Connecting Columbia Union Seventh-day Adventists

Pastors pray during the I Am With You Evangelism Conference. Image by Kelly Butler Coe

Pastors Deepen Relationships at Evangelism Workshop

Story by V. Michelle Bernard / Images by Kelly Butler Coe and Kylie Kajiura

In March, some 776 attendees, including pastors and their spouses, gathered in Hershey, Pa., for the “I Am With You” Columbia Union Evangelism Workshop.

“This is the third ministerium we’ve had in the Columbia Union since 2000; may this be the last. May this be the one you said, ‘I was there, and I went looking for the Holy Spirit to empower me, and the Spirit fell upon me,” said Dave Weigley, now-retired Columbia Union Conference president, during the meeting’s first event.

Columbia Union leadership’s vision was for the event to provide practical tools through 40 workshops and 10 plenary sessions to empower, equip, and engage pastors (and their local churches) in spreading the gospel, discipling and encouraging members through evangelism and providing the opportunity for their members to deepen their relationships with Christ.

“Evangelism is not just one thing in the experience of doing ministry; it is the core, the heart of the mission that Jesus entrusted us, because we exist with only one purpose: to allow all the brothers and sisters who live in our territory to know that the only fullness of life is found in Jesus,” says Rubén A. Ramos, union vice president for Multilingual Ministries and one of the workshop organizers.

José D. Espósito, assistant to the president for Evangelism and event lead organizer, adds that the event’s motto was “Empower, Equip, Engage,” with the goal of preparing pastors with different skills for sharing the gospel in their communities—which now include many immigrants from Europe, Spanish- speaking countries and Africa.

Tim Bailey, president of the Mountain View Conference who brought about 20 pastors to the event, says he noticed his group “taking copious notes and asking questions. They want frontline aggressive ideas and support. They’re thrilled with what they’re learning here.”

Sometimes the learning process also included “unlearning.”

Reflecting on one of the plenary sessions, Stenly Gonie, pastor of New Jersey Conference’s Indonesian Pioneer and Pioneer Community churches, says, “We need to be intentional in creating the culture of evangelism in our local churches, and [that may include re-thinking] things that we have done in the past that haven’t really been working. To keep doing the same thing ... and expecting a great result and revival and the whole community to be converted or to be transformed would be insane. We need to be open-minded and not be afraid to try new things. And [we received] a lot of materials and enrichment and different methods that we can implement in our local churches.”

Event planners hope that local church pastors will pass along this inspiration to members at home.

Weigley says that the event will hopefully help inspire, encourage and equip pastors, who will, in turn, also equip others. “The end result is touching the person in the pew, and that person touching the person on the street, in the home and the business.”

The event reminded pastors that, without its members, communities cannot be fully reached.

“Our members are central,” says Elijah Stanley, assistant pastor of Allegheny East Conference’s Capitol Hill church in Washington, D.C., who talks about one member who brings two people into the church every year. “She is our Health Ministries leader,” he adds. “She has cooking classes, and everything is tied to our [community] center at church. ... Our goal is to make sure that pastors aren’t the only ones going out and inviting, but members are essential and key to that success.”

Evangelism Is a Lifestyle

“If the only thing we think of when we say ‘evangelism’ is public meetings, whether it is Revelation seminars, prophecy seminars, [we’ve got it wrong],” says Yves Monier, director of Ministerial and Evangelism for the Pennsylvania Conference and an event-planning team member. “Evangelism is everything we should be doing as a church. Evangelism is our worship service, Sabbath School, Pathfinders, Adventurers, midweek prayer service. Evangelism is really everything we do at a church to connect with the community. ... Even our websites are to be evan- gelistically minded.”

William Washington III, lead pastor of Allegheny East Conference’s Mount Sinai church in Trenton, N.J., gives examples of what practical evangelism looks like: “Just sharing your faith, showing up with your kindness, with your love, with your care, giving a cup of water to a neighbor, giving milk to a neighbor, getting groceries to someone, just simple things that we can do every single day to kind of just touch and connect. And once we connect, it opens the door for a relationship and sharing your faith. [People might ask], ‘Why do you do the things you do?’ ‘Why do you smile the way you smile?’ ‘Why are you so kind?’”

Heroes Sical, district pastor of Mountain View Conference’s Lewisburg English and Spanish churches, as well as the Rainelle and Marlinton churches in West Virginia, says, “In reality, evangelism is a lifestyle in which you live in connection with God. Everything you do should reflect that connection and, [in turn, you should] connect with people around you.”

You're Not Alone in Ministry
Maybe the greatest benefit and takeaway from the event was the connection and camaraderie between the attendees.

Events like these are impactful because “they are a shot in the arm of energy and adrenaline and inspiration that you’re not alone in ministry,” says Renee Hallman, associate director of Pastoral Ministries for the Potomac Conference. “There’s a lot of other people out there doing really innovative things,” but many pastors have multiple churches and are [maybe too far] from another pastor to talk to or bounce ideas off of.”

Andre Arrais, worship and outreach pastor of Chesapeake Conference’s New Hope church in Fulton, Md., says, “For many pastors out there, it’s a very lonely environment. So having that connec- tion [at events like these] remind them that they’re not alone, that they’re not the only ones facing those challenges, and they can be inspired by what they’re learning here to make some changes.”

Alareece Collie, discipleship pastor of Chesapeake Conference’s Frederick (Md.) church, concurs. “There’s something encouraging and comforting to know that there are other pastors facing similar challenges as you; pastors who may at times be discouraged in similar ways and knowing that there is this common mission happening, not just within my local context but across the union and even across the North American Division,” she says.

Peggy Fillosaint, pastor of New Jersey Conference’s Maranatha Haitian church in Newark, adds the event was “a moment [not] just to relax but to refresh spiritually and to also give us some type of collaboration with peers that we don’t get to see. As pastors, we’re in a field alone. But when you come to these events, you work together, you see old friends, you see old members and peers ... and you understand that we’re bigger than just our little conference in our little church ... there’s a support group as well.”

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