in mission.
The Key to Spiritual Health
Bible study, prayer, and worship are vital for spiritual health. But just as important are mission and service, which help pump life-giving spiritual oxygen through our churches. If Bible study, prayer, and worship are like good nutrition, then mission and service are like exercise. Together, they’re a recipe for good spiritual health.
As our churches become involved in mission, they come alive spiritually. Rather than focusing only inward on church members’ needs and concerns, healthy churches reach out to the needs of their local communities and the world beyond. And in doing so, their own spiritual health is strengthened. As the wise man says, “he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Prov 11:25, NIV).
Here are a few suggestions for building a greater vision for mission in our churches:
1. Refocus the church’s resources.
Take some time to analyze your church budget. Take a piece of paper and make two columns with two headings: “Caring for Church Members” and “Reaching the Community.” Look closely at each line item in the church budget and place them in one of the two columns. You’ll quickly get a picture of the church’s priorities. How much is spent on caring for church members, and how much is spent on direct ministry to the community?
2. Inspire a sense of mission among our children.
In Bangladesh, a country where many people barely survive on less than a dollar a day, a mother of five accepted Jesus and became a Seventh-day Adventist. Despite her family’s tiny income, she never fails to give from what she has and inspire her children to do the same. Every Sabbath, she makes sure they have something to give to the offering. When times are good, they drop a few coins in the offering bag. When they have no money, she places a spoon of uncooked rice on the palm of each of her five children. Each, in turn, drops their meager rice portions into the offering bag as it comes around.1
We know that habits, attitudes, and priorities begin to be established at a young age. As leaders we must find creative ways to inspire and encourage our children to become personally involved in mission, and to support mission with their tithe and mission offerings. Many missionaries have told me that their interest was first sparked listening to mission stories in Sabbath School.
The Grandview Seventh-day Adventist Church in Texas, United States, is a small church (some thirty members) in a small town (some 1,500 residents). But Grandview focuses on building a big mission vision in its children.
Primary class teacher Luly Wicklund and other leaders constructed a mission airplane in the Sabbath School room. Each child received a “Grandview Sabbath School Passport” that they presented at the Missionary Airlines registration desk to receive a home-printed sticker “visa” for their destination country. Luly developed the Missionary Airlines concept more than a decade ago at the suggestion of her eleven-year-old son. She believes it’s important to make stories real for children. “They see that these are normal people who go to these places,” she says. “It’s not just a missionary or some other person out there that nobody knows.”2
On the other side of the world, leaders of the primary/junior Sabbath School class in Perth, Australia, have worked hard to make the concept of mission real to their children. One quarter, when the Thirteenth Sabbath Offerings were destined for projects in Southern Asia, they immersed the children in Indian culture. They colored Indian flags, cooked Indian food, wore Indian clothes, and prayed for the church’s mission in India. They also wrote letters to people featured in the Mission Quarterly. Teachers scanned the children’s handwritten stories and emailed them to the Southern Asia Division. They focused on Thirteenth Sabbath Offering projects that would benefit from a portion of the mission offerings.
3. Remember mission in Sabbath School.
We need to focus on mission for other age groups, too, and one of the best ways to do this is through Sabbath School. The four key pillars of Sabbath School are Bible study, fellowship, community outreach, and world mission. Sadly, many Sabbath Schools have started to ignore community outreach and world mission. They’ve become places to talk, but not act.
Imagine if each Sabbath School group adopted projects in their local community where they could help. Imagine if each Sabbath their eyes were turned for at least a few minutes to mission challenges around the world. An easy way to do this is to play Mission Spotlight videos that show how mission offerings are being used. New videos are produced every quarter and are available for download at: adventistmission.org/mission-spotlight. Past stories can be searched by country or topic, and videos are available in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
And don’t forget stories from the Mission Quarterlies. Visit AdventistMission.org, click on “Resources,” and select a Mission Quarterly. Rather than just reading the story aloud, encourage people to tell the story, or ask younger members to dramatize it. Even church families in a part of the world on the Combined Offering Plan can be encouraged by videos and stories of how their tithes and offerings are helping mission around the world.
4. Include mission stories in the worship service.
Why not use one or two M360.tv mission stories to illustrate your next sermon? Or play some of these videos before the worship service begins? Simply visit M360.tv and click on “Stories” to view or download, or search for stories by country or topic. And again, they’re available in English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
And if you’re looking for a good sermon illustration to tell, you can find mission stories going back more than one hundred years. Visit adventistarchives.org, go to “Online Archives,” select “Periodicals,” and click on one of the Mission Quarterly options.
5. Make mission central.
Simple things can make a big difference. Here are a few ideas to keep mission central in your church:
- Use your church foyer to focus on mission. Offer free magazines such as Mission 360, which is full of stories of all aspects of the church’s mission. Show posters that focus on mission. Showcase mission posters produced by children in Sabbath School.
- Use the church bulletin each week as a place to include information about mission not only locally, but globally. A rich source of information is adventistmission.org.
- Download the free “Mission to the Cities” prayer map and have your church pray for cities around the world. Use it as a poster in your church foyer or include it as an insert in your church bulletin. Have the church pray for different cities every week. https://missiontothecities.org/prayer-map-download
- Invite a missionary, church planter, or someone involved in community service activities to share a short story in your worship service.
- Include mission story books in your church library.
- Utilize mission promotion resources at am.adventistmission.org/resources.
Elders play a key role in helping strengthen their church’s mission vision for the local community and wider world. As that vision grows, so do prayer, funds, and personal involvement. And that’s when our churches become healthy. As the theologian Emil Brunner writes, “the church exists by mission just as fire exists by burning.”3
- This story was shared by Orathai Chureson, Children’s Ministries director for the Southern Asia-Pacific Division.
- For the full story, see Andrew McChesney, “Texan Children Fly to Mission Field Every Sabbath,” Adventist Mission, accessed January 31, 2021, www.adventistmission.org/texan-children-fly-to-mission-field-every-sabbath.
- H. Emil Brunner, The Word and the World (London: SCM Press, 1931), 108