High Stakes, Rarely Well-Done

Fast food seems to have done a better job conquering the world than Alexander the Great did—out of the 195 countries in the world today,[1] McDonalds has found its way into 118.[2] Fast food has become so prevalent that a 2018 CDC study found that more than one in three Americans consume it daily.[3] Logically, as fast food consumption has increased, the amount of home cooked–and more healthful–meals have decreased.

Why is fast food more favorable than home cooked food? I can think of a plethora of reasons: Not enough time; it costs too much; maybe “I don’t know how to cook”; and maybe “it doesn’t taste as good”. So instead of a hearty, more healthful and sustainable meal, we opt for fast food.

This same mindset seems to have somehow transported itself into how we do evangelism.

In Evangelism, Ellen White gives many prescriptions towards “thorough” work:

“God’s work is not to be done in a bungling, slipshod manner. When a minister enters a field, he should work that field thoroughly. . . .”[4]

“There is danger that those who hold meetings in our cities will be satisfied with doing a surface work. Let the ministers and the presidents of our conferences arouse to the importance of doing a thorough work. . . .”[5]

“While duties are suffering to be done right in our path, we should not reach out and long and sigh for work at a great distance. . . . God would not want you to leave so much work that you have planned, and started the people in upon, to be neglected, to run down, and be harder to bring up than if it had never been started. . . .”[6]

These are just some of the quotes. In fact, a whole chapter of Evangelism is dedicated to this idea.[7] But from what I have seen, it doesn’t appear that we have been following these counsels. The thoroughness of our efforts in our evangelism is questionable because our mission work is failing to stand up to what Ellen White describes as thorough: “Ministers should not feel that their work is finished until those who have accepted the theory of the truth realize indeed the influence of its sanctifying power, and are truly converted.”[8]

Have our churches realized the truth’s “sanctifying power”? Are our new members “truly converted”? There is a pretty basic litmus test to see if this is the case:

“In the very family, the neighborhood, the town, where we live, there is work for us to do as missionaries for Christ. If we are Christians, this work will be our delight. No sooner is one converted than there is born within him a desire to make known to others what a precious friend he has found in Jesus. The saving and sanctifying truth cannot be shut up in his heart.”[9] 

In other words, if church members have a thorough conversion experience, they will naturally become evangelists. Unfortunately, mobilizing some churches is as excruciating as squeezing the last inch of toothpaste out of the tube.

If we had been doing a thorough job of mission work, the work would have naturally multiplied from where it first started. We would not have countless declining churches in America[10] or churches that have to resort to shallow methods of advertising to create synthetic life. Church members wouldn’t be relying on others to do the mission work, because mission work done right multiplies naturally.

So the question is: Why is it so hard for us to do thorough mission work? There are several possible reasons. For one, doing thorough mission work takes a lot of time, and we are too busy with our own lives: “I wish I could, but I don’t have enough time”. I have heard so many people say that they want to do mission work. But that’s about all: It’s just a want, and it never happens because they want to do something else more. The things that they want aren’t necessarily even bad, but a life of mission isn’t the highest priority, so naturally spending large amounts of time and energy for missions isn’t very appealing.

Another reason for our avoidance of longer work may be because we like quick results. We live in a society that is so used to instant gratification, where everything has to happen with minimal effort in minimal time.

The more I think about it, the more our excuses seem like the same ones that we choose fast food over home cooked meals: Not enough time; it costs too much; “I don’t know how to share Jesus”; and maybe “it’s not as fun”. So we expect to share the bread of life with the same frantic frequency and casual carelessness with which McDonalds sells hamburgers.

All this may just be a larger symptom of our lack of willingness to come by people and meet their needs. As Ellen White put it: “If one half of the sermonizing were done, and double the amount of personal labor given to souls in their homes and in the congregations, a result would be seen that would be surprising.”[11] It is much easier to preach a sermon and leave than it is to come beside people and help them in their Christian journey; it is much easier to preach for a few days and then disappear back into regular life instead of considering whether we have thoroughly educated the people in God’s word.

I say all of this only because I myself have been guilty of giving God my leftovers. I’ve gone on mission trips, I’ve done mission work—“mission work”, of course, being preaching for a few days and then going back into my own life while patting myself on the back for “serving God”. Unfortunately for me, mission has always been on my own schedule, planned around my convenience and my life plans. It has only been a few years since I decided that God’s mission was going to be the center of my life. But before that, mission work was just an extra mandatory assignment tacked on so I could graduate into heaven.

This isn’t to say that all short-term missions are ineffective, but this is to say that short-term missions are ineffective if they are not evaluated in terms of thoroughness. To reiterate, short-term missions will never accomplish what long-term missions do.

The difference between the two can be seen in the difference between the Emergency Room and a good diet. Both are meant to keep you healthy, but it is a poor long-term strategy to rely on the ER to keep you healthy; a good diet is much more reliable for that. In the same way, short-term missions can be useful in their context–emergency efforts or a much-needed intervention–but they can never replace thorough, long-term missions.

In our evangelism and mission work, we need to be more willing to let God decide our timeline. If thorough work isn’t being done within our timeline, we must either extend our timeline, or find and train other people to continue the work until it is done thoroughly. Otherwise, it may be better for us to never have gone if we do not work thoroughly, for “[too] often the work is left in an unfinished state, and in many such cases it amounts to nothing. . . . A minister might better not engage in the work unless he can bind it off thoroughly. . . .”[12] 

Unless God’s mission is our first priority, it will continually feel like a thorn in the flesh of our own plans. And until mission is a lifestyle, a way of being, we will constantly be trying to work on our own schedules–rapidly and hastily– instead of working on God’s: thoroughly and effectively.

Mission work isn’t fast food. It isn’t always quick and mouth watering. But when it’s done properly, it’s more healthful, and its results are much longer lasting. After all, a hearty, home cooked meal well-done is always more beneficial to growth than fast food.

[1] “Fast Food Consumption Among Adults in the United States, 2013–2016,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 30, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db322.htm.
[2] What countries does McDonald’s operate in?, May 21, 2018, https://www.mcdonalds.com/gb/en-gb/help/faq/what-countries-does-mcdonald-s-operate-in.html.
[3] “Fast Food Consumption Among Adults in the United States, 2013–2016,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 30, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db322.htm.
[4] Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1946), 322. Emphasis supplied.
[5] Ibid, 323. Emphasis supplied.
[6] Ibid.
[7] See Evangelism, Section 9: Clinching the Interest, “Binding Off Thoroughly”, 321-326.
[8] White, Evangelism, 321.
[9] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1898), 141.
[10] “North American Division Church Growth Rate (1913-Present),” Adventist statistics – North American Division, accessed April 23, 2024, https://adventiststatistics.org/view_Summary.asp?FieldID=D_NAD&Year=2022&submit=Change.
[11] White, Evangelism, 430.
[12] White, Evangelism, 322.

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