Six Suggestions for a Happy New Year
“Happy New Year” is a dubious prospect for the world in 2017. But for us who cherish God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth, the trials of this present evil age are a prelude to the eternal glory awaiting us.
More than we may realize, workplace and classroom friends are ready now for what Seventh-day Adventists can offer. A loving local church that also teaches truth for our time is both a haven of healing from past hurts and a beacon of hope for the future.
What does that involve, in practical terms? I’m proposing six biblical qualities of congregational life that can attract visitors to your church.
1) People want Love
Disillusioned with feuding politicians and disappointed with their own relationships, people crave love. Looking for it online and in secular media, they find instead profanity, arrogance and exploitation. As Jesus warned about the last days, the love of many has grown cold (Matt. 24:12).
What an opportunity for your church! Jesus said love will be the distinguishing mark of His people: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35*). Is there loving, authentic relationality in your congregation?
2) People want Worship
Worship is a basic human need — does your church experience it together? Tragically, many congregations do not, whatever their preferred worship style.
Some contemporary songs offer worshipful insights and inspiration from Scripture, while others are superficial or even narcissistic. Adventists who prefer traditional music might be surprised to discover not every song in our hymnal facilitates worship.
Consider the difference between the hymns “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” One in its opening verse heart-fully honors Jesus as Lord and Savior. The other hymn glorifies the hour of prayer itself, celebrating what we are doing (praying) and receiving (relief from distress and escaping temptation). It points us to the throne of our heavenly Father but not to His person or to His gift of Jesus Christ.
I don’t mean to criticize that old Adventist favorite — just to evaluate its worship content. I do believe in taking an hour to pray every morning, but not to focus on the act of prayer or what we get out of it. “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend” (Steps to Christ, p. 93). Singing means “making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19).
There’s a difference between experiencing real worship and a mere song service. Our guests can sense it, even if we can’t.
3) People want Purpose
Most people live their whole lives and die without knowing why they were here on Earth in the first place. They yearn for a church that will help them understand God’s purpose for this planet and for their lives — particularly purpose in pain. They also need a mission, some great cause in which they can invest themselves. Will they find that in your church?
4) People want Helpfulness
Life is tough. Your workplace colleagues may be over their heads in debt, trapped in addictions and unable to parent their kids effectively. Many adults are themselves sheep without a shepherd. God wants to have compassion on them through your church’s helping them cope with life and its responsibilities. Does your church offer remedial seminars? Not just a handout for the hungry but a hand up for the helpless?
5) People want Truth
People want to know what in the world is going on. What an opportunity to teach Bible prophecy, insightfully rather than “incitefully.” We Adventists have answers, and we shouldn’t be shy about sharing them with those curious to know — but only in the context of grace, love and relevance.
6) People want Diversity
Diversity is a key to relationality. Obviously this involves embracing various ethnicities and both genders, everyone interacting peacefully and productively in your church. Diversity also invites people of different ages, personalities and socioeconomic strata to collaborate in the Spirit. This speaks powerfully to a world that gives lip service to diversity but lacks what only a loving church can offer: “All of you together are Christ’s body” (1 Cor. 12:27, NLT).
Let’s not forget diversity of thought — quite lacking both in society and in the church. We tend to cluster around people who think the same way we do. Actually, we don’t have to agree about everything to function as a healthy church. Unity doesn’t require or even pursue uniformity.
To summarize: Our neighbors need a local Adventist church that offers love, worship, purpose, helpfulness, truth and diversity — Spirit-filled qualities that can make 2017 the best year ever for them ... and for us.
*Unless noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version.