The Ever-Present Sense of Mission
Are we losing focus?
By Jean-Luc Lézeau
As a young boy I particularly cherished the 15-minute mission story presented at church each Sabbath. It was a time to hear about extraordinary people who were living incredible experiences in countries I’d never heard of before. They were missionaries, leaving their country for many years to talk about Jesus with people who had never heard His name. Looking back, I realize that those missionary stories likely were a catalyst for my spending 11 years in Africa later in my life.
Today as I ponder the mission offering statistics of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, I remember listening with rapt attention to the latest mission stories, while my parents donated to mission service 65 cents for every dollar they returned for tithe. Such financial commitment to mission is rare now; it’s down to four cents for each tithe dollar.1 Could the reason be that the sharing of mission stories such as those I treasured in my youth has become almost nonexistent in most local churches?
It’s true that local church needs have exploded—and it’s easy to understand why, especially in large towns and cities. Taxes and city regulation expenses such as security, parking facilities, and so forth have skyrocketed. But the issue is more complex than that. My fear is that we have lost sight of the bigger picture, such as why the Adventist Church exists, its raison d’être. Is it to ensure that we have top-of-the-line technological equipment? that our air-conditioning is working properly? that the color of the carpet matches the church pews? I don’t think our pioneers had the same concerns. Mission was their primary focus.
When the church first sent missionaries to various regions of North America and beyond, leaders realized they didn’t have a regular inflow of funds to sustain the missionaries in their work. None of the pastors at that time received a regular salary. Instead, church members would provide them with monetary gifts when they felt impressed to do so. Most of those members, however, worked hard just to sustain their families. Missionaries, therefore, didn’t venture out to parts unknown with a contract in their pocket indicating how much they would earn. So, because of the church’s deep-rooted sense of mission, church leaders turned to God’s Word in quest of a solution. They studied the biblical principles of tithing, and then introduced them to the church body.
Ellen White encouraged her husband, James, to call the ministers together and to ask J. N. Andrews to conduct a Bible class on what the Scriptures presented as a plan for sustaining the ministry. This study took place in Battle Creek in 1859. At the end of the meeting the conclusion was that “the tithing system is just as binding as it ever was… . Let us call it Systematic Benevolence on the tithing principle.”2
As the church grew and expanded its outreach, members played an increasingly vital role in sustaining mission through regular freewill offerings in addition to tithing. They were eager to complete the Great Commission and share the gospel message with the world. Church members rather than leaders initiated the practice of collecting money during church services, and it was only years later that this practice was introduced as an official church offering. Over time, an entire system of offerings developed. Mission was always the focus of these offerings.
The Sabbath School Offering originated in 1878, with the goal of helping to support the missionin Australia.
The Investment Fund started in New York in the 1880s, and again this offering was designated as part of the World Budget Offering for mission.
The Birthday/Thank Offering began in 1905 and is part of the World Budget Offering for mission.
The annual world Ingathering solicitation was initiated in 1908, and, again, mission was to benefit from these moneys.
The Week of Sacrifice Offering started in 1911 and was designated for the World Budget Offering for mission.
The Thirteenth Sabbath Offering project began in 1912. Part of this offering is designated for special mission projects.
For years mission offerings have been the greatest single source of funding for Adventist missions. As Seventh-day Adventists we are part of a church that is unique in the way it manages money. Church members who faithfully return their tithe and give offerings can say that they are participating in the world mission of our church. As far as I know, no other church has such a system. It’s a blessed one; it’s based on biblical principles; and it has enabled the church to send thousands of missionaries throughout the world, including unentered territories. But there are so many territories yet to reach.
As Seventh-day Adventists, we have lost focus somewhat on why we’re here, our raison d’être.Are you not weary of the state of the world in which we live? Is not your soul longing for Jesus’ soon return? If so, then consider the following:
1. Be sure your church uses the Adventist Mission DVD short stories, and/or the mission bulletin frequently to keep members apprised of mission offerings.3
2. When an offering is called for, ask the person scheduled to make the appeal not to neglect mentioning the mission connection.
3. Be liberal in your giving to mission.
The last time I checked, God’s mission for His end-time church had not changed. It’s still: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19, NIV). Let’s show our commitment to sharing the gospel worldwide through both prayer and mission offerings.
1 “General Conference Treasurer’s Report,” presented by Robert Lemon, General Conference treasurer, April 6, 2010, at the General Conference Spring Meeting, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.
2 J. N. Loughborough, in Pacific Union Recorder, Oct. 6, 1910. Cited in Arthur White, Ellen G. White: The Early Years, vol. 1, p. 388.
3 Materials available at www.adventistmission.org
Jean-Luc Lézeau wrote this article as associate director of theGeneral Conference Stewardship Department. Lézeau is currently project manager for Adventist World.