We’ve received several emails over the past week from members and ministers who are eager to restart in-person Sabbath services in their areas.
President Kubik canceled local services in each area for March 14 and March 21, and congregations were instructed to use webcasts for Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. After the initial cancellation, most states (at least in the United States) have enacted ordinances and executive orders or put other restrictions in place that forbid our congregations from meeting. Those restrictions and orders are what our pastors are monitoring at this time; they are not awaiting any decision from the home office.
Decisions to resume in-person Sabbath services will be made by each pastor, based on the differing circumstances for each individual congregation. There are a number of factors that each pastor will need to evaluate before resuming a congregational meeting, the most important of which would be official guidance from the government and health officials in the area, along with consent of the owners for any meeting facility we may be using. Our pastors will also consider the age and health risk to the members of the congregation.
Once a congregation begins meeting again, we do not expect to resume services “as usual” right away. Many municipalities will likely be recommending certain physical distancing measures as we come together to worship. This would likely affect many aspects of services including such things as handshakes, hugs and hymnals, and probably require new protocols for seating, snacks and coffee. MMS has planned an online meeting with all pastors next week to discuss the decision-making process that each pastor will need to go through before a congregation resumes face-to-face meetings.
Church members should understand that even if their congregation resumes in-person services, they must make an individual choice whether to attend. Members should not feel compelled to assemble with the congregation, but should take into account their individual circumstances. We will be asking pastors who resume in-person services to continue to provide their service in a webcast format, where feasible, to accommodate those members unable to attend.
Sermons and Sermonettes
In last week’s personal from MMS, I spoke of the difficulty of public speaking, specifically in regard to sermons and sermonettes. I want to reiterate how much I appreciate those who are willing to serve by their willingness to speak, even if it may not come easy for them.
I hope no one thought I was implying that our ministers were not effective speakers, because I believe they are. In addition, the survey bore that out, as 84% of respondents answered either “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” to “I am satisfied with the messages that my pastor gives.” 82% answered either “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” to “I am satisfied with the messages that are given by other speakers in my congregation.”
So overall, the majority of members are satisfied with the messages given at services. Personally, I listen to an average of 4-6 sermons each week, besides the messages given on the Sabbath. It is my goal to listen to as many of our speakers as possible. I know that many of our members listen to multiple sermons each week, as well. I believe, for the most part, our ministers and others giving messages at services are effective speakers and they have much to offer all of us.
I have never been one to “shop around” or “play favorites” when deciding who I will hear give a message. At Ambassador College, I remember that some of the students would try to find out who was speaking on campus and they would follow their favorite speakers. That approach never sat very well with me. I have always believed that God is involved and I can learn something from any message that is given at services. (That isn’t to say that the speaker doesn’t also have to do his due diligence and make sure his message is sound and edifying with spiritual value—and that he strives to deliver that message with passion and in a compelling way.) Moreover, their approach seemed too much like the attitude the Apostle Paul was combating in Corinth when people were choosing and following their “favorite men” (1 Corinthians 1:12 1 Corinthians 1:12Now this I say, that every one of you said, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
American King James Version×; 3:4-7).
I realize we all have some ministers and speakers we may usually get more out of listening to, so we tend to listen to them online more often. There is certainly nothing wrong with that approach, as long as we always follow them as they follow Christ and are true to His Word and His way. At the same time, we shouldn’t “ban” some speakers, as God has allowed them to speak and He may want to speak to you through them! Godly balance and respect for all is important.
Proven by How We Serve God and One Another
The ministry of Jesus Christ is a calling and Jesus is the Head of His Church. Ministers are proven in how they serve God and His people, just like all members are proven to God by how they serve Him and one another. We are to submit to one another in the love of Christ and in the truth of God. We are not to be “respecters of persons,” but ought to hold all people in high esteem unless their conduct warrants a different approach.
Speaking—a Humble Service to Bring Glory to God
I believe in many respects that speaking at services is one of the most humbling ways to serve. I know I have been humbled by the opportunity to speak, as I see a great responsibility to ensure that God’s Word is handled properly with love and respect for all. My goal is always to “speak the truth in love.”
Some may look at speaking as the “premier” way to serve, but I don’t believe that to be a spiritually healthy perspective. Speaking is an important way to serve, but all types of service have their place and are also important. Notice what Peter says: “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11 1 Peter 4:10-11  As every man has received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
 If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God gives: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
American King James Version×).
It is important to note that the scriptures do advise that we give special honor to ministers who serve well: “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17 1 Timothy 5:17Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.
American King James Version×).
All of Us—Called to Service
The main thing is that we are all called to serve in one way or another. God supplies the ability to serve and we are to bring glory to God by the way we serve one another. Moreover, every single one of us, regardless of age or health, is capable of praying for God’s guidance and direction upon all those who serve that we may all bring glory to Him.
In our celebrity oriented culture we tend to put too much emphasis on good speaking and too little respect and acknowledgment of those who serve in the ministry in other essential ways. Speaking is a gift and some ministers are simply not given the gift of speaking…either as a natural or spiritual gift. However, they are given other important gifts to serve God’s people and they are, no doubt, working to improve their speaking. When they are called upon to speak we must appreciate them for their service to the Church, even if preaching is not their special gift.
I have no illusions that I, personally, am a “great speaker.” That is such a relative term and is definitely in the ears of the one listening and evaluating. People are so different in what they consider a “good” or a “great” message. In the survey, there were members who were clearly speaking of the same person, but their viewpoints differed greatly. One person may consider messages from a person “rather boring,” while someone else will consider the same messenger as “interesting,” “inspiring” or “thought provoking.”
Message Biblically Sound?
As long as the message is biblically sound, everyone should be able to get something edifying from the message. Thankfully, 91% of respondents answered either “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” to “The messages that my pastor gives are doctrinally sound.” 88% of respondents answered either “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” to “The messages that other speakers give are doctrinally sound.” I would love to see that percentage closer to 100% in the future!
I am reading every comment on the survey and am considering the input given. However, I also realize that each response given is from one person’s perspective. When there is clearly a pattern of the same input coming from multiple people then, collectively, that input becomes more relevant and should be given a closer look and greater consideration. Even then, one must be careful not to jump to wrong conclusions.
Regardless, the overall goal is to improve one’s speaking and service to God and His people. I believe our ministry is committed to doing so and that it is, indeed, an awesome privilege for all of us to be members of the Body of Christ!
May you all have a wonderful Sabbath and weekend!