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The Challenge of the Florida Mission

posted on January 17, 2014, under Conference by

by Tim Nichols, Florida Conference Vice President for Pastoral Ministries

How can we effectively fulfill our calling to go to “…every nation, tribe, tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6 NKJV) in our own territory? Florida is the fourth most densely populated state in the United States. With a current population of more than 19 million residents, more than fifty-five percent live within one of four major metropolitan urban areas:

  • Miami/Broward/West Palm Beach—5,502,379
  • Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater—2,441,770
  • Orlando—1,510,516
  • Jacksonville—1,065,219

Eighty-nine percent of Floridians live within one of twenty cities. Wherever we go, there are thousands of people around us who have not heard, in a meaningful way, the story of God’s grace and love for their lives.

The realities of the human condition—loneliness, addiction, and broken families—are all around us, but seldom openly acknowledged. Even more common are the troubles of a comparatively affluent society that is without Christ: hopelessness, selfishness, insecurity, and a sense of never having enough. How can we introduce them to the hope and wholeness found in the grace of God?

Our greatest challenge is not the number of people living in our mission field. We do not face the overwhelming odds of places like China, India, or Japan. Our greatest challenge is how we perceive our role in reaching the thousands around us. Consider the unique hurdles within our context.

The Culture We Are Seeking To Reach Has Shifted
The growth of the North American Adventist Church in previous decades has largely been based upon reaching a biblically informed population. Our evangelistic methods have been designed around reaching Christians with a richer understanding of biblical teachings like the Sabbath, death, and the second coming.

Today, the mission has changed to a population of largely secular people who have very little practical understanding of the Bible. This does not mean our message as Adventists has changed. It means we must do more to prepare the hearts and minds of those we wish to reach with the basics of the Word of God and the Gospel. If being a missionary is to go where people live in a culture that is different than our own, then we really do need to become missionaries in Florida. Our methods may need to be refocused to achieve the original mission we care about so much.

“We do not at first proclaim to these souls doctrinal subjects of which they have no understanding. The very first and the most important thing is to melt and subdue the soul by presenting our Lord Jesus Christ as the sin-bearer, the sin-pardoning Saviour, making the gospel as clear as possible.”1

Our Support Is Important, but Our Influence Is Essential
While God calls us to be faithful in supporting His work with our financial resources, our money alone will not complete the mission. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to offer our whole selves to Him. Where we place our treasure may be an indication of where our heart is oriented. (Matthew 6:21) Yet, if our heart is devoted to the kingdom of God, it will also be evidenced in our attitude toward people not like us. It will be reflected in the way we shape friendships and in the time invested demonstrating kindness and compassion for the people God has placed in our path.

While we perceive our generous gifts to be enough to finish God’s work in our city, our challenge here is that God is asking for our greater influence in the lives of people all around us.

We Are Depending On Professionals In the Ministry To Accomplish the Mission
Aren’t we paying them to do this work? Of all the great obstacles in the way of fulfilling our mission, this may be the largest—not because we have failed to teach the value of every member becoming involved in ministry, but because we may not have adequately described how essential every member is to the significant role they have.

Too often, we think the definition of being involved in ministry is to hold an office in the church or to lead a program for the church. While these are important, the primary ministry we should value most is the ability every person has to be a disciple who can form friendships with a circle of people unique to them.

To become a disciple-maker requires first being a disciple in a circle of people who need to meet Jesus. Or, as described in an often-quoted statement in the book, Ministry of Healing, Christ’s method begins with mingling.2 If we do not maximize our mingling, no one will hear us when we finish with, “Follow me.” The church needs to give greater recognition to individuals in the church who are effective at creating new personal connections in our community.

There are about 170 full-time district pastors in Florida Conference. Add to that another 80+ volunteer lay pastors who have been assigned the pastoral leadership role in Mission Groups, Companies, and Churches. These are all well-trained, gifted, and capable men and women serving as true missionaries across the state of Florida.

Yet, if you begin to think of how they would make contact and develop trusting relationships with 19 million people living in Florida and begin to influence their lives, the scope of the endeavor seems insurmountable. The ratio of contact would be 1:76,000.

However, if each of us made it our personal ministry—our mission field—to minister personally to the “neighbor” around us in our workplace, our marketplace, our school, and our neighborhood, the ratio to reach every person in Florida would be 1:306.

This is our greatest challenge—to develop life-changing trust relationships with the people all around us. It will not happen with billboards, handbills, or mass media. It must be done one person, one conversation, one prayer at a time. Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to become true missionaries in Florida.

“By [your] being social and coming close to them [people we wish to reach], the current of their thoughts will be changed quicker than by the most able discourses. The presentation of Christ in the family, by the fireside, and in small gatherings in private houses is more successful in securing souls to Jesus than are sermons delivered in the open air to the moving throng, or even in halls or churches.”3

  1. Ellen G. White, Ministry To the Cities (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2012), 87.
  2. —————, Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1942), 143.
  3. —————, Ministry To the Cities (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 2012), 95.

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