Change Your Church Culture with these Baby Steps

This article was published in abbreviated form in the June/July 2022 issue of Ministry Magazine.

By Jacob & Dan Serns

Dan: Celebrating Changed Lives

John & Theresa Boylan, former Orthodox priest & wife, share their testimony during the Celebrating Changed Lives feature before being baptized and uniting with the Adventist Movement.

“Melinda, how has God brought you to this place in life?”

Sabbath morning during the worship service we always had a Celebrating Changed Lives feature. Today I was interviewing those who were joining the church that month through baptism, profession of faith and transfer.

“I had a really tough life growing up and got onto drugs early. Then because I needed money for drugs I became a prostitute. That’s when I became really hard-hearted.” Melinda’s two teen-aged daughters standing beside her started nodding their heads. “But there was this lady who was always so nice to me when I was mean to her and I couldn’t figure out why. She kept inviting me to a women’s Bible study group and told me some of the women had had a really tough life, too. When I finally came with her I knew I had found a spiritual home where I could grow and become like Jesus. Everything is changing in our home. Our words. Our music. Our pictures. What we watch.”

“Praise the Lord!” I said as I moved to the oldest daughter. “How has God brought you to this place in life?”

“It’s pretty much like Mom said. It’s getting better and better now. I like it.” Her younger sister agreed.

“And all three of you are telling the world today that you belong to Jesus and are uniting with His final movement! We are not perfect people but we are all in to let the world know that Jesus loves them, that He’s coming again soon, that He has a good plan for their lives, and that it’s time to take Him seriously. Welcome to the family!”

Not all of our Celebrating Changed Lives interviews on Sabbath morning are this dramatic. But all of them show how God is at work changing our lives. Some testimonies have featured victories in Sabbath work issues, relationships healed, decisions for baptism, new ministry or group leaders, a story from someone who handed out a GLOW tract, or those returning from a mission trip or spiritual retreat. Other times we have interviewed long time members about a turning point in their lives from years before, or how they first decided to return tithe.

If you want an evangelistic culture in church, one of the simplest and least expensive (free) ways to do it is to add brief (1-3 minutes) interviews during the worship service.

“And they [believers] overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb [Jesus] and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”   Revelation 12:11.

Jacob: Baptismal Celebration Sabbaths

Verna being prepared for baptism by Erin

“Would it be ok if I said a prayer for you right now?” I almost surprised myself with my own question to Verna, the older lady cutting my hair. The conversation had wandered through the usual small talk and gradually drifted deeper and toward more spiritual things. She shared with me that she was going through a tough time and, seeing the tears forming in her eyes, I felt compelled to ask if I could pray for her, as I sat in the barber’s chair of that budget hair salon. “Yes!” She blurted out. After praying, exchanging contact info, and going our separate ways, months passed. 

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The Church’s Role in Discipleship

How do we strengthen and mobilize the church in ministry and mission? How to we win souls and develop soul winners? How do we make disciples who make disciples?

This spring It Is Written media ministry has assembled a team of seasoned soul winners to help every willing person add tools to their toolbox and inspiration to their hearts! John Bradshaw, Erik Flickinger, Alan Parker, Yves Monnier, Douglas Na’a to name a few. Every Sunday evening over 600 people have been tuning in live for the free webinar training, and many more have later watched the recorded presentations from this website.

On Sunday April 18 I was invited to talk about The Church’s Role in Discipleship.

Here are the five key points I covered with illustrations on how to carry them out.

1. Without a clear discipleship (mentoring) network we will lose lots of people. Exodus 18:17-18.

2. Make Disciples like Jesus did, not like the Rabbis did. Mark 3:14-15.

3. It only takes 3 people to start a group. Start as many as possible.  Luke 10:1-3.

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“We’re thinking about marriage but we can’t afford to…”

Her Question:

“Good morning Pastor Dan. I have a question. So recently I have been feeling convicted on a lot of things but mostly that my significant other and I should get married…mostly because living together ….with two kids is not only a so against God, but a bad example for my kids. NOW….with that said…although I am not a perfect parent nor person, I am, however DOING THE BEST I CAN. My kids are well loved, taken care of etc, but I can’t help but keep thinking that God wants better for me.

I’m feeling that we should run and get married right away….what’s stopping us you ask? The kids are on Medicaid and our household receives govt benefits, food stamps etc…if we were to get married, we would lose all of that. I am not working right now because I am home with the baby, we are down to one income and my significant other says he doesn’t want to get married out of “fear”.

I’m confused because I want to do the right thing, I want to be an example to my kids, but I’m scared. Scared that we will go homeless, food less, etc…I also want to respect my significant others feelings about getting married not out of fear, but when we both feel ready, but I DO FEEL READY.

I’m asking for direction and pointers maybe to help me make the right decision. Do you have any wise counsel or bible verses for me. Please. Thank you!”

My Response:

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day! – Learn about the Real St. Patrick

St. Patrick was not Irish or Catholic. He was a British, Bible-believing Sabbath-keeping Church Planter in Ireland in the 5th Century! Here’s more about the real St. Patrick rather than the legends and fairy tales…

  1. Watch a video about Patrick and the Sabbath.
  2. Read Patrick’s personal testimony (“Confession”) about his conversion, faithfulness to the Bible and missionary work.
  3. Read about the Roman Church leaders threatening the Bible believing Irish in the 6th Century here in The Great Controversy.
  4. Today the ratio of Seventh-day Adventists to the population in the Irish Mission territory is 1:10,069.
  5. If you’d like to take a mission trip to help in Ireland or some other major mission field you might be able to get some assistance here.
  6. Other items
    1. Download a free copy of The Celtic Church in Britain by Leslie Hardinge.
    2. Download a free copy of Truth Triumphant by Benjamin George Wilkinson. See Chapter 7.
    3. Sites to see on an Irish church history tour.
    4. Pictures from an Irish church history tour.

May we all be faithful to both God’s Word and His Global Mission!

Blessings to you,

Dan Serns

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Baptizing During a Pandemic!

(An abbreviated form of this article is the Evangelism & Sabbath School Report to the Texas Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Mid-term Constituency in May 2021.)

Jesus is transforming people’s lives all over Texas, but how do you baptize them during a pandemic?

Verna was cutting a young man’s hair in the salon where she worked when they started talking about Jesus and the Bible. At the end of the conversation the young man, Pastor Jacob Serns, asked if she would like Bible studies and she agreed. As she learned Bible truths she put them into practice. Then she went through a testing time when her boss fired her for not working on the Sabbath any more. But she was determined to follow Jesus in every part of her life, including keeping His Sabbath holy. In August 2020, Pastor Jacob baptized her in the back of a pick up truck because there was no baptistry in the church the newly planted Benbrook Seventh-day Adventist church was renting.

The Lerma family had been receiving Bible studies from Pastor Marlon Wallace ever since they attended a public evangelistic meeting in Brownsville. They were now ready for baptism but what could they do with church buildings closed? They headed out to the Gulf of Mexico where the four of them were baptized in September 2020. Melissa, the mom, is now preparing to be one of the 100+ Volunteer Evangelists who will have their own evangelist meetings this spring.

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Pastoral Visitation Made Easier

I once saw a cartoon. In the first frame a pastor was visiting with someone in their home but thinking “I really should be working on my sermon.” In the second frame the same pastor was working on his sermon and thinking “I really should be out visiting.”

Is it possible to balance both? Or will visitation always take a back seat to preaching because there isn’t a weekly deadline? (See Inspired Insights below.)

Here are three keys that have helped me in pastoral visitation. Feel free to use or adapt them to your situation.

  1. Don’t do it alone.

I was going to a new district and wanted to get into as many homes as possible. So I blocked off nineteen evenings for visitation in my first two months. I sent the dates to the first elder Rich Cavaness and asked him to work with the other elders to set up a schedule where they would go visiting with me. I would meet the designated elder at the church building at 6:30pm and have them back by 9pm. They could pick who we visited that evening or if they didn’t have anyone I would pick some families from the church directory. When female elders were involved we always worked in a team of three so there would never be a question of healthy relationship boundaries within the church. As we made our visits to families of members and interests my elders and I were bonding because of our on-the-job ministry together. By the end of the two months I knew all of my elders well and many of our members and interests.

One evening while visiting with elders Trudy Dant and Joni Steinberg we stopped by a care home for the elderly owned by some church members. When it was time to go I invited the family to join us for prayer along with several residents in the room.

Joni looked at one of the residents and all of a sudden almost shouted “Is that you Ruth?”

The elderly lady looked up quizzically. “My name is Ruth. Do you know me?”

“Twenty years ago did you live in that apartment complex downtown?” Joni described the apartment complex.

“Yes I did.”

“Ruth, you were the cookie lady!” Ruth smiled and nodded. “You often made cookies for those of us who lived there and you were always so kind. Back then I was far, far from God but you were always so sweet.”

The care home owners said “Ruth is one of our church members but she doesn’t get out much any more.”

I smiled at Ruth and said “All those years ago God worked through your kindness and the kindness of others so that Joni surrendered her life to Jesus and united with His final movement. She is now one of the elders in your church family.”

What an amazing providential reunion! But it never would have happened if I had been making the visits alone.

2. Make it high priority your first 90 days in a district.

It was my first Sabbath in a new district. After potluck I met with the Elders to talk about our mission of reaching the 1.5 million people in the metro area where God had placed us. I told them my first priority was to strengthen the connections within the church family and between each family and the Lord. I told them I would be sending a letter to every household on our church records letting them know they would be contacted by a church leader within the next 90 days to arrange for a simple survey if possible. The letter would state that if they did not hear from a church leader within 90 days they could call the church office and I as pastor would take them out to eat within ten days.

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Great Controversy Project- The Waldenses

Chapter Title: The Waldenses

Read online

Favorite Quotation: “The persecutions visited for many centuries upon this God-fearing people [the Waldenses] were endured by them with a patience and constancy that honored their Redeemer. Notwithstanding the crusades against them, and the inhuman butchery to which they were subjected, they continued to send out their missionaries to scatter the precious truth. They were hunted to death; yet their blood watered the seed sown, and it failed not of yielding fruit. Thus the Waldenses witnessed for God centuries before the birth of Luther. Scattered over many lands, they planted the seeds of the Reformation that began in the time of Wycliffe, grew broad and deep in the days of Luther, and is to be carried forward to the close of time by those who also are willing to suffer all things for “the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 1:9.” P. 78.

Lessons I’ve Learned:

  1. Among the Waldenses of the early Dark Ages, the Bible was the final authority in all of life, including worship, lifestyle, mission and the training of youth. It was studied, copied, and applied to the life even if it meant persecution and death.
  2. Young people were taught to recognize God in nature, to endure hardship, to think for themselves, to submit to their parents’ authority and to copy and memorize large portions of the Bible.
  3. In addition to the regular training every Waldensian youth received, each future pastor learned a trade to support himself. He spent three years in evangelistic mission service with an older, more experienced worker to teach him a spirit of self-denial and sacrifice before being assigned a church at home. This “missionary internship” also gave him experience in his future responsibilities of preaching the gospel, visiting the sick, training the children, counseling the wayward and settling differences among believers to promote unity within the church.
  4. The Waldenses did not simply hide out in the valleys where they lived. As they studied the Bible, accepted the gospel and the Bible truths, and saw the prophecies being fulfilled they devised every means possible to tell the entire world about the hope in their hearts. Children and youth were trained from their mother’s knee to share Jesus and the Bible for the rest of their lives.
  5. Although persecuted off and on for centuries, the Waldenses would rather lose possessions, property, comfort and even life itself than to participate in false religion or abandon their Bible faith.
  6. For additional lessons click here.
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Pray for and Reach out to Religious Leaders in Your Area

Sihk Temple Leader who received a book from Pastor Adam

In 2012 the Richardson Seventh-day Adventist Church initiated “The Great Controversy Project (Read It! Share It!).”  As part of the project Pastors Dan Serns and Adam Keating distributed God’s Holy Word: Is It Still Worth Dying For? (a portion of The Great Controversy) to religious leaders in the Richardson/Dallas area in February. We made some great friends and we continue to pray for the religious leaders of these organizations that the Lord will impress them at the right time to read the book and share its message with those in their circle of influence if they haven’t done so already. Why not try something like this in your area?

  1. World Mission Society Church of God
  2. Christian Science Church
  3. St. Luke’s Lutheran
  4. St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church
  5. Tzu Chi Buddhist Center & Day Care Center
  6. Grace Church of Richardson
  7. Arabic Christian Church
  8. Creekside Baptist & Vietnamese Churches
  9. Calvary Petecostal Church
  10. Neema Gospel Church
  11. Richardson First Baptist Church
  12. Watermark Community Church
  13. The Heights Baptist Church
  14. Richardson United Methodist Church
  15. Islamic Association of North Texas, Seminary & School
  16. Christian World
  17. Bo Hyun Temple Zen Center
  18. Sikh Temple
  19. Bennerri Korean Presbyterian Church
  20. Trinity Fellowship Church
  21. Greenville Avenue Church of Christ & Day Care Center
  22. Waterview Baptist Church
  23. Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue

“There are now true Christians in every church, not excepting the Roman Catholic communion.” The Great Controversy p. 449

“Our ministers should seek to come near to the ministers of other denominations. Pray for and with these men, for whom Christ is interceding. A solemn responsibility is theirs. As Christ’s messengers we should manifest a deep, earnest interest in these shepherds of the flock.” Testimonies vol. 6, p. 78

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Reclaiming Former & Inactive Church Members

“Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world…” 2 Timothy 4:10.

How tragic! Paul’s close friend and fellow worker (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24) abandoned Paul at the time Paul needed him most. Not only that. Demas abandoned the message and mission of Jesus.

Sometimes we’ll lose people to the church family permanently, no matter how hard we try to keep or reclaim them. Jesus lost Judas (Matthew 10:4, etc). The apostle John said some never really were part of the church family (1 John 2:19). Some must receive healthy Biblical church discipline with the hope they will repent and return.

But the best Biblical models for reclaiming are probably found in Luke 15.

  1. The Lost Sheep (v1-7). The sheep wandered away. It was lost. It was scared. It didn’t know what to do. It would have died if the Shepherd had not gone looking for it. Some people wander away from Jesus and/or the church family. They don’t know what to do to find their way back. The church family must go looking for them, help them, love them, and carry them back home. It is never enough to say “They know where we are. They can come back whenever they want.”
  2. The Lost Coin (v8-10). The coin was lost in the house. It didn’t know it was lost. The only way it could be found was for the lamp (Bible – Psalm 119:105) to be lit and the broom (Holy Spirit – John 16:7-11) to do some sweeping. There are people who attend church services regularly – maybe they are members or even leaders – who are lost and won’t know it until the Bible is clearly taught and the Holy Spirit is allowed to transform lives. This is why people are not to be removed from Seventh-day Adventist church membership records based on non-attendance, because sometimes those who don’t attend are more connected to the Lord than those who do (e.g. the Church in the Wilderness which was persecuted by the Organized Church in the Dark Ages – Revelation 12:6, 13-17).
  3. The Lost Son(s) (v11-32). The younger son hated being in the house so he left, went to a far country, wasted his life and resources. He was lost. He knew the way home. But he didn’t think he would be welcomed if he came home. He was right, and wrong. His father ran to welcome him. His older brother, the other son, did not welcome him. There are people who have misunderstood or hated the rules of God and have left the church and messed up their lives. They know where the church building is and when the services are. But they aren’t sure if they will be welcomed if they come back. Those who have experienced the love of the Father God will welcome them. Those who haven’t, won’t welcome them back.

As a pastor and church leader here are the things I have tried in reclaiming people who are lost sheep, lost coins or lost sons (both types).

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Hasty, Immature and Forbidden Marriages

Marriage and the Sabbath are two of the greatest gifts given to mankind by our Loving Heavenly Father (Genesis 2). So it’s no surprise that Satan will do all he can to destroy both!

How do we avoid the pain, misunderstanding and depression that come from twisted marriages? How do we avoid hasty, immature and forbidden marriages?

That was my assigned topic when I recently participated in a series of presentations on “Christian Families in Crisis” based on the Bible and The Adventist Home by Ellen White, sponsored by the Houston United African Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Here are some key thoughts from the presentation from this time of Bible study and storytelling.

  1. Jesus loves marriage!
  2. Jesus wants you to have a happy home!
  3. Jesus can bring joy out of confusion, sadness & pain.

May the Lord help you have a wonderful Christ-centered, Bible-based home and family.

Blessings to you,

Dan Serns

Keys to a Happy Marriage

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