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Church On a Mission To Move Forward

posted on January 17, 2014, under Conference by

by Abel Paulín, Florida Conference Center For Mission Coordination (Evangelism Department) Director

Paul came to Ephesus with the mission of expanding God’s kingdom in that city. Ephesus was a cosmopolitan port city in Asia, bustling with commerce and culture. It promised to be a real prize for the kingdom and a great challenge. After some inquires at the local synagogue, he found a handful of Christians. They were happy in their fellowship, Bible studies, and meeting their own needs but not really making an impact on the city.1

Paul thought there was something in Ephesus that did not sync with Christianity. He was an apostle. Apostles were there to guard the faith from impurity and expand the kingdom—in other words, to establish the Church in new territories.

In his eyes, the Ephesus church was missing a spark and a crucial foundational block. As Paul knew it, the church was organized on four core functions: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers.2 These functions were to equip the saints for the work of ministry.3 He saw that the Ephesus church was missing what he was there to provide—apostolic vision and impulse.

Things changed drastically when the Church received the apostolic vision provided by Paul and the spark that comes with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Afterward, members of Ephesus went with Paul to the synagogue to talk about Jesus, then to the school of Tyrannus, and then to many other places. In two years, “all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”4 It was quite a turnaround for a dwindling church. What a difference apostolic leadership, fueled and led by the Holy Spirit makes. It says a lot, also, about the influence of a large city on a whole region.

The biblical organizational setup is the same for today’s Church. The core functions still are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers. In order to flourish, the Church still needs apostolic vision and impulse at its foundation; otherwise, it will plateau, become weak, and die.

In the words of Jesus, apostolic vision comes with the spark that propels the Church forward, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”5 He plainly expresses His personal support for an advancing Church, “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”6

The Church that Paul knew was a Church on the go, a Church with such fervor that it constantly expanded. Fervor and expansion were in the DNA of the Church.

Newton’s first law of motion easily applies to the spiritual realm and to the nature of churches, “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”7 Often, the “unbalanced force” that changes the motion of the moving Church is the human tendency to stay at rest. When that happens, God acts to get His Church going again. It happened in Jerusalem. When the Church got too comfortable and wasn’t inclined to go places anymore, God sent persecution and there came the diaspora.8 When early Adventists got too comfortable in Battle Creek in the safety of an Adventist Community, in a nice sanctuary, listening to great sermons and serenaded by good music, God sent His message with literal fire and got them moving again.9 The Church is fundamentally apostolic, and God designed it to be in motion, to always multiply and establishing itself in new territories.

Church planting has been a hallmark of the Church in Florida, and God has blessed His work here through the years with growth. Undeniable proof of this is the many Adventist churches that dot the Florida landscape—not just in the large cities but in small towns and communities, as well. There are Adventist churches in places like Starke, Interlachen, Jasper, Madison, and Perry in North Florida, and small towns like Wauchula, Fort Meade, Arcadia, Immokalee, and Lake Placid in the Southwest. There are Adventist churches in Palm Coast, Vero Beach, Indiantown, and Jupiter in the East; Homestead, Key Largo, Marathon, and Key West in the South, to name a few. All are witnesses to the apostolic vision and impulse of the Adventist Movement in Florida.

The first Adventist that came to Florida was an African-American who came to visit his loved ones in 1873. Pastor S.N. Haskell reported that many were eager for his books and tracts, and even some were willing to adopt the Sabbath.10 The first groups of Seventh-day Adventists were found in the Jacksonville area in 1876. The first organized church was Palmetto Church in 1885, south of the Tampa Bay area. Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists was organized in 1893 with six churches and 139 members.

Today, Florida Conference has more than 250 churches and 62,000 members. These churches and members are in small towns and large cities. This is not said in triumph but in gratitude to God and in admiration of those who came before us. They invested considerable money, time, and effort in going to new places to establish the Church.

But the work is not yet done. If anything, there is more work than ever. Florida’s large cities are a challenge greater than us. There are hundreds of towns and communities still without Adventist presence, and the Ephesus challenge is still here. We still have the temptation to be content in one place with fellowship, good worship, preaching, and Bible study.

If the apostle Paul came to us today, he would want to see apostolic vision and the spark of the anointing of the Holy Spirit among us. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he would ask; and we would respond, “Yes, we have, and it is the spark that propels us forward to claim new places for the kingdom.” It is up to this present generation of Adventists to continue to move forward.

  1. Acts 19:1-2
  2. Pastors and teachers are considered one function
  3. Ephesians 4:11-12
  4. Acts 19:10
  5. Acts 1:8
  6. Matthew 18:19-20
  7. Holzner, Steven. Physics for Dummies (Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2006), 64.
  8. Ellen G. White, The Acts of Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1911), 105.
  9. Ellen G. White, “The Work Before Us,” Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, April 14, 1903, 7-8.
  10. Adventist Encyclopedia (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1976), 465.

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