Reaching the Cities
We can do more than we imagine.
A familiar story tells about a young man who was walking on an ocean beach. In the distance he noticed an old man walking toward him.
Periodically the old man would bend down, pick up something, and throw it into the ocean. Curious, the young man watched as the man repeatedly bent over, picked up an object, and threw it into the water.
When he came within talking distance, the young man asked the other man what he was doing. The old man explained: He was rescuing the starfish washed ashore by throwing them back into the water.
With unbelief the young man said, “Why? That’s useless. There’s no way you can save all the starfish; the task is too big. You can’t begin to make a difference.”
Without a word the old man bent over, picked up another starfish, and threw it back in the water. Then he quietly said, “Well, it made a difference for that one!”
We can’t do everything, but we can do something. We can’t change the whole world, but we can change the world where we are. That’s what Jesus wants us to do in the city or community where we are: make a difference! How do we make a difference? By doing “good,” just as Jesus did; intentionally, creatively, passionately, consistently doing good.
Jesus did good wherever He went. While there’s no exact formula for witnessing and soul-winning, the Bible and Christian literature reveal a variety of methods that can be used when we witness and do good. Here are just a few:
One-to-one appeals, such as Philip in Acts 8:26-40, or Jesus in John 3:1-21;
Storyteller narratives, such as Solomon in Proverbs 7:6-27, or Jesus in Matthew 12-15;
Direct confrontation, such as Stephen in Acts 7:1-51, or Jesus in Matthew 15:3-9;
Gospel proclamation, such as Peter in Acts 3:12-26, or as Jesus instructed the 72 in Luke 10:1-22;
Intellectual conversation, such as Paul in Acts 17:22-34, or Jesus in Matthew 22:29-32;
Personal testimony, such as the blind man in John 9:1-34, or Jesus in John 14-15;
Dialogue exchange, such as Andrew in John 1:40-42, or Jesus with the Samaritan woman in John 4:1-26;
Invitational appeal, such as Jesus in Luke 5:27;
Service/health/interaction, such as the paralytic’s friends in Mark 2:1-12, or Jesus in John 13:1-20;
Acts of supernatural power, such as the apostles in Acts 5:12-16, or Jesus in John 4:46-54.
The operative word is to do: do something good, and do it now. As Ellen White wrote: “The world needs today what it needed nineteen hundred years ago—a revelation of Christ. A great work of reform is demanded, and it is only through the grace of Christ that the work of restoration, physical, mental, and spiritual, can be accomplished.”1
She further wrote: “Christ’s method alone will give true success in reaching the people. The Savior mingled with [men and women] as one who desired their good. He showed His sympathy for them, ministered to their needs, and won their confidence. Then He bade them, ‘Follow Me.’ ”2
In recent months Seventh-day Adventists around the world, all 18 million, are being challenged with a fresh, bold outreach appeal called Mission to the Cities. Every Adventist is asked to personally reach out to his or her neighborhood, community, and city to minister in practical ways as Christ did. The appeal is inclusive and intentional. Each believer can demonstrate their love for God and people by sharing the life-changing, Christ-centered good news found in the Bible in the context of the Seventh-day Adventist message.
Adventists respect the various religious faiths that base their beliefs in the Bible. However, we passionately believe that the Adventist message, the three angels’ messages (Rev. 14:6-12), is God’s message for this crucial time in history. We believe God has called Adventists to share this truth.
It is not new truth; it has been believed and practiced by faithful believers throughout the ages, from Genesis to Revelation. Adventists are called to direct people back to eternal truths that have been lost, ignored, and attacked through the ages. Adventists are called to “rebuild the ancient ruins” and “raise up the age-old foundations” (Isa. 58:12).
So how do you feel when confronted with this appeal to be involved in personal evangelism? Do you wonder if your efforts will make a difference? Some believers are impressed with the sheer magnitude of the task and experience feelings of enthusiasm, even excitement. Others, when they contemplate the sacrifice that will be required, feel a sense of depression. To still others, the apparent impossibilities of the task to impact the lives of the 7 billion people living on this planet seem unattainable, so they slip into a state of detachment and paralysis.
The good news is that we can successfully execute the challenge of ministering to the communities in which we live. We can embrace the challenge of Mission to the Cities with energy and enthusiasm. The apostle Paul helps us with this challenge of effectively using Christ’s method for reaching the cities.
In Acts 20:17-24 Paul outlines four simple principles for successful witnessing and evangelism. In succinct language he summed up both the attitude and actions of Christ’s followers who want to do good.
Paul began by reminding the believers how he personally approached evangelism and soul-winning. Paul stressed the exemplary manner in which he lived among them when he worked in Ephesus (verse 18). He talked about how he ministered with humility and didn’t allow opposition to hinder his service (verse 19). He reminded them of the different forms of evangelism he used, from public preaching to one-to-one, house-to-house teaching (verses 20, 21). Then Paul inspired the believers with his reference to being “compelled by the Spirit,” that is, being impressed by the Holy Spirit, to evangelize in the great city of Jerusalem (verses 22, 23).
He reaches a climax by saying that regardless of the trials and tribulations that awaited him, “I consider my life worth nothing to me.” Why? “My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (verse 24). Paul goes on to identify by his example four attitudes of an effective worker for Christ.
The Holy Spirit was Paul’s partner. For Paul, evangelism was a team effort, not a solo activity (verses 22, 23). The Holy Spirit, his companion, was a constant source of support and guidance.
Paul was empowered to surmount obstacles. He put duty over danger (verse 23). He maintained this mind-set by communicating with his Partner, focusing on his high calling, and by remembering why he was doing what he was doing. He kept in mind that the world desperately needed the good news he offered.
Paul found inspiration in opposition. He envisioned the eternal prospect over temporal comforts (verse 24). Paul knew that in every trial God has a greater benefit on the other side.
Paul knew God had a purpose for his life. He realized that while he couldn’t finish other people’s purpose, he could finish his own. Paul did the work assigned to him, knowing that God would accomplish the rest.
We will be successful if we assume the same attitude as Paul: not being overwhelmed by the immensity of the task, doing good where we are whenever we can, and trusting God for the outcome. While God works on behalf of the billions of inhabitants in the world, we must work on behalf of those to whom He directs us in our own world. Then we can, like Paul, finish our race and ministry with joy.
- Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905),p. 143.